Herring, Cornelius Taylor (1849–1931)

By: H. Allen Anderson

Type: Biography

Published: February 1, 1995

Updated: October 30, 2019

Cornelius Taylor (Neal) Herring, rancher and businessman, one of eight children of Jesse and Sarah (Friend) Herring, was born on November 13, 1849, in Grayson County, Texas. He was devoted to his mother and was devastated by her death when he was about ten years old. His father remarried, but the boy apparently disliked his stepmother and went to live with a neighbor. His father enlisted in the Confederate Army in 1861 and served with honor throughout the Civil War. At the age of thirteen, Neal, who never worked for hire, began farming near Hillsboro, in Hill County, and started buying, selling, and trading cattle. Within two years he had acquired 100 head. After the war he and his younger brother, Emerson, formed a partnership, bought cattle in Navarro County, drove them to Shreveport, Louisiana, and shipped them to market in New Orleans. On one of these drives through Smith County, the Herrings met Richard Lawrence, who had two daughters. On February 23, 1869, Neal married Sarah Jane Lawrence at her hometown, Starrville; Emerson married her sister a short time later. In 1872 the brothers purchased two farms totaling 500 acres in Smith County. There C. T. and Sarah Herring spent their first years. They had two children.

As early as 1878 "Colonel" Herring (an honorary title given him by boyhood friends) began running cattle in Archer County, where he reportedly introduced his Chain C brand. Though he had established his reputation as a cowman and entrepreneur throughout central and eastern Texas, he felt that better opportunities lay in the West. He made Fort Worth a center for his operations in the early 1880s and leased rangeland from the Comanche and Kiowa tribes in the Indian Territory. At about the same time he secured contracts to build portions of both the Texas and Pacific and the Cotton Belt (see St. Louis Southwestern) railroads. By 1884 Herring owned about 3,000 steers that grazed north of the Red River. In 1887 he and a partner, Bill Stinson, began using the Chain C brand on their herd of about 12,000 longhorns grazing on 150,000 acres in the disputed Greer County. Their headquarters was south of Navajo Mountain. Among the cowboys working the ranch were Allen Stagg, Herring's brother Emerson, who ran his own herd, and their half-brothers Bud and Dick Herring.

Sarah Jane Herring apparently never shared her husband's ambitions and would not leave her mother and family. Their marriage ended in 1888, and she subsequently "took to her bed" for nearly two decades. On September 23, 1889, Herring married Elizabeth (Birdie) Smithey of Fort Worth. Shortly afterward they moved to Vernon in Wilbarger County. They had no children. There Herring cemented his friendship with Quanah Parker, who became so impressed with Birdie's cooking that he reportedly once offered Herring twelve Indian ponies for her. When his cattle began disappearing on a regular basis, Herring made the Comanche chief a partner and the losses were stopped. In the summer of 1890 Herring was driving a herd across the Red River at Doan's Crossing during a thunderstorm when lightning knocked him from his horse. Though his felt-lined hat saved his life, he was ill for several months and was temporarily paralyzed. By 1894 Herring had 20,000 cattle and was leasing 175,000 acres in Oklahoma. In 1895 he opened the C. T. Herring Banking Company in Vernon and became its first president. He also built the Wilbarger Hotel in Vernon and owned thirteen lumber companies throughout North Texas. By the late 1890s he and his son Will were ranging cattle all the way from the New Mexico border to the Red Box Ranch near Emporia, Kansas.

Herring's interest in the Panhandle began in 1904, when he purchased the Seven-Up Ranch in Castro County from L. D. Green. He operated this spread for about twenty years as the Flagg Ranch before dividing it into farm tracts in 1925. In 1907 Herring and his son bought 100,000 acres of the L S Ranch in Oldham County near Tascosa and stocked it with 10,000 Herefords. He moved to Amarillo at that time and two years later built a three-story mansion in a wheat field south of downtown Amarillo. The seventeen-room home featured pillars and a balcony and contained imported chandeliers, rugs, tapestries, marble fireplaces, oak woodwork, and a parquet floor. An eastern artist was commissioned to paint frescoes in the interior of the house, a summerhouse was constructed on the back lawn, and the grounds were formally landscaped. From this showplace Herring proceeded to expand his cattle operations. In 1915 he purchased the Kit Carson Ranch on Big Creek, so named because the famous scout Christopher H. Carson had reportedly camped there during a buffalo hunt in Hutchinson County. Other holdings included the Y Ranch near Paducah, the H-Anchor Ranch near Crowell, a ranch in the Big Bend country, and farming interests in Hartley and Moore counties.

Herring was the first president of the West Texas Chamber of Commerce, which encompassed all of the Panhandle, and president of the Tri-State Fair Association. He erected the five-story Palo Duro Hotel in 1923 and the fourteen-story Herring Hotel three years later. He was among those who financed the construction of the Amarillo Building, helped draw up the city's first charter, and owned stock in the Amarillo Gas Company, forebear of Pioneer Natural Gas. He was president of the Panhandle Livestock Association and was involved with such organizations as the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, Rotary Club, Boy Scouts, Odd Fellows, and Elks Club. Herring died on June 29, 1931, and was buried in the Llano Cemetery. Birdie subsequently sold the house and moved into a suite in the Herring Hotel, where she died on March 12, 1953. The Herring mansion at 2216 Van Buren Street, Amarillo, became a part of Amarillo College but was razed in 1970 for a parking lot near the Amarillo Art Center. The Herring (Kit Carson) Ranch near Stinnett and the Herring National Bank in Vernon were both still operated by family heirs in the 1980s.

Amarillo Genealogical Society, Texas Panhandle Forefathers, comp. Barbara C. Spray (Dallas: National ShareGraphics, 1983). Castro County Historical Commission, Castro County, 1891–1981 (Dallas: Taylor, 1981). Gus L. Ford, ed., Texas Cattle Brands (Dallas: Cockrell, 1936). Hutchinson County Historical Commission, History of Hutchinson County, Texas (Dallas: Taylor, 1980).


  • Ranching and Cowboys
  • Ranchers and Cattlemen

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

H. Allen Anderson, “Herring, Cornelius Taylor,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed October 19, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/herring-cornelius-taylor.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

February 1, 1995
October 30, 2019