In 1541, Francisco Vazquez de Coronado wrote to Charles I, King of Spain, describing for the first time the Llano Estacado or Staked Plains. The Llano is a high tableland extending across much of the Texas panhandle and eastern New Mexico. In Texas its eastern boundary is marked by the impressive Caprock which runs hundreds of miles across west Texas. Coronado was overwhelmed by the vastness of the Llano Estacado. As he wrote, “I reached plains so vast that I did not find their limit anywhere I went, although I travelled over them for 300 leagues.” He further describes them as having “no more land marks than if we had been swallowed up by the sea. There was not a stone, nor a bit of rising ground, nor a tree, nor a shrub, nor anything to go by.” He was also the first to write about the incredible herds of cattle (bison) that he encountered and the first to describe the various plains Indians that he encountered. Of course, he never found the Cities of Gold that he was looking for.
From the Annals of the Weeklies – In 1887, Henry Harold Brookes published the first edition of the Panhandle Herald. The Herald is the oldest continuously published newspaper in the Texas Panhandle. The paper has been mostly a weekly except during about 3 years during the 20’s when it was published semiweekly. The paper has been owned by the Panhandle Publishing Company since 1932.
From the Annals of the Big Ranches – In 1879, the New York and Texas Land Company was formed. New Yorkers, John S. Kennedy, Samuel Thorne, and William Walter Phelps purchased all of the land owned by the consolidated International-Great Northern Railroad Company to form the NYTLC. The company ultimately owned over 5.5 million acres – one of the largest privately financed land companies to operate in post-Civil War Texas. The holdings extended into fifty-one counties in the Panhandle. Under the guidance of T. D. Hobart, the NYTLC began an extensive development program of fencing, well drilling, windmill building, and water impoundment. By 1900 most of the Panhandle lands had been developed and sold. Many of the largest ranches in Texas were carved out from the NYTLC holdings. The company was dissolved in 1918.
From the Annals of Cattle Ranching – In 1912, the XIT Ranch of Texas sold its last head of cattle. The XIT was once one of the largest cattle ranches in Texas, and the land was received in exchange for financing the construction of the state capitol building in Austin. Thus, the XIT it was not owned by the iconic independent cattle ranching pioneer popular in Western mythology. In fact, many of the biggest cow operations in the 1800’s were owned by big-city capitalists and stockholders. The Chicago capitalists behind the XIT—also known as the Capitol Syndicate Ranch—were leveraging their capital and banking on the growing American appetite for fresh beef.
The CSR determined that ranching would be the only profitable use for their new land. The built a a large and highly efficient cattle-raising operation that stretched over parts of nine Texas counties. At its peak, the XIT had more than 160,000 head of cattle, employed 150 cowboys, and operated on 3 million acres of the Texas panhandle.
Increasing land prices and declining beef prices, convinced the CSR that they could make more money by selling their land. By 1912, the XIT abandoned ranching altogether with the sale of its last herd of cattle. As the land was sold off the XIT holdings shrunk. By 1950, the XIT consisted of less than 20,000 acres.
Map from the XIT Museum.
From the Annals of the Lost Counties – In 1873, the Texas Legislature declared the existence of Wegefarth County. It was named for C. Wegefarth, president of the Texas Immigrant Aid and Supply Company. The county, which was created in a disputed area west of Greer County in the eastern panhandle region, had but a brief existence. It was abolished by another act of the Legislature in 1876 which created the current Panhandle counties.