The Prairie Cattle Company, Limited, is sometimes called the "mother of British cattle companies" since it was the first foreign syndicate to take advantage of the southwestern "Beef Bonanza" of the early 1880s. It was established in 1880 by the Scottish American Mortgage Company, based in Edinburgh, and by the following year it had purchased the JJ spread in southeastern Colorado and the Hall brothers' Cross L Ranch in northeastern New Mexico. The company's first big investment in the Texas Panhandle occurred in July 1881, when it purchased George W. Littlefield's LIT Ranch for $253,000. Included in the transfer were 14,000 head of cattle, 250 saddle horses, and the LIT headquarters east of Tascosa. Subsequently the company added several small holdings to these properties. By the end of 1882 the Prairie Cattle Company owned close to 100,000 cattle and range rights to an unbroken, 300-mile strip of land from the Canadian River to the Arkansas River.
In 1885 the Prairie Cattle Company appointed W. J. Todd general manager. The syndicate hired Murdo Mackenzie, who immigrated from his native Scotland, to handle its financial affairs from the office in Trinidad, Colorado. Both men sought to put the business on a sound footing and improve the quality of Prairie Company cattle. Mackenzie succeeded Todd as general manager in 1889 and remained in that position until 1890, when he resigned to take over the Matador Ranch. Two other Matador men, Henry H. Johnstone and Arthur G. Ligertwood, also started out with the Prairie Company. J. C. Johnson succeeded Mackenzie as manager and remained until the enterprise ceased operations in 1917.
The company prospered for a time. But in the January blizzard of 1886 many of its cattle froze to death at the great Panhandle drift fences, which ranchers below the Canadian River had built to control the spread of Texas fever. Mackenzie managed to save the syndicate by dropping the price of beef and by selling off land in small parcels. In 1902 the company purchased the old LE Ranch rangeland from the Reynolds Land and Cattle Company. Nevertheless, by 1912 the Prairie Company held only 200,000 acres in the northern Panhandle. The LIT properties were sold to Lee Bivins in 1913, and the LE range was sold to J. M. Shelton in May 1915. By 1916 the Prairie Cattle Company, at one time the world's largest British investment company, had been liquidated.
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C. L. Douglas, Cattle Kings of Texas (Dallas: Baugh, 1939; rpt., Fort Worth: Branch-Smith, 1968). W. G. Kerr, Scottish Capital on the American Credit Frontier (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1976). Pauline D. and R. L. Robertson, Cowman's Country: Fifty Frontier Ranches in the Texas Panhandle, 1876–1887 (Amarillo: Paramount, 1981).
Ranching and Cowboys
Late Nineteenth-Century Texas
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
H. Allen Anderson,
“Prairie Cattle Company,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed June 30, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
May 1, 1995