CIBOLO CREEK RANCH

Brett J. Derbes

CIBOLO CREEK RANCH. Cibolo Creek Ranch is located on U.S. Highway 67 about thirty-three miles south of Marfa. The ranch covers nearly 30,000 acres of the Chinati and Cienega mountains in the Big Bend region of southern Presidio County. The property resulted from the consolidation of 20,000 acres from the former White Ranch with 5,000 acres from the former Greenwood Ranch. Cibolo Creek Ranch is active with one of the largest purebred longhorn herds in the United States. The ranch received its name from the Cíbolas (Cíbolos), whose name translated to “buffalo” in Spanish. The Native American group traditionally settled along Cibolo Creek, a major waterway that ran southward from the Marfa Flats.

The terrain ranges from 4,000 to 6,000 feet in elevation with both arid peaks and fertile canyons. The region includes more than fifty varieties of grass, with several types of grama and tobosa grasses in the Chinati Mountains near Cibolo Creek. The vegetation in higher areas includes oak, juniper, and Mexican walnut trees, while the canyon floors are covered with cottonwoods, desert willows, and Arizona ash trees. A variety of colorful mountain cacti, such as stool, maguey, mesquite, and prickly pear, grow near the ranch and provide some sustenance for the wildlife. Other plants include candelilla, peyote, creosote bush, Mormon tea, and sunflower. The natural wildlife includes black bears, mountain lions, coyotes, javelinas, foxes, deer, eagles, ducks, owls, doves, quail, bats, snakes, and other reptiles. In the 1990s other species such as elk, buffalo, and wild turkey were reintroduced on the ranch, which also maintains oxen, camels, horses, mules, and burros.

The Cibolo Creek Ranch property includes three forts constructed by Big Bend pioneer Milton Faver in the late 1850s as defenses along the Comanche Trail. One of the forts later served as a U.S. Cavalry outpost. Faver’s proximity to Fort Davis encouraged the trade of cattle and foodstuffs with the garrison. As a merchant, he operated a wagon transport along the Chihuahua Trail and profited from the natural trade route.

Faver’s bilingual skills facilitated business on both sides of the border. He demonstrated advanced financial and entrepreneurial skills by operating freighting, trading, merchandising, ranching, agriculture, and real estate business. He played a major role in establishing cattle, sheep, and goat ranching as sustained economic activities in West Texas. He led his family and other settlers to El Ojo Grande del Cibolo, or the Great Spring of the Cibolo, located near a narrow pass in the Chinati Mountains that held commercial and military significance.  

Faver purchased 320 acres from A. C. Hyde on August 9, 1858, and paid $2,000 to Juana Pedrasa Leaton y Hall to relinquish all rights to Cibolo Spring. In 1857 he had already built El Fortín del Cíbolo, which served as the agricultural center and his principal residence. It is possible that Faver built the fort upon the remains of a Spanish mission from 1715. The quadrangle fortress consisted of two round towers measuring twenty feet tall and walls nearly three feet thick. The main building measured 90 by 160 feet with an attached rectangular stone corral that extended 140 feet. Sixteen miles away, Faver constructed El Fortín de la Ciénega downstream from Cienega Spring. La Ciénega, or “the marshy place,” became his headquarters for cattle. He then erected El Fortín de la Morita four miles farther at Morita Spring. La Morita, or “the little mulberry tree,” was the location selected for sheep and goats. He built hundreds of yards of stone fences and corrals at all three locations.

Cibolo Creek Ranch was a considerable ranching and agricultural operation by 1860. Faver claimed $25,000 of personal property, with $18,000 worth of livestock, 2,000 sheep, 200 milk cows, 300 other cattle, and 40 oxen. He produced significant quantities of wheat, Indian corn, peas, beans, butter, cheese, and wool. Faver regularly traded with Fort Davis and operated stores in both Presidio del Norte and Presidio. The proximity of the garrison provided considerable security for Faver’s operations.

Federal troops were withdrawn from Fort Davis in mid-1861 by the orders of Brig. Gen. David Twiggs. During the Civil War traffic slowed along the westward immigration routes to California as the Apache and Comanche reasserted control in the region. Confederate forces briefly occupied Fort Davis until the spring of 1862 when fourteen soldiers were killed by the Apache. Faver lost a considerable portion of the livestock from raids but persisted until the Ninth U.S. Cavalry returned to Fort Davis in 1867. The U.S. Army used El Fortín del Cíbolo as a supply center and military camp during the 1870s. Despite the military presence, either Native Americans or Mexican bandits attacked La Morita on July 30, 1875. The assailants massacred Faver’s brother-in-law Carmen Ramirez before taking Ramirez’s wife and two sons captive. 

From 1868 to 1884 Faver trailed cattle to railheads at Abilene, Dodge City, and Hays City in Kansas. In 1876 he reported 2,250 sheep, 1,020 goats, 8 horses or mules, and 350 cattle worth $7,260. By 1880 the population at Cibolo Creek Ranch reached ninety domestics and laborers. Faver registered his “Lazy F” brand on April 27, 1877, but it was an easily-altered brand. As a result, ten years later on August 13, 1887, he registered a new brand with an “M” over the “Lazy F.” The longhorn herd at the ranch grew to almost 20,000 head. In 1885 Faver claimed $49,603 worth of property, which included 3,000 cattle, 5,000 sheep, and 1,500 goats. He maintained trade with Native Americans and supplied Fort Davis with cattle, foodstuffs, and his famed peach brandy.  

The discovery of large deposits of silver in the 1880s encouraged the establishment of the town of Shafter along Cibolo Creek about five miles south of El Fortín del Cíbolo. The settlement, much of it owned by Faver, grew to more than 3,000 mostly Hispanic miners, tradesmen, and dependents. The silver mines yielded nearly $20 million over the next fifty years. 

In late 1888 Faver began his exit from the ranching. He gave 2,900 calves and steers to his herd manager over four years as compensation and sold the remaining 7,000 longhorns to Joe Humphries for $18,000 in 1889. Shortly before his death, Faver transferred property, cattle, and other assets to family members, in-laws, and friends. He gave property in Shafter to George Dawson, Spencer Gregg, and Gerracia A. de Ramirez. Faver also conveyed an interest in 5,000 sheep and 1,600 goats to George Dawson on September 9, 1889, and transferred the 320 acres that included La Morita Spring to his wife, the former Francesca Ramirez, and niece, Juliana Ramirez de Dawson. Faver died intestate on December 23, 1889, and was buried in an adobe mausoleum on a hill overlooking El Fortín del Cíbolo.

In May 1891 Francesca and her son Juan split the Faver estate, valued at $25,175.50, which included $17,000 of financial assets and 580 acres in Shafter. Juan received a one-half interest in La Ciénega. Francesca retained full ownership of El Fortín del Cíbolo and spent the remainder of her life on the property. She passed away on December 3, 1893, and ownership transferred to Juan. When he died on December 2, 1913, his will failed to name an executor. The court awarded one-third of the estate to the children of Juan’s widow Gumercinda Zubia, as well as two children of Vidal Pina, who may have been his illegitimate children. Juan’s oldest son, Abelino, obtained control of El Cíbolo.

Abelino sold El Fortín del Cíbolo to Sherriff Joe Bunton for $1,500 on September 6, 1915. Bunton evicted squatters and incorporated the lands into a sprawling 40,000-acre ranch. The Bunton Ranch sold to J. E. White and Sons on January 5, 1946. The partnership dissolved, and the three ranches were distributed among the partners. Russell White retained 20,000 acres that included El Fortín del Cíbolo. Russell White, Jr., walked away from his financial responsibility for the property in 1988. The head of Southwestern Holdings, Inc. (SHI), John B. Poindexter, applied to buy the property, which forced a courthouse auction in Marfa. The company formed in Houston in 1987 to acquire and develop large Texas ranch properties. Poindexter acquired the property on August 31, 1990, after two years of litigation related to the liens. An annual fiesta is held on the Friday of Labor Day weekend to celebrate Poindexter’s acquisition of the ranch.  

Juan Faver sold his part of La Ciénega to John A. Pool on March 26, 1900, and the remainder of his holdings were sold by Juan’s heirs to Pool on September 16, 1915. The Pool family operated a ranch on the property until January 17, 1923, when it was conveyed to three grandchildren. Amy Pool Greenwood purchased the interests of her sisters, Marion and Mildred, in 1928. Her children, Frances and Hart Jr., grew up on the property and later inherited the ranch. Meanwhile, the Dawson family maintained control of the La Morita property until Hart M. Greenwood, Jr., purchased it on September 28, 1966. La Morita disintegrated over time, but the spring-fed orchard became a favored spot for the townspeople of Shafter. By 1990 only an abandoned bunkhouse and barn remained at La Ciénega. The Greenwood family sold all the properties to Poindexter in 1992.

Major rehabilitation, restoration, and construction efforts ensued at Cibolo Creek Ranch from July 1991 to December 1993. The leadership team included ranch superintendent Michael Wood (September 1990 to early 1993), ranch superintendent Don Becker (June 1993 to July 1994), building supervisor James Cook (July 1991 to August 1993), subcontractor and building supervisor James Willson, and ranch accountant Bishop Bailey. Chris Carson and John Gutzler represented the architectural firm Ford, Powell & Carson. A restoration team of more than 300 workers consisted of attorneys, insurance agents, historians, architects, engineers, antique dealers, ranch hands, day laborers, adobe workers, plumbers, carpenters, electricians, heavy equipment operators, construction specialists, wildlife advisors, and employees of various agencies of the state and federal government. The remoteness of the site, inclement weather, requirements to conform to historical restorations, and the decision to use genuine adobe were all factors that affected construction costs. The new structures were built with 25,000 adobe blocks produced onsite from earth that included eroded adobe soil excavated from the original forts. Faver’s mausoleum was rebuilt on a hill overlooking the fort. The project constructed or restored a total of 34,060 square feet of structures at El Cíbolo, La Ciénega, and La Morita. To maintain a natural appearance, all power and telephone lines were buried underground on the property. The restoration plans at El Fortín del Cíbolo required modern conveniences, such as power, temperature control, air handling, and plumbing to be hidden within the structure with discrete outlets in the ceilings, walls, and enclosed spaces.   

The buildings were furnished with Spanish, Mexican, and Western antiques, as well as ranching paraphernalia. Nineteenth-century kerosene light fixtures around the property were modified with electricity. Approximately 150 oil and watercolor paintings, photographs, historical documents, and maps adorn the walls of the ranch buildings. Decorations throughout the property were purchased from individuals, specialty merchants, military collectors, antique dealers, and private collections. John Holt of Houston supplied the antique Spanish items, while Jack Dulaney and Dorothy Munoz from an El Paso group of importers provided the Mexican antiques. The American artifacts were collected in New York City and eastern Long Island. Rugs and ceramics were all imported from Mexico. A 16,060-square-foot hacienda with eleven guestrooms, several common rooms, three kitchens for guests and staff, and lengthy verandas was constructed adjacent to the fort. The bedrooms are each decorated according to Native American, cowboy, Spanish colonial, Mexican, Southwestern, and Texan themes. The interior includes a formal dining room, library with 750 volumes, Faver family museum, and an expansive living-room suite. The color and adobe composition of the new structures closely resembles the original fort. A restored nineteenth-century chapel holds an altar, benches, and other religious artifacts from Northern Mexico. The layout of the El Fortín del Cíbolo is a compact rectangular shape for defensive purposes.

During the project Poindexter constructed seventy-five miles of roadway to connect the sites, forty miles of wire fences to contain longhorn and buffalo herds, and more than two miles of irrigation channels to rehabilitate the existing acequias. Roadways connected to a Native American cave site, small airfield, maintenance areas, cattle pens, and the natural waterfall north of the fort. The property included horseback riding, hiking, and off-roading trails to access dozens of surviving pioneer structures and rock corrals. Poindexter opened the Cibolo Creek Ranch luxury resort in 1994. El Cíbolo remains the administrative hub of the ranch and includes a heated swimming pool, and telephone and media room. Guests can rent the entire four-room La Cienéga facility with an optional cook to provide meals. Cibolo Creek Ranch earned a Texas Historical Commission plaque for accuracy of restoration, and the architects at Ford, Powell & Carson received a Conservation Society Award in 1995.  

Several movies have filmed hunting and shooting scenes at the ranch, including Giant (1956), The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005), No Country for Old Men (2007), and There Will Be Blood (2007). The hacienda is utilized by affiliates of Southwestern Holdings, as well as for weddings and other special functions at the fort and chapel. The luxury resort has attracted numerous celebrities and politicians. Tommy Lee Jones, Julia Roberts, and Bruce Willis have stayed at the ranch. Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones spent several weeks with his family at La Ciénega and even offered to buy it from Poindexter. Emily Erwin of the Dixie Chicks and country songwriter Charlie Robison held their wedding on the grounds in 1999.  

Cibolo Creek Ranch was in the forefront of the news in February 2016, when U. S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was found dead in his room on February 13, 2016. He had been a guest of the ranch hacienda for the gathering of the all-male Austrian hunting society, the International Order of St. Hubertus.  

Cibolo Creek Ranch is one of the most remote resorts in the United States. Cell phone service is not available at the ranch and largely unreliable in the area. The ranch is located off a desolate two-lane highway between Marfa and Mexico. The closest airport with scheduled flights is 200 miles away, and the nearest convenience stores and gas stations are about twenty-five miles from the ranch. The Cibolo Creek Ranch includes five Texas Historical Markers as well as a designation on the National Register of Historic Places. 

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Austin American-Statesman, November 21, 1999; December 28, 2003. Big Bend Sentinel, September 1, 1950. Carlos E. Castaneda, Our Catholic Heritage in Texas, 1519–1936, The Mission Era: The Missions at Work 1731–1761, Vol. III (Austin: Von Boeckmann-Jones Company, 1938). Leavitt Corning, Jr., Baronial Forts of the Big Bend, Ben Leaton, Milton Faver and the Private Forts of the Big Bend (San Antonio: Trinity University Press, 1969). Daly Collection, Library of El Fortin del Cíbolo, Cibolo Creek Ranch. El Paso Herald-Post, May 28, 1936. Milton Faver Land Papers, 1858–1917, Archives of Big Bend, Sul Ross State University, Alpine, Texas. Los Angeles Times, February 15, 2016. Thomas H. Naylor and Charles W. Ponzer, eds., The Presidio and New Militia on the Northern Frontier of New Spain, 1570–1700 (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1986). W. W. Newcomb, Jr., The Indians of Texas from Prehistoric to Modern Times (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1961). Louise O’Connor and Cecelia Thompson, Marfa and Presido County, Texas: A Social, Economic, and Cultural Study 1937 to 2008, Volume 2 (Bloomington: Xlibris Corporation, 2014). Odessa American, January 30, 1994. Laurence Parent and Joe Nick Patoski, Texas Mountains (Denton: University of North Texas Press, 2001). John B. Poindexter, The Cibolo Creek Ranch: A Brief History of the Big Bend Country of Texas, A Biography of the Founder of the Ranch, Don Meliton Faver, and His Times, and An Account of the Restoration of the Ranch and Its Historical Structures (Houston: Southwestern Holdings, 1994). San Antonio Express-News, September 17, 1967; February 15, 2016. Barry Scobee, “Don Milton Faver, Founder of a Kingdom,” Sul Ross State College Bulletin (September 1963). C. L. Sonnichsen, Pass of the North: Four Centuries on the Rio Grande, 1529–1917 (El Paso: Texas Western Press, 1968). Roy L. Swift and Leavitt Corning, Jr., Three Roads to Chihuahua: The Great Wagon Roads that Opened the Southwest, 1823–1883 (Austin: Eakin Press, 1988). Texas Almanac 1994–1995 (Dallas: Dallas Morning News, 1993). Cecilia Thompson, History of Marfa and Presidio County, 1535–1946, Volume 1 (Austin: Nortex Press, 1985). Robert H. Thonhoff, El Fuerte Del Cíbolo: Sentinel of the Bexar-La Bahia Ranches (Austin: Eakin Press, 1992). Ronnie C. Tyler, The Big Bend, A History of the Last Texas Frontier (Washington D.C.: National Park Service, 1975). Robert M. Utley, Longhorns of the Big Bend: A Special Report on the Early Cattle Industry of the Big Bend County of Texas (Santa Fe: National Park Service, 1962). Robert M. Utley, “The Range Cattle Industry in the Big Bend of Texas,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly 69 (April 1966). Karen Witynski and Joe P. Carr, Casa Adobe (Salt Lake City: Gibbs Smith, 2001). Lawrence Wright, God Save Texas: A Journey Into the Soul of the Lone Star State (New York: Vintage Books, 2019).

Image Use Disclaimer

All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.

For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml

If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

Citation

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

Handbook of Texas Online, Brett J. Derbes, "CIBOLO CREEK RANCH," accessed December 14, 2019, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/apccr.

Uploaded on November 26, 2019. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
visit the mytsha forums to participate

View these posts and more when you register your free MyTSHA account.

Call for Papers: Texas Center for Working-Class Studies Events, Symposia, and Workshops
Hi all! You may be interested in this call for papers I received from the Texas Center for Working-Class Studies at Collin College...

Katy Jennings' Ride Scholarly Research Request
I'm doing research on Catherine Jennings Lockwood, specifically the incident known as "Katy Jennings' Ride." Her father was Gordon C. Jennings, the oldest man to die at the Alamo...

Texas Constitution of 1836 Co-Author- Elisha Pease? Ask a Historian
The TSHA profile of Elisha Marshall Pease states that he wrote part of the Texas Constitution although he was only a 24 year-old assistant secretary (not elected). I cannot find any other mention of this authorship work by Pease in other credible research about the credited Constution authors...