Sanborn, Henry Bradley (1845–1912)

By: H. Allen Anderson

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: October 26, 2020

Henry Bradley Sanborn, businessman and rancher, the "father of Amarillo," son of Edmund and Harriet (White) Sanborn, was born on September 10, 1845, in St. Lawrence County, New York, and received his early education there. At the age of nineteen he moved to DeKalb, Illinois, to work for Joseph F. Glidden's hardware firm and boarded in Glidden's home. There he met Glidden's niece, Ellen M. Wheeler, whom he married on February 20, 1868; they had one son. For several years Sanborn profited by selling wooden eaves troughs; then, in 1872, he formed a partnership with Judson P. Warner to sell horses in the Denver, Colorado, market. Sanborn obtained the horses in the East, and Warner sold them in Denver. In 1875 Glidden sought out his former employee with a proposal that Sanborn become the chief salesman to Texas ranchers for Glidden's recently patented invention, barbed wire. The young horse dealers closed out their Denver office and signed a contract with Glidden and his partner, Isaac L. Ellwood, to introduce and sell exclusively the entire output of the DeKalb factory for two years. Later in the year Sanborn went to Texas to estimate the potential sales of barbed wire in the state. Although he encountered initial prejudice toward the new product, he had the company ship four carloads of wire, one each to Sherman, Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio, and asked that Warner come and help him sell it. Their advertising campaign soon worked, for by 1876 their annual sales amounted to almost a million dollars. After establishing headquarters in Houston, Sanborn invested some of his earnings in a 2,000-acre horse and cattle ranch twelve miles west of Sherman in Grayson County.

In 1881 Sanborn formed a partnership with Glidden and established the Frying Pan Ranch in Potter and Randall counties to demonstrate further the value of barbed wire. However, he continued to improve his Grayson County properties. Sanborn, an avid horse breeder, produced a superior cow pony by crossing thoroughbreds with Spanish mustangs. He also took pride in his racehorses and harness stallions and every fall staged a horse show at Dallas in which he exhibited his best stock. Later he donated the plot of ground where this fair was held to the city of Dallas, and it became the site of the Cotton Bowl and annual State Fair of Texas. Sanborn bought and fenced 17,000 acres in Clay County in 1887 and later acquired another 40,000 acres in Hall County. He also purchased the Hutchins House in Houston in 1892 and made it a first-class hotel. Sanborn's interest in the Frying Pan Ranch deepened when the Fort Worth and Denver City Railway built through the Panhandle in 1887. He platted a townsite near the ranch's eastern boundary and sought to get the center of the new Potter county seat, Amarillo, relocated there. This effort, which caused much controversy, proved successful after heavy rains flooded J. T. Berry's old townsite in 1889. In 1894 Sanborn terminated his partnership with Glidden to devote more time to his town properties. Among other projects, he built the ornate Amarillo Hotel, at a cost of $50,000. He also developed the town's first waterworks, which he sold in 1902. In December 1890 the Sanborns' only child, Ellwood, died at the age of twenty-one. Subsequently, Sanborn gave the city a nine-acre tract that he named Ellwood Park. Sanborn and his wife gave a twenty-acre site to St. Anthony's Hospital, and later Mrs. Sanborn gave the grounds for Sanborn Park.

In 1892 Sanborn sold his Grayson County ranch to the Sanborn Farm and Livestock Company and moved to a palatial estate in Kansas City. In 1902 he moved to Amarillo and established his home on the 400 block of Buchanan Street, the present site of the Amarillo Civic Center. A high iron fence surrounded the entire block, and part of the area contained several pet deer. There were also an office building, a carriage house, and stables for Sanborn's six matched Cleveland bays. His elegant tallyho soon became the town's pride. Besides his Amarillo and Potter County properties, Sanborn also owned the 120,000-acre Bravo Ranch in Hartley County south of Dalhart. He devoted much time and energy to Amarillo's civic needs during his last years. He died on May 19, 1912, at a sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan, where he had gone for treatment. He was buried in Forest Hills Cemetery, Kansas City. Shortly afterward, Ellen Sanborn sold the Bravo Ranch property to Cornelius T. Herring and Patrick H. Landergin (see LANDERGIN BROTHERS) for $500,000; she continued to reside in the house in Amarillo until her death in 1920. In 1921 the Sanborn house was moved to 1311 Madison Street in Amarillo; a historical marker was later placed there by the Texas Historical Commission. The Sanborn papers are housed in the research center of the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum.

James Cox, Historical and Biographical Record of the Cattle Industry (2 vols., St. Louis: Woodward and Tiernan Printing, 1894, 1895; rpt., with an introduction by J. Frank Dobie, New York: Antiquarian, 1959). C. L. Douglas, Cattle Kings of Texas (Dallas: Baugh, 1939; rpt., Fort Worth: Branch-Smith, 1968). Della Tyler Key, In the Cattle Country: History of Potter County, 1887–1966 (Amarillo: Tyler-Berkley, 1961; 2d ed., Wichita Falls: Nortex, 1972). Pauline D. and R. L. Robertson, Cowman's Country: Fifty Frontier Ranches in the Texas Panhandle, 1876–1887 (Amarillo: Paramount, 1981).


  • Ranching and Cowboys
  • Activism and Social Reform
  • Civic Leaders
  • Business
  • Patrons, Collectors, and Philanthropists
  • Ranchers and Cattlemen

Time Periods:

  • Late Nineteenth-Century Texas


  • North Texas
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Dallas

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

H. Allen Anderson, “Sanborn, Henry Bradley,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed September 27, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

October 26, 2020

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: