Wylie, Robert Kelsey (1836–1910)

By: Harwood P. Hinton

Type: Biography

Published: October 1, 1995

Updated: April 4, 2019

Robert Kelsey Wylie, trail driver and rancher, son of Samuel Kelsey and Maria (McNeil) Wylie, was born in Tishomingo County, Mississippi, on June 6, 1836, the fifth of eleven children. Robert Wylie moved to Texas with his parents about 1850 from Mississippi and settled on a farm in Anderson County. As a youth he learned to build brick chimneys. He accepted cattle as payment and in 1852 moved to Erath County, where he and three brothers engaged in ranching. In 1862 Wylie joined several families in establishing a settlement called Picketville (later Ballinger) in an area that became Runnels County. Soon afterwards he located the Flat Top Ranch on Elm Creek to the southeast in Coleman County and remained there during the Civil War. In June 1865 Wylie and four others drove a herd south for sale in Mexico, and in the late summer he entered the employ of James Patterson, a beef contractor at Fort Sumner, New Mexico. In the fall of 1865 Wylie piloted his first herd over a well charted cattle trail (later followed by Charles Goodnight) up the Pecos to Fort Sumner; he delivered cattle to Patterson and others on the Pecos for nearly ten years. In 1873 Wylie sold a herd to John S. Chisum on credit, settled at Ballinger, and built up a stock herd under his Cross brand with imported Durham bulls. In 1878 Wylie and the Coggin brothers reclaimed 8,000 cattle from Chisum and sent them to the head of the Pease River in Motley County, where they were sold to form part of the foundation herd for the Matador Ranch. In 1879, with other ranchers contesting his range in Runnels and neighboring counties, Wylie moved a herd to Horsehead Crossing on the Pecos and established the first ranch there. He also purchased and fenced land to preserve his claims in Runnels County (organized in 1880). By 1885 he had started a sheep ranch in the Van Horn area; his flocks increased to 60,000. The Wylie Mountains, with Bob and Mollie peaks, are named for him and his wife. By 1905 Wylie had sold his ranch holdings and moved to Mineral Wells to live in retirement as a millionaire. Wylie married Mollie Modina Jewell, a schoolteacher, on December 4, 1883, and adopted her daughter Lillian. The couple had no children of their own. Wylie was a member of the Cattle Raisers' Association of Texas but apparently took no active role in civic, political, or religious affairs. On July 11, 1910, while vacationing in Colorado with his wife, Wylie fell off the back of a Pullman car near Trinidad and was killed.

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). History of the Cattlemen of Texas (Dallas: Johnson, 1914; rpt., Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1991). Mr. and Mrs. Mavis P. Kelsey, Samuel Kelso/Kelsey, 1720–1796 (Houston, 1984). Charlsie Poe, Runnels Is My County (San Antonio: Naylor, 1970). Rosa Lee Wylie, History of Van Horn and Culberson County (Hereford, Texas: Pioneer, 1973).

  • Ranching and Cowboys
  • Ranchers and Cattlemen

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

Harwood P. Hinton, “Wylie, Robert Kelsey,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 16, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/wylie-robert-kelsey.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

October 1, 1995
April 4, 2019