Carter, James W. (1845–1916)

By: H. Allen Anderson

Type: Biography

Published: December 1, 1994

Updated: October 20, 2020

James W. Carter, the first permanent White resident of Castro County, was born on February 13, 1845, and spent much of his youth in Stephenville, where he grew up in the cattle business. In 1874 he became one of the first settlers to locate on Jim Ned Creek near Buffalo Gap in Taylor County. Two years later A. J. Breeding, a native of West Virginia, took his family from Minnesota to Cedar Gap, four miles from Buffalo Gap; in 1878 Carter married Breeding's daughter Ellen. In 1879 he and his half-brothers John and Lish took some 300 cattle to the vicinity of present Pecos, Texas. The following year they gathered the remainder of the herd, about 3,000 head, and established a headquarters about eight miles below the future townsite. To this ranch the Carters freighted supplies and brought their wives; Lish Carter married Ellen's sister Jennie in 1881. They resided in half-dugout huts of native materials (see DUGOUT).

After the Texas and Pacific Railway came through in 1882 the Carters sold their Pecos ranch to Colonel Gottard of St. Louis and returned briefly to Taylor County. In 1883 J. W. Carter purchased seventy-two sections in Castro County at seventy-nine cents an acre. He, his wife, and three small children made their way in wagons from Taylor County to their new homestead, bringing with them carpenters, lumber, all necessary supplies and tools to build and equip a four-room house, and a year's supply of groceries. Carter established headquarters on the north side of Running Water Draw about fourteen miles southwest of the site of present Dimmitt. He fenced in eighteen sections for a horse pasture and erected a two-story, four-room dugout on top of the slope overlooking the draw. On his 53,000-acre range, he grazed 3,000 head of cattle that bore his Seven-Up brand. Elizabeth Carter, born in 1886, was the first White child born in the county; the Carters eventually had two sons and three daughters. The family obtained supplies at Colorado City and after 1887 at Amarillo. In 1887 Carter added to his herd 15,000 two-year-old steers from Taylor County.

From 1884 to 1890 the Carters were the only settlers in Castro County. Their nearest neighbors were at the Springlake and Escarbada divisions of the XIT Ranch and C. C. Slaughter's Circle Cross, then managed by Ellen's brother, Bill Breeding. Lish and Jennie Breeding Carter settled on Tierra Blanca Creek, in Deaf Smith County, in 1886. As the family grew, J. W. and Ellen Carter added to their house and later began hosting Saturday night dances. Mrs. Carter also won a reputation among area cowboys and nesters as a nurse and midwife. In 1888 the Carters hired Elizabeth (Lizzie) Bayne of Amarillo as a governess and tutor for their children since there was no school for them to attend. After Dimmitt was founded and Castro County was organized in 1891, Miss Bayne became the county's first schoolteacher. To help make up the list of 150 residents required for county organization, Carter is said to have given fictitious surnames to his horses.

In 1891 he went into a business partnership with two store owners in Amarillo. Unfortunately that move proved unwise, for by 1895 the Seven-Up Ranch was encumbered with a $52,000 debt. Hoping to save at least part of this land and cattle, Carter bought into the store, only to learn that there was a $100,000 note against it. Thus he was compelled to sell the land at public auction in May 1895 to pay his numerous creditors. The highest bidder was the Scottish American Mortgage Company.

The Carters moved to Dimmitt, where they established the thirty-room Castro Hotel, one of the first Panhandle lodgings to have piped hot and cold water. They managed this business until Carter's death on June 25, 1916. The following year Ellen sold it with the provision that it would be her home for as long as she lived. She died on May 16, 1942, and the hotel was subsequently sold to J. E. Hyatt and moved to Plainview. J. W. and Ellen Carter are buried in the Castro Memorial Gardens in Dimmitt.

Lana Payne Barnett and Elizabeth Brooks Buhrkuhl, eds., Presenting the Texas Panhandle (Canyon, Texas: Lan-Bea, 1979). Castro County Historical Commission, Castro County, 1891–1981 (Dallas: Taylor, 1981).

  • Ranching and Cowboys
  • Ranchers and Cattlemen

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

H. Allen Anderson, “Carter, James W.,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 22, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

December 1, 1994
October 20, 2020