The Frying Pan Ranch originated when Henry B. Sanborn, sales representative for Joseph F. Glidden's barbed wire manufacturing firm in DeKalb, Illinois, sought further publicity for the new product. Having established a successful ranch in Grayson County, Sanborn, acting in partnership with Glidden, bought ninety-five sections of land in the Panhandle in 1881. This tract covered the entire southwestern part of Potter County north almost to the Canadian River and bordered the T-Anchor Ranch in Randall County. It included Tecovas Spring, which had once been a bartering site for Indians and comancheros and later had been used by New Mexican sheepmen. John S. Summerfield, surveying for the Gunter and Munson firm in Sherman, reported the spring's continual flow of fresh water to Sanborn, who chose the site for the ranch headquarters.
After buying the land Sanborn decided to enclose it in barbed wire and hired Warren W. Wetsel of Sherman to oversee the work. The fence, which cost $39,000, was built with cedar posts brought from Palo Duro Canyon and from the breaks of the Sierrita de la Cruz in the northwest part of the ranch. When finished, the four-wire fence measured 120 miles. Wetsel stayed on as bookkeeper and in 1882 brought his bride, Kate, out from New York. She remained the only woman in Potter County for six years and became an immediate favorite among the area cowboys. The Wetsels built a comfortable dugout in the hillside near the springs. It served as the ranch headquarters until the completion of a large nine-room adobe house and stables nearby.
The ranch was soon stocked with 15,000 cattle, and 125,000 more acres were added to the holdings, including the site of present Wildorado in Oldham County. The story goes that Sanborn had originally called his brand the Panhandle, but when a cowhand remarked that the brand was shaped like a frying pan the ranch adopted the name. The circle was burned on the animal's left hip with the handle extending under the tail. When Glidden first visited his ranch in 1884, his initial fear that there was "not enough grass to feed a goose" was quickly dispelled by the sight of almost 20,000 fattened cattle. Arch Childers, formerly employed on Sanborn's Grayson County ranch, served as the first foreman and was followed by Bob Bassett, John Grissom, Charles Gillespie, and Henry M. Beverly.
The serene life of the Frying Pan was disturbed by the arrival of the Fort Worth and Denver City Railway in 1887. The track ran diagonally through the ranch from southeast to northwest, cutting it into east and west pastures. When the county was organized and J. T. Berry established Amarillo as the seat, Sanborn developed his own Amarillo immediately east of Berry's site and on the ranch's eastern boundary. Soon the town businesses and residences were moved to this new location, and on May 20, 1893, it became the county seat. As a result, in 1892 Glidden and Sanborn decided to end their partnership. Sanborn retained his town properties and 25,000 acres in Randall County, and Glidden took the rest of the Frying Pan Ranch. According to their agreement Sanborn was to run the ranch for two more years. Out of the proceeds of certain cattle and personal ranch property a $150,000 mortgage against the ranch held by Isaac L. Ellwood, Glidden's associate in the barbed wire business, was to be paid. When the contract was closed in 1894 Glidden and Sanborn disposed of all the Frying Pan cattle; Ellwood took the three-year-olds, which numbered about 5,000. The ranch was subsequently cut up into various pastures and leased out.
In 1898 Glidden transferred the Frying Pan Ranch to his son-in-law, William Henry Bush of Chicago, for $68,000. Beginning in 1906 James A. Bush, a half-brother, was employed as manager. In 1986 the lands long known as the Bush Estate, centered around Bushland, were still managed by the heirs and still used the Frying Pan brand. Amarillo's Western Avenue is on the ranch's original eastern boundary, and Bush heirs reside at the Frying Pan headquarters on North Western. At Tecovas Spring the old springhouse bears a memorial plaque.