Shelton, John M. (1853–1923)

By: H. Allen Anderson

Type: Biography

Published: October 1, 1995

John M. Shelton, Panhandle rancher and businessman, was born in 1853. He was one of four children. His father and older brother gave him his initial boost in the cattle business, and he began his career working with various open-range outfits in Shackelford County. J. M. Porter, who grew up with him and was for twenty years his "top cowhand," later recalled seeing him "go up the trail, standing night guard, riding all day and wearing the same old blue wool shirt for forty days on a stretch." In 1889 Shelton and Porter arrived in Wheeler County and first located on Sherrill Creek. Shelton began building his holdings by buying out other small owners, and his initial brand was a standing J and a lying down (or lazy) S. By 1890 he had accumulated between 1,500 and 2,000 cattle and began his Lazy J brand. Eventually his ranch came to encompass 100 sections, nearly the entire southwestern quarter of Wheeler County. He continued to lease and buy other sections on occasion. Shelton also owned rangelands in Wyoming and Montana, where he grazed as many as 10,000 steers. At a time when modes of ranching were changing, he continued the old practice of raising calves from the parent herd and growing steers up to four years before shipping them to Kansas pastures to be fattened for market. Shelton always enjoyed riding with the cowboys and was a favorite among them. He married Flora Exum, and the couple boarded at the home of E. G. Thurmond in Mobeetie, where their daughter was born. Later the Sheltons had a home in Fort Worth, where two sons were added to the family. In July 1904 Shelton and Oscar P. Jones opened the First State Bank (later the First National Bank) of Shamrock. In 1913 Shelton sold most of his Wheeler County holdings and moved his family to Amarillo, where he erected a spacious brick house at 1700 Polk Street. In Amarillo he opened the John M. Shelton Loan Company, which provided money for Panhandle stockmen and farmers. Even during lean times, Shelton was known for his generosity; he never deserted anyone after extending aid and gradually obtained interest in several regional banks. On May 1, 1915, Shelton bought 221,062 acres of the former LE range in Oldham County from the Prairie Cattle Company for $3.50 an acre. He sold the portion south of the Canadian River to the Matador Land and Cattle Company and purchased the 111,000-acre Bravo Ranch, formerly the XIT's Ojo Bravo Division, in Hartley County. Shelton and his children subsequently developed these properties as the JJ and Bravo ranches, which became known worldwide for their high-grade herds of Hereford and black Angus cattle. At first, Shelton used the old LE brand, but later the family adopted the Lazy J that he introduced. Shelton maintained a reputation as a successful rancher and financier and as a hospitable cowman in the old Western tradition. He died at a Fort Worth sanitarium on December 7, 1923, and was interred in Amarillo's Llano Cemetery. Shelton's children and their heirs continued to operate the ranches in Oldham and Hartley counties. His son Jimmie used a Standing J brand, while his daughter Martha, who married E. C. Houghton, Jr., and inherited the old Romero Canyon headquarters, continued the Lazy J brand. The Houghtons resided in the Shelton home in Amarillo until 1965, when they donated it as a permanent headquarters for the city's Junior League.

Amarillo Daily News, December 8, 1923. Ellis A. Davis and Edwin H. Grobe, comps., The New Encyclopedia of Texas (4 vols., 1929?). Millie Jones Porter, Memory Cups of Panhandle Pioneers (Clarendon, Texas: Clarendon Press, 1945).


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

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

H. Allen Anderson, “Shelton, John M.,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed October 24, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

October 1, 1995