Olive, Isom Prentice (1840–1886)

By: Robin Dutton

Type: Biography

Published: May 1, 1995

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Prentice Olive, also known as Print Olive, an infamous cattleman, was born in Mississippi in 1840 to James and Julia Olive. In 1843, the family moved to Texas by covered wagon. Print received some basic grammar-school education in Williamson County, where the family settled, but his real education occurred on the open range of his family's ranch. Though his mother and sisters were Methodists, his father never forced him or his brothers to attend church. During the Civil War, Print fought on the side of the Confederacy. After the war he returned to Williamson County and began to make a name for himself as a rancher. In 1866 he managed a round-up for the entire region. With the assistance of his three brothers, Thomas, Ira and Bob, Print quickly became one of the big cattle ranchers in the area. Although great fortunes could be made in the cattle industry after the Civil War, it could also be a dangerous business. Print and his brothers were known to take the law into their own hands to protect their property. One notorious incident involved the murder of two suspected rustlers known as Turner and Crow. The men were killed by the "death of the skins," an old Spanish method of torture. Wrapped alive in green cowhides, the men were left to die as the sun slowly caused the skins to contract. Since the skins used had the Olive brand, the murders were widely believed to be done by the Olives. Despite an acquittal by the county court, many people continued to believe the brothers were guilty.

Violence seemed to haunt the entire Olive clan. Thomas Olive was killed in a gunfight and another brother, Bob, shot a local rancher, Cal Nutt. Print faced two indictments for murder but was found innocent both times. As the range filled up and conflicts increased, he decided to leave Texas. He first traveled to Colorado, but his reputation for lawlessness followed him and local ranchers forced him out of the area. Heading north, he settled in Custer County, Nebraska, in 1878. By 1879, tax records listed the Olives as one of the largest ranching outfits in the county. In an attempt to put a stop to widespread rustling, Print Olive and other ranchers formed the Custer County Livestock Association in 1878. The membership elected Olive president that same year. But in spite of their success, the Olives found themselves embroiled in violence once again. This time the dispute involved two neighboring ranchers, Mitchell and Ketchum. The sources of the argument are unclear. Some report that Mitchell and Ketchum were guilty of stealing Olive cattle. Others argue that the Olives were trying to push the small homesteaders off their land. The argument turned violent when Bob Olive went out to the Ketchum Ranch and was killed in a gunfight. When Ketchum and Mitchell were not convicted for the murder, a lynch mob, reportedly led by Print Olive, hunted down the two men and hanged them before setting their bodies on fire. Though it is not known whether Print Olive ordered the burning, the incident earned him the nickname "Man Burner." He was convicted of second-degree manslaughter, but on appeal the case was dropped when original witnesses failed to appear in court. Olive supposedly spent much of his money on legal fees and bribes to secure his release. What remained after the trials was lost when the beef market hit a slump in the 1880s. With his reputation and fortune ruined, Olive returned to Colorado. He was shot by a man named Joe Sparrow on August 18, 1886, in Trail City, Colorado, at the Haynes Saloon. Olive married Lousia Reno on February 4, 1866. They had four sons and a daughter.

Harry Chrisman, The Ladder of Rivers: The Story of I. P. (Print) Olive (Denver: Sage Books, 1962; rev. ed., Chicago: Sage Books, 1983). Mari Sandoz, The Cattleman: From the Rio Grande across the Far Marias (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1958). Clara Stearns Scarbrough, Land of Good Water: A Williamson County History (Georgetown, Texas: Williamson County Sun Publishers, 1973). True West, May 1990. 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.

Robin Dutton, “Olive, Isom Prentice,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed September 20, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/olive-isom-prentice.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

May 1, 1995