Range Conservation Experimental Station at Abilene

By: Juanita Daniel Zachry

Type: General Entry

Published: May 1, 1995

Updated: August 4, 2020

The first range conservation experimental station in the United States was located on a 640-acre tract 4½ miles south of Abilene from 1898 to 1901. In the mid-1890s the depletion of rangelands in central West Texas gravely concerned residents. Thousands of acres had been badly abused and were practically worthless. Veteran ranchers, recognizing that the rangelands had been almost totally destroyed, appealed to Washington for help. Jared G. Smith, of the Division of Agrostology, United States Department of Agriculture, was sent from Washington, D.C., in May 1897 to inspect rangelands in Central Texas. He wrote of his findings in a bulletin, "Grazing Problems in the Southwest and How to Meet Them," in 1898. That year H. L. Bentley of Abilene published descriptions of conditions in Stonewall, Haskell, Throckmorton, Fisher, Jones, Shackelford, Nolan, Taylor, Callahan, Runnels, Coleman, Tom Green, Concho, McCulloch, and parts of Kent, Scurry, Mitchell, Coke, San Saba, Brown, Eastland, Stephens, and Young counties. The purpose of this publication was to stimulate interest in establishing a range-conservation experimental station. In March 1898 agrostologist C. C. Georgeston chose the station site on land owned by Claiborne W. Merchant. It was an irregular strip of average land with rough hills, rugged valleys, second valley lands, and uplands. The plot was a denuded rangeland with most of the grass roots destroyed. It was also infested with thousands of prairie dogs that ate vegetation and perforated the land.

Georgeston returned to Washington and left the station in Jared Smith's hands. Smith was soon needed elsewhere, however, and turned the station's management over to Bentley, the chief clerk, in April 1898. During the remaining years, Bentley was assisted by local ranchers D. W. Middleton, James H. Parramore, and W. J. Bryan as inspectors. Other local residents and government scientists made periodic inspections as well. Bentley undertook to determine whether a carefully planned, systematic program could restore to the land its former abundance of native grasses and therefore its former cattle-feeding capacity. He divided the section into six eighty-acre plots, one seventy-acre plot, and a ten-acre plot. The six eighty-acre plots were reseeded, cultivated, rested, and grazed periodically. Some experiments were made with uncultivated grasses. The ten-acre plot, called the garden, was devoted to experiments with various grasses for transplanting. Not all the 1,500 experiments during the three-year period were successful. Drought, miscalculations, and rodents took their toll. When experiments began, the carrying capacity of the pasture was forty head of mixed cattle to the section. When experiments ended on April 1, 1901, the carrying capacity had increased to 100 head per section. It had been shown that cultivating pastures improved their yield and income-producing ability, that it was profitable to rest pastures periodically, and that seeds of native grasses achieved greatest success. Although many requests came to the Department of Agriculture to continue the project, it had served its purpose and was terminated on April 1, 1901.

Henry Lewis Bentley, Cattle Ranges of the Southwest (U.S. Department of Agriculture, Farmers' Bulletin 72 [Washington: GPO, 1898]). Henry Lewis Bentley, Experiments in Range Improvement in Central Texas (U.S. Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Plant Industry Bulletin 13 [Washington: GPO, 1902]).

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Juanita Daniel Zachry, “Range Conservation Experimental Station at Abilene,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 26, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/range-conservation-experimental-station-at-abilene.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

May 1, 1995
August 4, 2020