Merchant, Claiborne Walker (1836–1926)

By: Juanita Daniel Zachry

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: April 1, 1995

Claiborne Walker (Clabe) Merchant and his twin brother, John, were born on August 31, 1836, in Nacogdoches County, Texas, where they spent their early years. On September 25, 1856, Claiborne married Frances Bell, who was sixteen. They had seven children. In 1869, having served with the Confederate forces in the Civil War, he entered the cattle business. In 1874 he moved his cattle to Callahan County, where he and his partner, Jasper McCoy, established the 74 Ranch near Belle Plain. In the late 1870s, when the railroads began to inquire about expanding into neighboring Taylor County, Merchant attempted to purchase land near the site of present-day Abilene. In August 1880 at John N. Simpson's Hashknife Ranch he bought 1,700 acres in what later became central Abilene. In December 1880 a meeting was held that resulted in a contract between the cattlemen and the railroad. At this meeting Merchant gave the town the name Abilene, after the cattle-shipping center in Kansas, and earned for himself the nickname "Father of Abilene." He moved his family to Taylor County in 1882 and the following year constructed an elaborate rock house in the 1200 block of Merchant Street in Abilene. In May 1884 he was named president of the First National Bank of Abilene. He was director of the Abilene Central Railway in 1910 and president of the West Texas Fair in 1917. He advocated building better roads to aid farmers in transporting their produce and was supposedly the first to call these farm-to-market roads. His success in the cattle industry enabled him to acquire vast ranch holdings in New Mexico and Arizona. Merchant was a deacon in the First Baptist Church and a trustee and benefactor of Simmons College (now Hardin-Simmons University). He was a member of Abilene Masonic Lodge No. 559 and a member of the Shrine. With his friend James H. Parramore he was instrumental in starting the Masonic Cemetery in Abilene. Merchant died at his home in Abilene on March 9, 1926.

Fane Downs, ed., The Future Great City of West Texas: Abilene, 1881–1981 (Abilene: Richardson, 1981). Juanita Daniel Zachry, A History of Rural Taylor County (Burnet, Texas: Nortex, 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.

Juanita Daniel Zachry, “Merchant, Claiborne Walker,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed December 01, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

April 1, 1995