Bugbee, Thomas Sherman (1842–1925)

By: H. Allen Anderson

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: September 30, 2020

Thomas Sherman Bugbee, cattleman, the third of the five children of John Brewer and Hannah (Sherman) Bugbee, was born on January 18, 1842, in Washington County, Maine. After limited schooling he left home at the age of fourteen to work on a farm and later at a sawmill. In 1860 he secured an eighty-acre homestead in western Maine, but service in the Tenth Maine Infantry during the Civil War kept him away from home from 1861 through 1864. Since their home state was heavily affected by the postwar recession, Thomas Bugbee and his brother George made their way west, working as teamsters. Hearing of the money to be made in the cattle market, Bugbee visited Fort Worth and formed a partnership with George Miller and M. M. Shea. In 1869 they purchased 1,200 cattle from John A. Knight for $11 a head and sold them in Idaho for $45 a head. The following year Bugbee and Shea bought 1,500 head and drove them to Colorado. In 1871 Bugbee drove 750 steers to Rice County, Kansas, west of Abilene, where he wintered them in order to get a better price. There he met Mary Catherine (Molly) Dunn, whom he married on August 13, 1872. The newlyweds then loaded their wagon and drove the steers farther west. Near Lakin, Kansas, they built their first dugout home and spent four years building up the herd.

In the fall of 1876 the family departed for Texas. After losing half of their herd and possessions to the raging Cimarron River, the Bugbees arrived with their trail hands and 1,800 cattle at the Canadian River breaks in Hutchinson County. There they established the Quarter Circle T Ranch, the second oldest in the Panhandle, with headquarters on Bugbee Creek. In 1882 Bugbee sold his land and cattle and moved his family, which eventually included eight children, to Kansas City, where they could live more comfortably. During the next fifteen years, operating out of Kansas City, he established cattle ranches in Texas, Kansas, and Indian Territory. In 1883, in partnership with Orville Howell Nelson, he established the Shoe Bar Ranch in Briscoe, Hall, and Donley counties, Texas. At the same time, he formed the Word-Bugbee Cattle Company with Charles W. Word of Wichita Falls. They grazed 26,000 steers on 250,000 acres of fenced range in the Cheyenne country of Indian Territory. Word and Bugbee were forced to sell out at a loss after President Grover Cleveland evicted all White cattlemen from the reservation grasslands in 1885. In addition, Bugbee owned an 800-acre farm near Bonner Springs, Kansas, and, with William States, operated a 6,000-acre ranch near Dodge City. In 1886 he bought out Nelson's interest in the Shoe Bar and with another partner, L. C. Coleman, formed the Bugbee-Coleman Cattle Company. They remained partners until Coleman's death in 1894, at which time Bugbee sold out his own interest to A. J. Snyder. Afterwards he started the 69 Ranch in Knox County with 3,500 cattle for breeding purposes.

In 1897 Bugbee moved his family from Kansas City to Clarendon, Texas, where he continued with his ranching interests and served as president of the Panhandle and Southwestern Stockmen's Association from 1900 to 1908. He introduced maize, kafir, and many other grains and grasses to the Panhandle and also brought in some of the first harvesters and tractors. As a civic leader, Bugbee led in the founding and supporting of schools and other civilizing institutions. He died at his home in Clarendon on October 18, 1925.

James Cox, Historical and Biographical Record of the Cattle Industry (2 vols., St. Louis: Woodward and Tiernan Printing, 1894, 1895; rpt., with an introduction by J. Frank Dobie, New York: Antiquarian, 1959). John Thomas Duncan, "The Settlement of Hall County," West Texas Historical Association Yearbook 18 (1942). Helen Bugbee Officer, "A Sketch of the Life of Thomas Sherman Bugbee, 1841–1925," Panhandle-Plains Historical Review 5 (1932). Pauline D. and R. L. Robertson, Cowman's Country: Fifty Frontier Ranches in the Texas Panhandle, 1876–1887 (Amarillo: Paramount, 1981). Lester Fields Sheffy, "Thomas Sherman Bugbee," Panhandle-Plains Historical Review 2 (1929).

  • Ranching and Cowboys
  • Ranchers and Cattlemen
Time Periods:
  • Late Nineteenth-Century Texas

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

H. Allen Anderson, “Bugbee, Thomas Sherman,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 28, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/bugbee-thomas-sherman.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

September 30, 2020