The Hashknife Ranch was begun in 1875 by J. R. Couts and John N. Simpson when they drove a herd of longhorn cattle from Weatherford to Elm Creek in Taylor County near the site of present Abilene. The ranch established its headquarters in a dugout on the creek bank near a high hill. It was named for the peculiar brand, which resembled a hash knife, a common kitchen tool used to chop meat and vegetables. Couts was said to have originated the brand as early as 1872, and when he formed his partnership with Simpson, who married his niece, they chose that brand. By 1879 a more comfortable wooden cabin had replaced the dugout headquarters on Elm Creek. The Hashknife range was gradually extended west into Nolan County, and in 1880 additional free rangeland was acquired on the southwest bank of the Pecos River; the range ran from the New Mexico line 100 miles downstream to Grand Falls and twenty-five to thirty miles out from that river. Charles W. Buster, another investor, was put in charge of this range, which branded 10,000 calves annually for the next five years. Each spring, some 5,000 Hashknife steer yearlings were trailed north to Montana. By 1885 the Pecos range was running over 34,000 cattle. That summer Buster and the Hashknife owners sold the herd to Henry Warren, manager of the Aztec Land and Cattle Company. Warren trailed these longhorns to his ranch, which he had established the year before, between Holbrook and Flagstaff, Arizona. This was the "Hashknife Outfit," immortalized in the novels of Zane Grey, whose employees became involved, to some extent, in the Graham-Tewksbury feud during the 1880s and 1890s. Later, in 1901, this ranch was sold to the Babbitt brothers of Flagstaff.
In the meantime, Simpson and the Buster brothers had formed the Continental Land and Cattle Company of St. Louis, Missouri, with William E. Hughes, who had bought out Couts's interests in 1881. They immediately purchased the Miller Creek outfit, in Baylor County, from the Millett brothers and added it to the Hashknife holdings. This gave the Hashknife a total of 50,000 cattle. When the Texas and Pacific Railway began building into West Texas, Simpson arranged to meet with the railroad officials at the Hashknife headquarters and was influential in getting the line routed through Taylor County. As a result the town of Abilene developed just southwest of the headquarters. After the completion of the railroad in 1882, the former Millett spread in Baylor County became the center of the Hashknife Ranch operations. Hashknife cattle were also run on choice grazing land along the forks of the Concho in Tom Green County during 1883–84; it was for this ranch that Sam Isaacs worked briefly as an "outside man." After the sale of the Pecos range cattle to the Aztec Company in 1885, the Continental Cattle Company purchased the W Ranch on the northeast bank of the Pecos and used it for Hashknife stock, under C. W. Buster's management, until 1893 when they sold it to the Johnson brothers.
By 1889 the Continental Cattle Company had disposed of the Hashknife Ranch in Baylor County and moved its cattle to the Mill Iron range in the lower Panhandle. At that time the old Hashknife brand was discontinued, but beginning in 1882 E. C. Sterling and Sons used an inverted form of the brand on about 8,000 cattle, which they ran on 80,000 acres in Baylor and Throckmorton counties until 1906. From 1906 to 1917 the brand was run by the Knox brothers, from 1917 to 1926 by J. W. Stevens and sons, from 1926 to 1928 by J. W. Knox, and from 1928 to 1950 by E. W. Hunt of Olney. Ernest Hunt inherited the ranch from his father in 1950 and ran it until 1993, when his son Ernest W. Hunt, Jr., and daughter K. Ann Hunt Schriver took over. The site of the old Hashknife headquarters in Taylor County is now a part of the campus of Abilene Christian University, which was established in 1927.