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William Curry Holden

MATADOR RANCH. The Matador Ranch, with its headquarters in Motley County, just below the Caprock on the rolling plains of northwest Texas, was started in the fall of 1878 when banker Alfred M. Britton entered a partnership with Henry H. (Hank) Campbell. Campbell purchased a small herd and range rights from Joe Browning, who in early 1878 had made his headquarters at an abandoned dugout at Ballard Springs in Motley County. The dugout had been built by a buffalo hunter named Andrew Jackson Ballard. Campbell's next purchase was 8,000 "jinglebob" cattle that had recently been brought into the region from the Pecos. Soon afterwards Spottswood W. Lomax and John W. Nichols of Fort Worth and a Mr. Cata of New York became associated with Britton and Campbell in financing the enterprise, which they reorganized as the Matador Cattle Company with capital stock of $50,000. The amount of stock suggested a brand, 50M, which was used one year and then replaced by the Matador V. Lomax, an enthusiast in Spanish literature, gave the ranch its name. On December 4, 1882, the Matador Cattle Company sold out to the Matador Land and Cattle Company of Dundee, Scotland. Approximately 100,000 acres of land and 40,000 cattle located in Motley, Dickens, Cottle, and Floyd counties were involved in the sale. However, before the property was formally transferred in early 1883, Britton and Campbell, the former retained as the company's manager and the latter as ranch superintendent, convinced the company's board of directors to purchase an additional 203,000 of acres lying within the range and to acquire 22,000 more cattle. After Campbell's resignation in 1891, the board assigned a new manager, Murdo Mackenzie, who adopted a program of grading up the herd and of sending steers to northern pastures for maturing. A severe drought in 1892 on the Matador range caused the company to lease the White Deer pasture of 348,000 acres in Carson County from Francklyn Land and Cattle Company. The lease was retained until 1902. That year the Matador purchased 210,000 acres of the XIT Ranch from the Capitol Freehold Land and Investment Company and established the Alamositas division of the ranch along the Canadian River in Oldham County, Texas. Subsequent purchases adjacent to Alamositas increased the size of the division to 800,000 acres. From 1904 until 1914 it leased 500,000 acres from the United States government on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, a Sioux preserve in South Dakota, and another of 150,000 acres in Canada was leased from 1905 to 1921. The original ranch was enlarged by purchases, and by 1910 the company owned 861,000 acres in Texas and had 650,000 acres under lease in the two northern pastures. The company also leased 500,000 acres in northern Montana from 1913 to 1928 and 300,000 acres on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota from 1921 to 1926. Since 1910 the average number of cattle on hand has been 55,000.

Through the first quarter of the twentieth century the Matador used its ranch in Motley County as a breeding ground. Yearling steers were sent to Alamositas until they were two years old, then shipped to the northern leases for double-wintering, and then to markets in Chicago or Kansas City. By the 1930s the company restricted the major portion of its activities to the Texas ranches. Headquarters of the ranch in 1946 was at Denver, Colorado. On July 31, 1951, the ranch was sold to an American syndicate, Lazard Brothers and Company of London. Their property included 400,000 acres at the Matador Division, 395,000 at Alamositas, 4,600 acres in Montana, a herd of 1,400 horses, and 46,000 cattle. The Lazard Brothers divided the land and cattle among fifteen corporations they had formed. The various cattle corporations took over operations at different divisions of the ranch, and the Matador division went to ten of them. During the 1950s different individuals and groups bought the corporations and either started their own ranching operations or sold the land off to other ranchers. Fred Koch of Wichita, Kansas, purchased three of the corporations in the name of his Rock Island Oil and Refining Company, acquiring 105,000 acres of the Matador Division including the ranch headquarters. On October 3, 1952, Koch incorporated the Matador Cattle Company, and the headquarters of the Matador Ranch was located just south of the town of Matador. Matador Cattle Company was a subsidiary of Koch Industries, headed by Fred Koch. After his death in 1967 his sons, Charles and David, took over. In 1968 Sterling Varner was president of Matador Cattle Company, followed by Tom Carey in 1969 and Wes Stanford in 1975. In the early 1980s John Lincoln was president. The ranch is noted for its quail, dove, small deer, and, of course, fat cattle and nutritious grass. In 1960 the ranch launched a mesquite eradication program that accelerated in the 1970s, since the trees' extensive root systems continued to spread and absorb what little water was available to grow grass. Testifying to the wildness and toughness of the land, where cattle get lost in the Croton Breaks in adjoining Dickens County, ranch hands have found during several Matador roundups ten-year old animals that had never been branded.


John Lincoln, Rich Grass and Sweet Water: Ranch Life With the Koch Matador Cattle Company (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1989). W. M. Pearce, The Matador Land and Cattle Company (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1964).

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

Handbook of Texas Online, William Curry Holden, "MATADOR RANCH," accessed August 11, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/apm02.

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on December 6, 2019. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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