Nick T. Eaton, Panhandle rancher, was born about 1839 in Missouri and appeared in the Panhandle in 1878, when he brought a herd up from the vicinity of Fort Griffin. Among his hired trail drivers were George Finch, W. K. (Doc) Franz, and James P. (Lengthy) Sutton, all of whom stayed to work on Eaton's new ranch, which he established twenty-five miles west of the site of present Wheeler. This ranch covered a third of Wheeler County and a third of Gray County. The headquarters, built out of cedar posts, was located on Hackberry Creek, a tributary of McClellan Creek, six miles northwest of the locale of present McLean near the North Fork of the Red River. On his range Eaton ran 3,000 head of cattle that carried his U Bar U brand. Finch served as the first wagon boss but became an invalid after a year and died in 1888. He was succeeded as wagon boss by Doc Franz, who as state surveyor for the Clay District had helped survey the Panhandle in 1869–73. Franz also served as range foreman. Thomas T. McGee, later Hemphill county sheriff, was among those hired to drive U Bar U cattle to Dodge City.
Eaton was a charter member of the Panhandle Stock Association, formed in Mobeetie in 1880, and served consistently on the association's executive board. He was also on grand juries, county commissions, and school boards. Eaton and Henry Cresswell became partners about 1880 in a cattle enterprise in which they used a Forked Lightning brand. Their cattle grazed on Eaton's U Bar U range until 1889, when the partners discontinued the brand, shipped out the cattle of that marking, and sold them. Marvin V. Sanders, later Wheeler county sheriff, who worked for Eaton, told of one episode in which Doc Franz and Lengthy Sutton discovered a band of reservation Indians slaughtering some Forked Lightning steers near the U Bar U headquarters. Sutton allegedly rode eighteen miles to Fort Elliott in forty minutes to alert the military. Troops came to escort the Indians back to their reservation, and the government later reimbursed Eaton and Cresswell for the cattle. In 1885 Eaton filed an injunction against Abner P. Blocker to try to prevent him from driving the first XIT Ranch herd across the U Bar U rangeland to Dallam County. However, the case was "dismissed at cost of plaintiff."
After 1889 Eaton, who was approaching fifty, ended his bachelorhood by marrying in Kansas City. There he maintained a palatial mansion for his bride and commuted to his Panhandle ranch during cattle-shipping times. He was known among the "cowpuncher element" as an expert "brand man," straightforward in all his dealing. Eaton reportedly turned the U Bar U's registry over to J. P. Sutton after 1892. Some accounts related that Eaton later committed suicide after going broke.