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 »


Robin Dutton

OLIVE, ISOM PRENTICE (1840–1886). Prentice Olive, also known as Print Olive, an infamous cattleman, was born in Mississippi in 1840 to James and Julia Olive. In 1843, the family moved to Texas by covered wagon. Print received some basic grammar-school education in Williamson County, where the family settled, but his real education occurred on the open range of his family's ranch. Though his mother and sisters were Methodists, his father never forced him or his brothers to attend church. During the Civil War, Print fought on the side of the Confederacy. After the war he returned to Williamson County and began to make a name for himself as a rancher. In 1866 he managed a round-up for the entire region. With the assistance of his three brothers, Thomas, Ira and Bob, Print quickly became one of the big cattle ranchers in the area. Although great fortunes could be made in the cattle industry after the Civil War, it could also be a dangerous business. Print and his brothers were known to take the law into their own hands to protect their property. One notorious incident involved the murder of two suspected rustlers known as Turner and Crow. The men were killed by the "death of the skins," an old Spanish method of torture. Wrapped alive in green cowhides, the men were left to die as the sun slowly caused the skins to contract. Since the skins used had the Olive brand, the murders were widely believed to be done by the Olives. Despite an acquittal by the county court, many people continued to believe the brothers were guilty.

Violence seemed to haunt the entire Olive clan. Thomas Olive was killed in a gunfight and another brother, Bob, shot a local rancher, Cal Nutt. Print faced two indictments for murder but was found innocent both times. As the range filled up and conflicts increased, he decided to leave Texas. He first traveled to Colorado, but his reputation for lawlessness followed him and local ranchers forced him out of the area. Heading north, he settled in Custer County, Nebraska, in 1878. By 1879, tax records listed the Olives as one of the largest ranching outfits in the county. In an attempt to put a stop to widespread rustling, Print Olive and other ranchers formed the Custer County Livestock Association in 1878. The membership elected Olive president that same year. But in spite of their success, the Olives found themselves embroiled in violence once again. This time the dispute involved two neighboring ranchers, Mitchell and Ketchum. The sources of the argument are unclear. Some report that Mitchell and Ketchum were guilty of stealing Olive cattle. Others argue that the Olives were trying to push the small homesteaders off their land. The argument turned violent when Bob Olive went out to the Ketchum Ranch and was killed in a gunfight. When Ketchum and Mitchell were not convicted for the murder, a lynch mob, reportedly led by Print Olive, hunted down the two men and hanged them before setting their bodies on fire. Though it is not known whether Print Olive ordered the burning, the incident earned him the nickname "Man Burner." He was convicted of second-degree manslaughter, but on appeal the case was dropped when original witnesses failed to appear in court. Olive supposedly spent much of his money on legal fees and bribes to secure his release. What remained after the trials was lost when the beef market hit a slump in the 1880s. With his reputation and fortune ruined, Olive returned to Colorado. He was shot by a man named Joe Sparrow on August 18, 1886, in Trail City, Colorado, at the Haynes Saloon. Olive married Lousia Reno on February 4, 1866. They had four sons and a daughter.

Harry Chrisman, The Ladder of Rivers: The Story of I. P. (Print) Olive (Denver: Sage Books, 1962; rev. ed., Chicago: Sage Books, 1983). Mari Sandoz, The Cattleman: From the Rio Grande across the Far Marias (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1958). Clara Stearns Scarbrough, Land of Good Water: A Williamson County History (Georgetown, Texas: Williamson County Sun Publishers, 1973). True West, May 1990. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

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, Robin Dutton, "OLIVE, ISOM PRENTICE," accessed August 04, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fol12.

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. 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...