Shoe Nail Ranch

By: H. Allen Anderson

Type: General Entry

Published: June 1, 1995

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The Shoe Nail Ranch was located in Childress County north of the OX Ranch. Its boundaries followed the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River and extended north. The area was first used for ranching in 1879, when Bill Curtis and Tom Atkinson brought their Diamond Tail Ranch cattle here before moving north to Collingsworth County. In July 1883 F. P. Knott of Wichita Falls, a surveyor with the Southern Pacific Railway Company, was awarded a 50,000-acre plot of company land as payment. He sold the property to the Childress County Company for $56,661. Ranch manager R. L. Ellison stocked the pasture with 2,400 head of LIZ cattle he had purchased in Throckmorton County and rebranded with the Shoe Nail. He hired John Perry as foreman and Frank Gallagher as a range boss; the ranch crew normally consisted of fifteen or sixteen cowboys. Ellison established a permanent headquarters near the south bank of the Prairie Dog Town Fork, and gradually replaced the Shoe Nail's original longhorn cattle with Hereford cattle. During the sixteen years that Ellison managed the operation, the ranch grew by 30,000 acres.

In 1899 the Childress County Land and Cattle Company filed suit against a group of homesteaders who had laid claim to certain sections of Shoe Nail pasture. The homesteaders' claims were based on patents granted by the Waco and Northwestern Railroad, while the Shoe Nail claim was based on Knott's surveys for the Southern Pacific. Although the Shoe Nail retained former governor James S. Hogg as its attorney, the farmers' lawyer, a man named Diggs, was able to win the case for them. Another survey was subsequently ordered, and both sides hired surveyors. Again the court ruled in favor of the settlers, and the ranch lost about 10,000 acres. Ellison then bought out those farmers who were willing to sell and allowed the others to continue their agricultural pursuits. Later that year the Fort Worth bankers sold the Shoe Nail to Gustavus F. Swift, founder of Swift and Company, for $170,330. The new owner brought in William H. Craven to manage the ranch. Craven made the Shoe Nail into a wintering range for other Swift operations in the Panhandle by establishing a series of sixteen camps to serve as feeding lots. Under his administration the Shoe Nail branded about 8,000 calves annually, and he bought heavily from neighboring ranches. After experimenting with different breeds, Craven decided that Herefords were superior as range cattle, and improved the Shoe Nail's herds with imported Herefords. As part of that program, he hired Van Law as ranch veterinarian to spay his heifers so they could be fattened as beeves. After Gustavus Swift's death in 1903, his son Edward retained Craven, who engineered the campaign to parcel out Shoe Nail acreage to farmers and smaller ranchers. The land sold for six to fifteen dollars an acre and was all sold by 1907. The brand was subsequently used by Lewis and Chamberlain in Donley County and by John Molesworth in Hudspeth County.

Gus L. Ford, ed., Texas Cattle Brands (Dallas: Cockrell, 1936). C. Boone McClure, "A History of the Shoe Nail Ranch," Panhandle-Plains Historical Review 11 (1938). LeRoy Reeves, The History of Childress County (M.A. thesis, West Texas State College, 1951). Pauline D. and R. L. Robertson, Cowman's Country: Fifty Frontier Ranches in the Texas Panhandle, 1876–1887 (Amarillo: Paramount, 1981).


  • Ranching and Cowboys
  • Ranches Established After 1835

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

H. Allen Anderson, “Shoe Nail Ranch,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed September 20, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

June 1, 1995