Phelps White, rancher and businessman, the son of Thomas Jefferson and Martha Elizabeth (Phelps) White, was born in Gonzales, Texas, on December 2, 1856. He spent much of his youth with his uncle, George Washington Littlefield, watching Littlefield manage the family farms after the Civil War. Littlefield gave White his start in the cattle business in 1871, when he told White and his brother, Thomas David, that the nephews could have all the calves they could catch from a herd that Littlefield was assembling to drive to Kansas. The boys captured nine calves. In the spring of 1877 White accepted Littlefield's invitation to join him in the ranching business. After trailing herds Littlefield sent from the Gonzales area to Kansas, White helped establish the LIT Ranch and managed it from 1877 to 1881. Popular with the cattlemen and residents on the Canadian River, he played a prominent role in organizing Oldham County in 1880–81. After selling the LIT in 1881, Littlefield sent White to find a good ranch location on the Pecos River in New Mexico. He bought a homestead and water rights for the Bosque Grande Ranch property, located about forty miles north of Roswell. In 1882 he and his brother Tom joined Littlefield in partnership in the Littlefield Cattle Company. In 1883 White became manager of the Littlefield ranches in New Mexico, which included both the Bosque Grande and the Four Lakes (near present Tatum), which White developed as the earliest windmill ranch on the New Mexico plains by 1886.
When Littlefield bought the Yellow House Ranch in 1901, he appointed White manager. In April 1904 a major prairie fire burned across the ranch. When White attempted to fight the blaze, the wind changed direction, trapping him. Though left with a loss of feeling in his hands and other parts of his body and with permanent scars, he continued to manage the Littlefield ranch interests. From 1912 to 1915 he served as general manager of the Littlefield Lands Company, which George Littlefield established to sell portions of the Yellow House Ranch, but White never enjoyed participating in the breakup of the cattle operation. After he began receiving his mail at Roswell, he commenced investing in the community. In 1892 he made his first purchase of irrigated farmland, which became the basis of the LFD Farms. He married Lou Tomlinson, with whom he had four children, and established his permanent home in Roswell in 1903. In 1912 the Whites occupied the house built for them, which has been the headquarters of the Chaves County Historical Society since 1976. At the first meeting of the Old Settlers' Society of Chaves County in 1905, White was elected president. He served on the Board of Regents of the New Mexico Military Institute and generously supported that school. By 1920 he was the wealthiest man in the Roswell area and managed most of his business interests there through his J. P. White Company. With the help of a group of investors, in 1921 he built the first cotton gin in Roswell. In 1926 he bought and expanded a building that he named the J. P. White Building, which served as headquarters for his operations. Toward the end of the decade, he purchased land east of Roswell on which he established the LE Ranch. White died in San Antonio on October 21, 1934, and was buried at Roswell, New Mexico.
Is history important to you?
We need your support because we are a non-profit organization that relies upon contributions from our community in order to record and preserve the history of our state. Every dollar helps.
Elvis E. Fleming and Minor S. Huffman, Roundup on the Pecos (Roswell, New Mexico: Chaves County Historical Society, 1978). David B. Gracy II, George Washington Littlefield: A Biography in Business (Ph.D. dissertation, Texas Tech University, 1971). Carole Larson, Forgotten Frontier: The Story of Southeastern New Mexico (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1993).
Ranching and Cowboys
Activism and Social Reform
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.
David B. Gracy,
“White, James Phelps,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed June 28, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
Most Recent Revision Date:
March 1, 1996