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David B. Gracy II

YELLOW HOUSE RANCH. The Yellow House Ranch, covering 312,175 acres in Lamb, Hockley, Bailey, and Cochran counties, was established in July 1901, when George Washington Littlefield purchased the southern, or Yellow Houses, division of the XIT Ranch for two dollars an acre. In earlier times the Spanish called a nearby yellowish limestone bluff pitted with caves Las Casas Amarillas, the Yellow Houses. From a distance, and especially when there was a mirage, the bluff appeared to be a city. Littlefield also bought 5,000 XIT cows with calves for $40 apiece, along with 200 registered Hereford bulls, all of which were moved to the Yellow House that summer. The ranch headquarters, built around 1905 out of native stone and imported lumber, was located at the base of the Yellow Houses bluff in Hockley County near its northern boundary because of the availability of spring water there. For the same reason, the Yellow Houses site had been a landmark and favorite campsite on the old military trail across the plains from the headwaters of the Brazos River to Fort Sumner on the Pecos River; in the 1870s a small adobe hut had been erected on the site by Sam Gohlson, who later established his ranch south of Tucumcari, New Mexico. To tap this source of water further, eighty-one windmills were constructed on the ranch. One, which measured 128 feet from the base to the top of the fan, was reputed to have been the tallest windmill in the world until it blew down in 1926 and was replaced by a lower tower. The manager of the ranch was Littlefield's nephew and partner, James Phelps White, who owned one-quarter interest in the spread. Both White and Littlefield were known as astute cattlemen, and they rarely suffered losses of cattle from severe weather or from prairie fires, such as the fire in 1906, which burned off some 220,000 acres on the Yellow House Ranch. At the most they ran 27,000 head of cattle, branded LFD, the brand Littlefield had introduced in 1878 at his ranch on the Pecos north of Roswell, New Mexico. Although Hereford cattle were the principal stock, the ranch also carried some Black Angus for a time, and in the 1920s White stocked the ranch with a few buffalo. Jim Roberts served as foreman, a position which his son Rue Roberts later filled. George Smith served as bookkeeper, and Henry Marchbanks was the last cowboy to work for the Yellow House prior to its breakup in the 1920s.

Though little oil was found beneath the ranch itself, one of the first wells in this oil region was drilled in 1912 at South Camp, about six miles northwest of Levelland. In June 1912 Littlefield contracted with the Santa Fe Railroad to build a segment of its main line from Lubbock to Texico, New Mexico, across his land. In August he organized the Littlefield Lands Company to sell the northeastern corner of 79,040 acres for farms and to establish the town of Littlefield in Lamb County. By 1920 only 47,601 acres had been sold. In April 1923, after Littlefield's death, the remainder of the ranch was sold by White and the Littlefield estate to the Yellow House Land Company and was subdivided for sale as farms. The towns of Pep and Whitharral in Hockley County were established by the company on this acreage. At that time the LFD brand was dropped, but later some 23,000 acres surrounding the old ranch headquarters was returned to cattle grazing. Tragically, Littlefield's old ranch house was lost in a fire on September 9, 1930. After J. P. White's death in 1934 his son, George Littlefield White, owned and operated the Yellow House and built a modern brick home at the headquarters near the site of the Yellow Lakes. Here he bred high-grade Herefords and fed out several hundred sheep annually. In 1966 White became one of the first West Texas ranchers to adopt the "cold branding" method utilizing dry ice and alcohol. Hospitable in many ways, White and his wife hosted camps and class picnics for Boy Scouts on the Yellow House grounds and in 1966 allowed Marines to use the ranch for training purposes for the war in Vietnam. In 1970 White sold the 20,000-acre remnant of the Yellow House Ranch to the Matador Land and Cattle Company. At that time the company's foreman, Bob Tapp, occupied the headquarters.

Lillian Brasher, Hockley County (2 vols., Canyon, Texas: Staked Plains, 1976). Gus L. Ford, ed., Texas Cattle Brands (Dallas: Cockrell, 1936). David B. Gracy II, Littlefield Lands (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1968). J. Evetts Haley, George W. Littlefield, Texan (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1943). John Lincoln, Rich Grass and Sweet Water: Ranch Life With the Koch Matador Cattle Company (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1989).

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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, David B. Gracy II, "YELLOW HOUSE RANCH," accessed August 08, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/apy01.

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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