The Matador Land and Cattle Company had its beginning in 1878, when a Texas cattleman, Henry H. (Hank) Campbell, took a herd of longhorn cattle to Chicago and sold them for a handsome profit. Following the sale, Campbell entered into a partnership with A. M. Britton, a banker, and returned to Texas to acquire a range, purchase cattle, and establish a ranch. He selected an area along the Upper, Middle, and Lower Pease rivers in Motley County in the northwestern part of the state, a region from which the Indians had recently been cleared and where the buffalo had been exterminated. Campbell purchased a small herd, a half-section of land, and "range rights" from Joe Browning and established his headquarters in an abandoned dugout at Ballard Springs, a site named for a former buffalo hunter who had built the dugout. He next bought 8,000 head of Jinglebob cattle, the remnant of John S. Chisum's herd from the Pecos valley in New Mexico. Early in 1879 the enterprise was reorganized as the Matador Cattle Company, with a capital stock of $50,000. The figure suggested a brand, 50M, which was used briefly but was replaced by what became known as the Matador V in 1880. With few expenses, ample water, good grass, and high beef prices, the early years of the ranch's existence were good ones.
The presence of venture capital in Great Britain during the last quarter of the nineteenth century led Britton to Scotland in 1882. There, in Dundee, he succeeded in arousing the interest of a group of businessmen who were eager to invest their funds in American mines, lumber, land, or cattle. Led by several Dundee merchants, the Scots incorporated the Matador Land and Cattle Company, Limited, a joint-stock company, and agreed to purchase the Texas properties: "about 100,000 acres held in fee simple...all range and other rights and privileges in or over 1,500,000 acres...40,000 head of cattle...265 horses and fencing improvements." The price agreed on was $1,250,000, and the sale was completed in December 1882. Alexander Mackay of Dundee, the company's first secretary, worked for fifty-four years overseeing much of the company's operations as a member of the board of directors (1912–36) and as chairman of the board (1915–1936). Hank Campbell, who remained as ranch superintendent under the new owners, began a program that included fencing, the construction of windmills and tanks, and the purchase of additional land to consolidate the range. In 1890 Murdo Mackenzie became the manager of the Matador. Later called by Theodore Roosevelt "the most influential of American cattlemen," Mackenzie began a dual program of grading up the Matador herd through the importation of purebred bulls and of leasing northern pastures for maturing steers of three and four years old. From his headquarters in Trinidad, Colorado, he directed not only the home division in Texas but the leased divisions as well. The latter included 500,000 acres on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, a Sioux preserve in South Dakota (1904–14), 500,000 acres along the Milk River on the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation in northern Montana (1913–28), 150,000 acres along the north bank of the Saskatchewan River in Canada (1905–21), and 300,000 acres on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota (1921–26). In 1902 the Matador purchased 210,000 acres of the XIT Ranch in Oldham County, Texas. Subsequent acquisitions increased the size of this Alamositas Division to approximately 800,000 acres. Throughout the early decades of the twentieth century Matador cattle, in carload lots and individually, won scores of blue ribbons at livestock shows in Chicago, Kansas City, and Denver.
In 1912 Mackenzie resigned the managership to accept a similar position in São Paulo with the huge Brazil Land, Cattle, and Packing Company. His successor in Trinidad was his nephew, John MacBain, who had been with the company for fourteen years. MacBain continued negotiations begun several years earlier with the Quanah, Acme and Pacific Railroad to build a line through the Motley County ranch and onto the High Plains to the west. In 1912 agreements were reached that called for the Matador to grant to the railroad a right-of-way 100 feet wide through the company lands and to pay the railroad the sum of $85,000. The town of Roaring Springs was laid out eight miles south of the ranch headquarters, and track-laying operations began late in 1912. On June 19, 1913, a special train carrying prospective settlers ran from Quanah to Roaring Springs, and the Roaring Springs Townsite Company, a joint venture between the Matador and the railroad, did a brisk business in disposing of town lots. In 1914 a branch line was constructed by the citizens of Matador from their town to a point three miles east of Roaring Springs. In building this, the Motley County Railroad, the townspeople were aided by a bonus of $10,000 from the Matador Ranch.
Because of oil play in the Texas Panhandle, the company suspended its sale of lands in 1919, but after a geologist's unfavorable report on the prospects of oil under Matador lands, sales were resumed. Test wells were drilled on the Alamositas Division in 1920 and 1921, but both were unproductive. Despite a long-term lease to Humble Oil and Refining Company, no oil or gas was found under Matador property while the Scots owned the company. World War I brought high beef prices and substantial dividends to the shareholders, but after the war a decline in profits as well as an increase in Canadian tariffs led the Matador board to withdraw its livestock from the northern ranges as its leases expired. By 1928 the company's cattle operations were confined to its two divisions in Texas. MacBain, who had moved the American manager's office from Trinidad to Denver in 1920, died unexpectedly in 1922. The company was fortunate in that Mackenzie, having returned from Brazil in 1918, agreed to assume, on a temporary basis, supervision of the Denver office.
The Great Depression and drought of the early 1930s brought debit balances to the company's books for a five-year period beginning in 1931. With its reserve fund exhausted, the Matador obtained $500,000 in two loans from the Southwestern Life Insurance Company in 1934. This working capital gave the Matador Company the flexibility to cope with the drought, the dust storms, and feed costs of the mid-thirties and to achieve a credit balance on its books in 1936. Nevertheless, no dividend was declared in that year, which also saw Mackenzie enter retirement and his son, John, become American manager.
World War II, like World War I, brought high beef prices, impressive profits, and increased taxation, British and American. In 1951 Lazard Freres, acting on his own behalf and that of a number of American corporations, acquired more than 90 percent of the 800,000 outstanding shares of the Matador Land and Cattle Company on the London exchange. Subsequently the land, cattle, and horses were sold to a number of individuals and groups, and the largest of the foreign-owned cattle companies devoted exclusively to the production of beef disappeared.