Masterson, Robert Benjamin (1853–1931)

By: H. Allen Anderson

Type: Biography

Published: April 1, 1995

Updated: January 2, 2020

Robert Benjamin (Ben) Masterson, an early Panhandle cattleman, the son of Robert and Elizabeth Ann (Gotcher) Masterson, was born on December 12, 1853, in Colbert County, Alabama. The family moved to Travis County in 1854 and later to Round Rock in Williamson County. Masterson wanted to follow his father in the freighting and cattle business. In addition to teaching school, he started buying, selling, borrowing, and trading stock. Gradually, he accumulated a herd of his own, which he branded with a Long S. In October 1880 Masterson married Sallie Lee Exum of Lampasas. They had two children. During the next three years, Masterson and his nephews, Robert and Charles Hamilton, continued driving Long S cattle north over the Western Trail. At one time some 15,000 Masterson cattle grazed 200,000 acres. In 1884 Mrs. Masterson died of pneumonia. On February 24, 1886, Masterson married Anna Eliza Exum, a younger sister of his late wife; they had six children. After residing briefly in Lampasas, Masterson moved his family to his new ranch headquarters, near Mobeetie in Wheeler County. On May 1, 1898, a tornado destroyed most of Mobeetie, including Masterson's adobe townhouse, and killed his infant son.

Cattle prices soon improved, and Masterson moved his family to Fort Worth. In the fall of 1898 he purchased a 40,000-acre tract in eastern King County, where he pastured 1,700 cattle and adopted his famous JY brand. After fencing and improving this tract and selling the Wheeler County properties, Masterson, with 155,000 acres and 12,000 cattle, formed the partnership of R. B. Masterson and Sons, with headquarters twenty miles east of Guthrie, King County. Masterson managed his King County ranch until 1910, when he sold 71,000 acres of pastureland. Leaving the remainder in his sons' care, he moved to Amarillo, where he bought 91,000 acres along the north bank of the Canadian River from the American Pastoral Company (LX Ranch) in Potter and Moore counties for a reported $334,000. Masterson was said to have chosen the north bank after winning a coin toss against Lee Bivins because on the north side of the river he would have his back to northers. On this choice acreage, quickly increased to 122,000 acres, the family grazed 8,000 cattle for the next seven years. During this time Masterson began breeding the JY's famous herd of black Angus cattle from a prize bull and six cows imported from Scotland, which he bought from Sheb Williams of Paris, Texas.

In 1917 he sold his cattle and leased his Panhandle lands at inflated prices. This enabled him to weather the severe post-World War I recession in the cattle market and to repurchase for twenty-five dollars each cows that he had sold for $100. Prospects of oil also allowed him to sell leases at enormous prices, some as high as fifty dollars an acre. In 1921 Masterson divided his ranch holdings among his children, giving to his sons the King County ranch and to his daughters the pastures in the Panhandle. He continued investing in real estate, farm and ranch lands, and commercial property in Amarillo. The town of Masterson, in Moore County, was named for him. He also served on the board of directors of the Drumm Commission Company at Kansas City and the First National Bank of Fort Worth. He died in Amarillo on August 1, 1931, and was buried in Llano Cemetery. The old stone JY bunkhouse is now a part of the Ranching Heritage Center in Lubbock.

Ben Masterson, "The JY Cattle Brand," Panhandle-Plains Historical Review 16 (1943). Pauline D. and R. L. Robertson, Cowman's Country: Fifty Frontier Ranches in the Texas Panhandle, 1876–1887 (Amarillo: Paramount, 1981). Zachary Taylor Scott, Robert Benjamin Masterson (Austin, 1930). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.


  • 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, “Masterson, Robert Benjamin,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed September 26, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

April 1, 1995
January 2, 2020