Coburn, James M. (unknown–unknown)

By: H. Allen Anderson

Type: Biography

Published: June 1, 1995

Updated: September 26, 2019

James M. Coburn was the founder of the Hansford Land and Cattle Company, the Scottish syndicate that purchased the Turkey Track Ranch from C. S. Word and Jack Snider in 1882 and added to it the holdings of W. E. Anderson and T. S. Bugbee in Hutchinson County. After emigrating from his native Scotland, he had established himself as a banker in Kansas City. He returned briefly to Scotland and organized the Hansford company to profit from the "Beef Bonanza." On acquiring the Turkey Track lands, company officials elected Coburn secretary and appointed A. H. Johnson general manager. In 1883, after Johnson was killed by lightning, Coburn appointed Thomas Logan Coffee range foreman and assumed the general managerial duties himself. Friction between the two men developed after Coffee apparently accumulated several head of cattle of his own, which he had allowed to run on the Turkey Track range. When Coburn tried to discharge Coffee, several cowhands stood by the foreman and sought to intimidate the Scotsman. Such lack of respect on the part of ranch employees led Coburn to hire Caleb B. (Cape) Willingham as supervisor and maintain Kansas City as his home base. One Panhandle settler later recalled that Coburn was "a nervous, fractious man...scared of his own shadow." Apparently Willingham also served as Coburn's bodyguard and hired gun.

Coburn continued to make occasional visits to the Panhandle. He encouraged William (Billy) Dixon to take up a claim on three sections of Turkey Track land on Bent's Creek near the Adobe Walls site and operate the ranch store and post office. During the summers Coburn brought his wife and children, including several from a previous marriage, to the ranch. One summer one of the Coburn children was taken ill and died almost immediately. Since the Canadian River was up and the local minister could not get across, Coburn himself conducted the Episcopal burial service at the Turkey Track headquarters, with only the ranchhands and the Dixon family in attendance. When the river subsided, the body was shipped to Kansas City for interment in the family burial plot.

After Willingham moved to the Hansford company's ranch in New Mexico in 1893, Coburn began experiencing more troubles with the Panhandle spread. Company officials were concerned about increasing cattle thefts, and Coburn lacked the loyalty he needed from his employees to control them. His problems increased in 1897 after the Texas legislature passed the Four-Section Act, which he opposed. Coburn's quarrels with incoming nesters led to several lawsuits in Hutchinson County. He soon sold his Panhandle interests. After Willingham's resignation from the Hansford company in 1903, Coburn ran the New Mexico ranch himself for a few years, with J. M. Sanford and Cal Merchant assisting him. By 1915 the company had closed out its holdings altogether, and Coburn subsequently disappeared from the Texas ranching scene.

Laura V. Hamner, Short Grass and Longhorns (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1943). John L. McCarty, Adobe Walls Bride (San Antonio: Naylor, 1955).

  • Peoples
  • Scots
  • Ranching and Cowboys
  • Activism and Social Reform
  • Civic Leaders
  • Business
  • Patrons, Collectors, and Philanthropists

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

H. Allen Anderson, “Coburn, James M.,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 07, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

June 1, 1995
September 26, 2019