Bush, William Henry (1849–1931)

By: H. Allen Anderson

Type: Biography

Published: November 1, 1994

William Henry Bush, manufacturer, rancher, and businessman, was born in Martinsburg, New York, on October 22, 1849, the son of James and Caroline Lucretia (Hills) Bush. In 1862, after he turned thirteen, he attempted twice to run away and join the Union Army as a drummer boy. As a result his mother apprenticed him to a store owner in Lowville, New York, for an annual salary of $100 plus room and board. In 1866 general merchants Seth Miller and Son of Constableville, New York, hired Bush as a clerk. At age twenty he accepted a job offer from King Brothers and Company, a wholesale hat firm in Chicago. After learning the business, Bush was elevated to a junior partnership in the firm, and by 1877 he had accumulated $28,000. That year he married Elva Glidden, the daughter and only child of barbed wire manufacturer Joseph F. Glidden. They had no children.

Early in the summer of 1879 Bush arrived in the Panhandle as an agent for Glidden. His mission was to seek out a suitable ranch site where Glidden's new product could be adequately tested. Bush reported that the fertile land around Tecovas Spring, in southwestern Potter County, was ideal for that purpose and recommended its purchase. Consequently, in 1881, Glidden formed a partnership with Henry B. Sanborn and established the Frying Pan Ranch. Bush was made a partner in the endeavor with the understanding that he would make an inspection trip from Chicago on his father-in-law's behalf every two years thereafter.

Meanwhile, he eventually formed his own hat, cap, and glove firm, Bush, Simmons, and Company, in 1885 with his brother-in-law, F. T. Simmons. In 1903 they split, and each formed his own business; Bush became president of the Bush Hat Company. Although Chicago remained his home base, Bush became a leading booster of Amarillo, particularly after the termination of the Glidden-Sanborn partnership in 1894. By then Sanborn's addition had become Amarillo's main business district, and Bush had purchased a block for his sister Harriet and her husband, F. T. Simmons. He also induced H. P. Canode of DeKalb, Illinois, to buy the Amarillo Hotel and turn it into a first-class hostelry. In 1898 Glidden deeded the Frying Pan Ranch properties to his son-in-law for $68,000. Bush was a prime mover in the Chicago, Rock Island and Gulf Railway's purchase of the Choctaw, Oklahoma and Texas line in 1903 and the subsequent extension of that line through Amarillo to Tucumcari, New Mexico. He founded the town of Bushland as a railroad shipping point for the Frying Pan interests and in 1904 induced his sister and brother-in-law to deed their downtown property to Potter County for the establishment of a new courthouse and jail.

After the death of his first wife, Bush married Ruth Russel Gentry, on October 20, 1908, and they became the parents of two daughters. In 1912 the Bushes built a spacious stone house about a mile north of the Amarillo Country Club, where they spent several weeks each summer. The world's largest known helium deposit, from which the government helium plant was supplied, was on their property (see HELIUM PRODUCTION). To the end of his life, Bush was one of Amarillo's leading benefactors. He was a member of the Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago. He died of influenza on April 9, 1931, and was buried in Chicago. At the time of his death, his estate, half of which was in the Panhandle, was valued at around $5 million. At one time, the Bush properties consisted of 119,000 acres in Potter, Randall, Moore, and Sherman counties. The Bush heirs continued to operate the Frying Pan Ranch; in 1987 they owned about 200 sections in Potter, Randall, Oldham, and Sherman counties.

Laura V. Hamner, Short Grass and Longhorns (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1943). Della Tyler Key, In the Cattle Country: History of Potter County, 1887–1966 (Amarillo: Tyler-Berkley, 1961; 2d ed., (Wichita Falls: Nortex, 1972). Mrs. Clyde W. Warwick, comp., The Randall County Story (Hereford, Texas: Pioneer, 1969).
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

H. Allen Anderson, “Bush, William Henry,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 24, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/bush-william-henry.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

November 1, 1994