Keeran, John Newbanks (1824–1904)

By: Thomas W. Cutrer

Type: Biography

Published: February 1, 1995

Updated: November 6, 2019

John Newbanks (Captain) Keeran, rancher and stock breeder, was born at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, in 1824 and by the age of fourteen was driving cattle from Dayton, Ohio, to Brighton, Massachusetts. In 1849 he went to California, where he amassed a considerable fortune in the gold fields and ranching. He is said to have been the first man to raise wheat in the San Joaquin valley of California and to have sold horses to Brigham Young in Utah. In Arkansas he married Mary Tyner, and in 1867 Keeran and his bride sailed around Cape Horn to Texas, where he and two partners had purchased from Wash Trahern, sight unseen, 25,000 to 30,000 acres of virgin prairie in southeast Victoria County. Keeran soon bought out his partners and established the California Ranch, where he built a home of redwood lumber shipped from California by way of Indianola. He was among the first cattlemen in the area to fence his pastures. In 1878 he began to improve his stock of free-roaming range cattle by importing from India, with his friend Abel H. (Shanghai) Pierce, five blooded Brahman cattle. Due to his policy of never selling female stock, his herd grew rapidly, and soon Keeran was driving his stock "up the trail" to Dodge City and Kansas City.

He was a Mason and a founder and director of the Victoria National Bank. In the words of early Texas historian Victor Marion Rose, Keeran led "in point of wealth all the `bovine kings of Victoria.'" Like many South Texas cattlemen, Keeran had no use for oil or oil wells on his property. On one occasion drillers seeking water struck oil at a depth of only a few hundred feet, and the oil gushed over his pastures, ruining the grass. He was furious.

When Keeran died in 1904 his son, Claude A. Keeran, took over the ranching operation. His daughter Armel, a much-respected cattle raiser, married Henry Clay Koontz, Jr., of the Koontz Ranch. The California Ranch and its offshoot, the HK Ranch of Placedo, have been operated by successive generations of Keeran's children and grandchildren. The Keeran herd is the basis of the HK American Red Brahman Show String, which by the end of the 1976 show season had won more championships than all other red Brahmans combined in the history of the breed; between 1976 and 1978 the HK Brahmans won an additional fifty-one United States championships.

Thomas S. Chamblin, ed., The Historical Encyclopedia of Texas (2 vols., Dallas: Texas Historical Institute, 1982). Roy Grimes, ed., 300 Years in Victoria County (Victoria, Texas: Victoria Advocate, 1968; rpt., Austin: Nortex, 1985).

  • Ranching and Cowboys
  • Ranchers and Cattlemen

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

Thomas W. Cutrer, “Keeran, John Newbanks,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 18, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

February 1, 1995
November 6, 2019