While our physical offices are closed until further notice in accordance with Austin's COVID-19 "stay home-work safe" order, the Handbook of Texas will remain available at no-cost for you, your fellow history enthusiasts, and all Texas students currently mandated to study from home. If you have the capacity to help us maintain our online Texas history resources during these uncertain times, please consider making a 100% tax-deductible contribution today. Thank you for your support of TSHA and Texas history. Donate Today »


H. Allen Anderson

LEWIS, WILLIAM JENKS (1871–1960). William Jenks Lewis, Panhandle rancher, the oldest of three children born to Charles J. and Hallie (Koogle) Lewis, was born on May 7, 1871, in Frederick, Maryland. His father, a Maryland merchant, became a partner in the Half Circle K Ranch, with his brother-in-law, Bill Koogle, in 1885. Young Will was immediately taken with the Panhandle frontier environment and started working as a cowboy on the Half Circle K. His gentle Eastern mannerisms soon aroused the ire of the authoritative ranch foreman, Red Williams, who tried to break the "boss's kid" by giving him various undesirable tasks; but Will quickly proved adept as a cowhand and gained the admiration and respect of most of his peers. Throughout his early years on the range, he seldom swore or carried a gun and preferred low-heeled shoes to boots, relying mainly on the tapadero, the leather guard over the front of the stirrup, to keep him from getting "hung up." After summer droughts, bad investments, and the Big Die-up marked the decline of the Half Circle K venture in 1886, Charles Lewis refused to go into bankruptcy and stayed on in Clarendon to gradually pay off the debts his in-laws had accumulated. When the town moved its site to the newly-completed Fort Worth and Denver City Railway in 1887, he opened a mercantile in the business district and also served as postmaster. In the meantime Will, in addition to helping out at the store, began working for the neighboring RO Ranch. Alfred Rowe, its owner, had taken a liking to the boy and thus started him off as an "outside man" for the outfit. Over the next few years Lewis was elevated from apprentice to top hand and was eventually given the responsibility of shipping RO cattle to the firm of Clay, Robinson, and Company in Kansas City.

By the late 1890s Will Lewis was ready to go out on his own. With the backing of John Clay, president of the Kansas City firm, he began buying and selling cattle throughout Kansas, New Mexico, and the Panhandle, sometimes with partners and always on leased land. In 1903–04 Lewis purchased the Bell Ranch cattle and leased its land in New Mexico until he could dispose of them. In 1910–11, when Edward F. Swift of the Swift packing firm was selling the Shoe Bar Ranch's land and herds, Lewis bought 43,000 acres of that ranch centered around its Ox-Bow Camp and maintained its famous brand. About three years later, in partnership with John Molesworth and Theodore Pyle, he took a five-year lease on acreage owned by the Espuela Land and Cattle Company (Spur Ranch) in Dickens County. They also leased 10,000 acres of former Mill Iron Ranch from the Continental Land and Cattle Company on which to graze their Spur cattle and bought 12,000 head of Mill Iron cattle. In 1917 Lewis made arrangements to purchase the remaining 72,000 acres of the RO Ranch from the Rowe family for $595,113.26, thus fulfilling a dream of his youth.

On September 19, 1912, Lewis married Willie Newbury (see LEWIS, WILLIE N.), daughter of Dallas merchant Henry L. Newbury. They had first met in the summer of 1911, when she was visiting in Clarendon with a schoolmate, Lila McClelland. The couple's first home was at the Spur Ranch headquarters in Dickens County; later they built a town residence in Clarendon and also maintained a home on Swiss Avenue in Dallas. At times Lewis's conservative-Victorian attitudes and devotion to his ranching interests contrasted sharply with the preferences of his socialite wife, but they became the parents of a son, William Jr., and three daughters, Betty, Anne, and Joan. While Lewis maintained the old RO headquarters on Skillet Creek as his "home ranch," the family seldom stayed there.

Among cattlemen's circles, Lewis was widely reputed as a modest, mild-mannered businessman whose word was his bond and whose integrity enabled him to "finance almost any deal through the banks." Only once during the early 1930s did Lewis encounter serious financial difficulties when the bank with which he had carried his operating loan sold the notes to a Kansas City banker without his knowledge until a few weeks before the notes were due. However, John Huddleston, a Kansas rancher and banker, came to his rescue. During World War II Lewis, who desired no public recognition, turned down an invitation from the federal government to represent the cattle industry in Washington. In 1942 he and a partner, Shorty Rorie, purchased 36,000 acres of former Mill Iron properties; within seven years Lewis bought out Rorie's share and established the Flying U Bar Ranch for his daughters. His son, Will Jr., became owner of the Shoe Bar property and later was made an equal partner in his father's business interests. In all, Lewis had built up an empire consisting of 140,000 acres of land and over 10,000 head of high grade Hereford cattle, which he continually sought to improve with the young thoroughbred bulls that he purchased annually.

In 1945 the Lewises purchased a spacious home in the Highland Park area of Dallas, where they resided most of the time. Avid horse racing fans, they made annual summer vacations to southern California and joined the prestigious Del Mar Turf Club at the famed Santa Anita Race Track near Pasadena. His health gradually failing, Lewis died on July 23, 1960, in the Gaston Hospital in Dallas. Following services at St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church in Clarendon, where he was a charter member, he was buried in Clarendon's Citizen's Cemetery. His widow subsequently took up permanent resident in Dallas and published several books, including Tapadero (1972), the story of her husband's early years in the Panhandle. Will, Jr., and his wife, Vera Noland Lewis, continued to manage their Shoe Bar property and other family ranching interests. He was a director of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association and also of the Donley County State Bank. He died suddenly at a Boston hospital after a bout with cancer on March 11, 1961, and was buried beside his father in Clarendon. Since that time, the Shoe Bar and part of the old RO Ranch have remained in possession of the Lewis estate.


Virginia Browder, Donley County: Land O' Promise (Wichita Falls, Texas: Nortex, 1975). William Curry Holden, The Espuela Land and Cattle Company: A Study of a Foreign-Owned Ranch in Texas (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1970). Willie Newbury Lewis, Tapadero: The Making of a Cowboy (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1972). Willie Newbury Lewis, Willie: A Girl from a Town Called Dallas (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1984).

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.


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

Handbook of Texas Online, H. Allen Anderson, "LEWIS, WILLIAM JENKS," accessed July 14, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fle87.

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on December 6, 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...