Five South Texas entrepreneurs, cattlemen, and dreamers pooled their assets and wits in 1871 to form one of the largest cattle companies in Texas. Col. George Ware Fulton was the leader. He convinced Youngs Coleman, his son Thomas M. Coleman, Thomas Henry Mathis, and his cousin, J. M. Mathis, to form the Coleman, Mathis, Fulton Cattle Company, with headquarters in the new town of Rockport.
Fulton came to Texas in 1837 from Philadelphia with a company of men to help in the Texas Revolution. He married Harriet G. Smith, eldest daughter of former governor Henry Smith. Youngs Coleman came to Texas shortly after the revolution and settled in Jackson County. By the early 1850s he was one of the largest landowners in San Patricio County. His son, Tom, was associated with his father and gradually took over the family ranching interests. The Mathis cousins were drawn to the South Texas in 1859. They were involved in trading with Mexico. T. H. joined the Confederate Army and after the war returned to South Texas as a trader and merchant. The cousins built a packery at the site of present Rockport and went into business with their own steamboat, the Prince Albert, shipping tallow, hides, and bones to the east.
The four men pooled their private landholdings to get the Coleman, Mathis, Fulton Cattle Company started and immediately began a campaign of acquiring additional land. At its peak the company controlled 265,000 acres of land that ran from Rockport westward through San Patricio County and spilled over into Live Oak, Bee, and Goliad counties. Some of the first fences in South Texas were put up by this company. Since this was before the advent of barbed wire, they used smooth wire and in one instance built a board fence that enclosed a sizable portion of the land near Rockport as a holding area for cattle awaiting their turn at the slaughterhouse. Later, after barbed wire was introduced, the partners continued fencing the entire ranch and put in cross fences to make individual pastures.
From the beginning they spent money like the storied cattle barons. This led to early financial trouble and heavy borrowing; however, early company records reveal that in 1878 the company declared a dividend of $214,624.19-partly with borrowed money. Personality conflicts and disagreements over finances, plus a prolonged drought, caused the partners to dissolve the company in 1879. Under the terms of the agreement the Mathis cousins received the Henry Bend Ranch near Mathis, as well as land in Live Oak and Goliad counties, a total of 47,000 acres.
The other three partners, Fulton and Youngs and Tom Coleman, formed the Coleman-Fulton Pasture Company to take the place of the dissolved organization. Youngs Coleman actually never took part in the management of the company, since he refused to pledge allegiance to the Union after the Civil War and chose to buy a huge plantation in Mexico. He left Tom Coleman in charge of his interests. G. W. Fulton, Jr., was brought into the company in 1884 and replaced Tom Coleman as ranch superintendent in 1885, thus causing a rift that had lasting effects on the company.
Financial problems beset the company, which now embraced 167,000 acres of land, primarily in San Patricio County. Fulton borrowed money from millionaire David Sinton, an acquaintance and college mate in Cincinnati. Continued borrowing finally gave Sinton the controlling interest in the company after he purchased the Coleman interests. At the death of Sinton his only daughter, Anna, the wife of Charles P. Taft, inherited control of the company. Taft was the half-brother of President William Howard Taft.
Despite financial problems the company became a leader in the ranching world in South Texas. Improved breeds of cattle were introduced in keeping with Colonel Fulton's desire to push forward. Originally the company offices were in Rockport, with the ranch headquarters at Rincon (eight miles north of Gregory). When the railroad came through San Patricio County in 1886 the office was moved to Rincon and later to Gregory, which was on the railroad. The last company office was in a two-story building constructed by the company in 1923 in Taft to house the company's two banks on the ground floor and company offices on the second floor.
By the late 1890s Sinton had full control of the company, had eliminated all debts, and had the cattle ranch on a paying basis. He had already bought the 224,000-acre Catarina Ranch in Dimmit County and installed a young attorney by the name of Joseph F. Green in 1896 as manager. In 1900 Green was made manager of the Coleman-Fulton Pasture Company. With the death of Sinton in 1900, and the assumption of management by Charles P. Taft, the ranch began to be known locally as the Taft Ranch. However, the official name, Coleman-Fulton Pasture Company, remained until the charter was officially dissolved in 1930.
From the time he took over the affairs of the ranch in 1900 until his death in 1926, Green was the driving force in the building of an agricultural and ranching giant; he subsequently presided over its sell-out. Green's instructions had been to develop the ranch in such a manner as to increase the value of the company's land. To bring this about he poured millions into the Taft Ranch, developing breeds of cattle and improving agriculture. The keystone in his plan was the formation of the town of Taft in 1904. When the first sweet water was discovered in Taft in 1909, the board of directors of Coleman-Fulton Pasture Company authorized Green to construct an agricultural-industrial complex in Taft. Eventually a meat-packing plant with a slaughterhouse and rendering plant, power plant, ice plant, creamery, hatchery, machine shop, cottonseed oil mill, cotton gins, and a feed mill were built. The plan was simple: to increase the value of the land by providing a market for the new farmers to sell their products.
The ranch became a leader in the opening of the area to agriculture by developing a system of company farms to pioneer different crops in the area. Shorthorn cattle were introduced, and an extensive dairy herd was formed that won national awards. La Quinta, a large mansion, was constructed in 1907 as the superintendent's home and also as a place to entertain the steady stream of national figures, including the president of the United States, William Howard Taft, who visited the ranch in 1909. Leaders in all fields were brought in to head the various ranch departments as the development continued and the sellout began in earnest.
Taft, which was a complete company town, was put on the market in 1921, after streets were built, sewers and water lines laid, power and telephone line strung, and a school built. Over 5,000 people attended the auction, which featured Taft town lots, farm tracts, and company businesses. By the time the charter expired in 1930 the vast ranch and all of its enterprises had been sold. Green purchased key businesses and land that were still owned by his heirs in 1990.