Marion Virgil Brownfield, West Texas cattleman, banker, and philanthropist, one of nine children and the oldest son of Joseph Collins and Martha (Schipps) Brownfield, was born in Iowa in January 1854. The Brownfields had migrated from Uniontown, Pennsylvania. Later the family moved to Texas, where they settled near Smithfield, in Tarrant County north of Fort Worth. There Brownfield received a common school education. During the Civil War his father served in the Confederate Army and was taken prisoner by Union forces. Brownfield became a cowboy. After 1871 he trailed herds north to the Kansas markets and soon acquired land and stock of his own. In 1876 he married Elizabeth Ann Hornbeck. They had five children; their daughter Alice later married Roscoe Wilson.
In 1886 Brownfield moved his herd to Nolan County and acquired ranch holdings south of Sweetwater, where he established his headquarters. His wife died in 1894. In 1896 he leased 100 sections in Terry and Lynn counties, onto which he moved his herd by 1898, in partnership with Sam Singleton. By 1900 the partnership had been dissolved; Singleton took the land in Lynn County. Brownfield subsequently acquired title to fifty-two sections in southeastern Terry County, on which he ran his cattle bearing the Saucer Block brand, a half-circle over a square. He placed his headquarters on Lost Draw, near the center of this spread. He was joined in 1901 by his oldest son, Dick, who purchased from his father the western part of the ranch holdings, brought in his own cattle, and built a small house for himself and his bride. When W. G. Hardin and A. F. Small bought a section of Dick's land for a townsite in 1903, the Brownfields helped lay out the new settlement, which was named for them, and led in the successful effort to designate it the county seat when Terry County was organized in 1904.
From that time on Brownfield was a leading booster of the town that bears his name. He established the Brownfield State Bank in 1905 and was its first president. He also financed the first mercantile store and donated land for the community cemetery and a lot for the Masonic lodge, of which he became a charter member. Although he was a Lutheran, he contributed to every church and school in the community. In 1909 he "drug out" the county's first auto road, which ran from Brownfield through his ranch to Lamesa in Dawson County. As a charter member of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, Brownfield became acquainted with several high officials of the Santa Fe Railroad, whom he convinced to lay track through his town in 1917. In 1912, after his wife died, Brownfield married Augusta Youngblood; they had a daughter.
By the mid-1920s Brownfield had ranchland in both Terry and Yoakum counties, which his son Ray managed after his retirement. He often enjoyed hunting, and although he never ran for public office, he maintained a strong interest in state and regional politics. On February 11, 1929, he suffered a heart attack while driving home, and although he was able to guide his car to a filling station, he died before medical aid could be rendered. He was buried in the Brownfield Cemetery after Masonic rites. His sons Dick and Ray continued to operate the family's West Texas ranches. Dick donated the old Brownfield home to the city as a tribute to his father, and it is now used for the Terry County Museum.
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Kyle Martin Buckner, "The History of Brownfield, Texas," West Texas Historical Association Yearbook 19 (1943). Cattleman, March 1929. Lubbock Daily Journal, February 12, 1929. "The Peter Hurd Mural," Museum Journal 1 (1957). Terry County Historical Survey Committee, Early Settlers of Terry (Hereford, Texas: Pioneer, 1968).
Ranching and Cowboys
Activism and Social Reform
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,
“Brownfield, Marion Virgil,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed May 16, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
November 1, 1994