Cal Farley's Boys Ranch was founded in 1939 by Cal Farley, former professional wrestler and Amarillo businessman, on the site of Old Tascosa in Oldham County. The original 120 acres was given by Julian Bivins, son of Lee Bivins and himself a prominent Panhandle rancher, who died in a plane crash a year later. The ranch opened in March 1939 with five boys housed in the old county courthouse, which also served as the first headquarters of the institution. Chanslor Weymouth, Ralph Dykeman, and other leaders from the Maverick Club, the Rotarian boys' club of Amarillo, formed the first board of directors of the ranch. They sought to help Farley provide "the boy nobody wanted" with "a shirttail to hang to," and Farley used his radio program to promote the ranch. As contributions increased, more facilities were added, and full-time staff members were hired; Alton Weeks, a cousin of Cecil (Stuttering Sam) Hunter, was the first superintendent, and Mrs. Maude Thompson was the first cook. Overall, the boys were provided with a "home-ranch" atmosphere. Among their privileges they were allowed to keep pets and maintain a pet cemetery. By 1941 twenty-five young "ranchers" were crowded into the old courthouse.
During World War II Farley often raised money by having Amarillo school children hold bond drives. The first annual Boys Ranch Rodeo was staged in 1944. That decade the ranch gained national attention through such magazines as the Saturday Evening Post and Reader's Digest. In 1946 it received its biggest boost when it became the subject of the M-G-M movie Boys Ranch, with James Craig and Dorothy Patrick as Cal and Mimi Farley and the young ranchers as extras. Such celebrities as Jack Dempsey, Gene Tunny, J. Edgar Hoover, and Roy Rogers were among the ranch's friends and supporters, along with businessmen like Eugene A. Howe and Lawrence R. Hagey. By 1949 Boys Ranch had over 100 residents, expanded acreage, and several new buildings moved from military bases after the war, including a gymnasium. By that time Farley had sold his Wun-Stop-Duzzit tire shop to devote full time to the ranch, and that year the ranch began printing its own newsletter, the Round-up.
In 1950, after a group of rebellious teenagers had threatened the previous superintendent, Farley averted further problems by hiring a professional wrestler, Dorrance Funk. Funk and his family became immediate favorites among the youngsters and remained at the ranch for three years, during which time the resident population doubled. In 1955 the new Boys Ranch Independent School facilities were opened. The old courthouse continued to be used as a dormitory until 1963, when it was renovated and opened as the Julian Bivins Museum. By 1966 more than 1,400 acres had been added to the ranch, which cared for 346 formerly homeless boys between the ages of four and eighteen, from thirty-seven states. The boys lived in eleven dormitories, nine of which housed thirty-six boys and two staff families each, and two of which housed the youngest boys. There were sixteen additional buildings for educational, sports, and vocational training and a nonsectarian chapel. In addition to the annual rodeo, football, basketball, and baseball are among popular sports at Boys Ranch, which has its own post office. After the deaths of Cal and Mimi Farley in 1967, the ranch was run by their daughter and son-in-law, Gene and Sherman Harriman.
The ranch is supported solely by contributions. By 1973 2,500 boys from every state and several foreign countries had been educated, trained, and cared for at the ranch without cost to any governmental, church, or civic agency. In April 1987 Girlstown, U.S.A., merged with Cal Farley's Boys Ranch. Afterwards the Boys Ranch general fund financed much of the Girlstown operations. Cal Farley's Family Program oversaw the Girlstown facility at Borger-providing homes for male and female elementary school age children. The Boys Ranch also provided a scholarship and loan fund for eligible applicants at the Girlstown campus at Whiteface. In 1994 the resident population of Boys Ranch was 412, and it was a co-ed facility. In the center of this ranching community stands a memorial to its founder, who dedicated his life to helping "the bottom ten percent of the Nation's youth."
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Beth Feagles Day, A Shirttail to Hang To: The Story of Cal Farley and His Boys Ranch (New York: Holt, 1959). Louie Hendricks, No Rules or Guidelines (Amarillo: Cal Farley's Boys Ranch, 1971).
State Schools and Orphanages
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
H. Allen Anderson,
“Cal Farley's Boys Ranch,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed May 21, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
Most Recent Revision Date:
December 1, 1994