Bivins, Lee (1862–1929)

By: H. Allen Anderson

Type: Biography

Published: 1976

Updated: November 1, 1994

Lee Bivins, Amarillo rancher, oilman, and civic leader, son of Oliver C. and Elizabeth Jane (Miller) Bivins, was born on October 7, 1862, in Farmington, a small settlement south of Sherman, in Grayson County, Texas. His father, who came to Texas from Indiana in 1854, ranched, ran a mercantile store, and operated the county's first mill. Bivins showed an early interest in cattle raising; as a boy, he often collected dogies from neighbors, brought them home, and hand-fed them. Before he was twenty he had a sizable herd and had established two general stores in Sherman. On August 18, 1882, he married his childhood sweetheart, Mary Gilbert (see BIVINS, MARY ELIZABETH GILBERT), and they settled in Sherman. They had two daughters and two sons; both daughters died in childhood.

Bivins's interest in cattle raising led him to the Panhandle early in 1882. By 1889 he had built a makeshift shack at Claude, where he lived alone; his family joined him after he had established his new business ventures. He opened a grocery store, a wheat mill, and an elevator in Claude and purchased from the JA Ranch the Mulberry Pasture, later the Mulberry Ranch, seven miles south of town. Bivins's real estate ventures in Claude resulted in the town's Bivins Addition. In 1890 he was elected county commissioner from his precinct.

A much-publicized feud with the nefarious saloonkeeper Skid Ellis began when Ellis's son Ed embezzled some money Bivins had entrusted to him. Tension between the two heightened as Lee's brother Dick, who had joined him in Claude, began courting Ellis's niece in 1898. Ellis ended the courtship by shooting and killing Dick. Bivins attempted to settle the score when he found himself on the same train with Ellis, although he managed only to wound his adversary. He was charged with attempted murder but acquitted the following year. Ellis recovered, was tried for killing Dick Bivins, and acquitted. He later left the Panhandle.

Bivins opened a livery stable in Amarillo in 1900. In 1903 he built a magnificent three-story home of brick and stone at 1000 Polk Street. He paid the workmen in cash at the end of each day and never revealed the cost of the house. His cattle holdings grew steadily during this time. During his first years in Amarillo he leased several hundred acres of land for his growing herd. His first big purchase was the Cross Bar Ranch, on the south bank of the Canadian River. On October 6, 1910, Bivins purchased 30,354 acres from the American Pastoral Company. The purchase, which included both the LX Ranch headquarters built by Henry C. Harding in 1902 and the right to use the LX brand, cost $79,000. Three years later he bought the LIT Ranch from the Prairie Cattle Company; this property included the townsite of Old Tascosa. On May 19, 1915, Bivins bought an additional 53,329 acres from the American Pastoral Company for about $203,000. In 1918, with Berkeley Dawson, he added another 50,000 acres of LIT land to his holdings. He also purchased the Coldwater Ranch, south of Texhoma, part of the XIT Ranch properties near Channing, and extensive holdings near Fort Sumner, New Mexico. By the 1920s Bivins was said to be the largest individual cattle owner in the world and the largest landowner west of the Mississippi. His leased lands comprised more than a million acres, and he often ran 60,000 cattle with the LX and X Bar brands. He reportedly once rode a horse the ninety miles from Dalhart to Amarillo without leaving his property. It was said that he cornered the Texas steer beef market in 1918–19. In 1918 natural gas found on his Potter County land proved to be part of the largest field in the world. More oil and gas was discovered on his holdings in several counties along the Canadian River.

Bivins also owned extensive stock in businesses and property in Amarillo, including the Bivins Building, built on the site of the old opera house, which had been destroyed by fire in 1915. He helped establish the Panhandle Aerial Service and Transportation Company, Amarillo's first airport, and served as its president. He served eight years as an Amarillo city commissioner and was elected mayor in 1925. He held that office until his death from a heart attack on January 17, 1929, in Wichita Falls. He was buried in the Llano Cemetery in Amarillo. His sons, Miles and Julian, became operators of the Bivins properties, which were later divided into separate ranches. Julian Bivins donated the Old Tascosa site for the establishment of Cal Farley's Boys Ranch in 1939. The old courthouse, once the home of Julian and his wife, Berneta, later became the Julian Bivins Museum.

Gus L. Ford, ed., Texas Cattle Brands (Dallas: Cockrell, 1936). Della Tyler Key, In the Cattle Country: History of Potter County, 1887–1966 (Amarillo: Tyler-Berkley, 1961; 2d ed., Wichita Falls: Nortex, 1972). Margaret Sheers, "The LX Ranch of Texas," Panhandle-Plains Historical Review 6 (1933).
  • Ranching and Cowboys
  • Activism and Social Reform
  • Civic Leaders
  • Business
  • Patrons, Collectors, and Philanthropists
  • Ranchers and Cattlemen

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

H. Allen Anderson, “Bivins, Lee,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 16, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

November 1, 1994