The Pitchfork Ranch, established in 1883, encompasses some 181,000 acres (73,000 ha) in Dickens and King counties in West Texas, in the United States, with an annex in Jefferson County in southern Oklahoma. Previous properties in Kansas and Wyoming have been since sold.
Officially known as the Pitchfork Land & Cattle Company of St. Louis, Missouri, the ranch runs commercial cattle: Angus and Herefords as well as the “black baldy”, a term which refers to the cross-breeding of Angus and Hereford. There are also South Texas crossbreds. The Pitchfork boasts 113 windmills, 80 pastures enclosed by more than 300 miles (480 km) of fence, and 5,000 cows and bulls. The ranch has never sold an acre in Texas but has slowly expanded from its original 52,500 acres (21,200 ha). The Pitchfork is also unlike most ranches in that it is larger today than when it was established, whereas most large ranches have followed the opposite course over the years and sold off acreage.
Known for its natural beauty, the ranch is featured in a photographic book Pitchfork Country by its past manager Bob Moorhouse, a member of the ranch board of directors. It is open to the public for hunting and for organized tours.
Early years of the ranch
The Pitchfork is still operated by descendants of its first financial backer, Eugene F. Williams of St. Louis. It is located 80 miles (130 km) east of Lubbock and 13 miles (21 km) west of Guthrie on U.S. Highway 82. D. B. Gardner and J. S. Godwin bought the three-pronged pitchfork brand as well as the range lands in 1881. The ranch is therefore still sometimes called “The Forks”. In 1882, Godwin sold his interest to Williams. The Pitchfork company was organized in 1883, with Gardner as general manager.
The Pitchfork is one of two West Texas ranches granted fifty-year charters, without having had a change in ownership. Ranch headquarters are located on the Geneva Fork of the Wichita River, which traverses the land from east to west. Several strategically located camps minimize travel and the necessary movement of equipment. All buildings, fences, and improvements are of modern high-grade construction.
D. B. Gardner and Eugene Williams
In 1871, D. B. Gardner arrived in Texas as a well-educated 21-year-old cowboy. He went on trail drives to Kansas and joined surveying parties for a couple of years to locate land grants authorized to the Texas and Pacific Railway. After working for D. W. and J. S. Godwin as a cowhand and eventually as ranch boss, Gardner became a partner with the brothers in the ranch. D. W. Godwin later withdrew from the partnership, and a new arrangement was formed between Gardner and J.S. Godwin. The pair moved into King and Dickens counties to purchase the Pitchfork brand, cattle, and range rights. Gardner, meanwhile, had become acquainted with Eugene Williams, who was in Texas as a representative of the Hamilton-Brown Shoe Company. Their families had known each other in Alabama, and a warm friendship developed between the two men. In 1881, Williams bought J. S. Godwin’s interest in the Pitchfork to become Gardner’s partner. Williams placed total trust in his friend, a decision which proved invaluable.
On December 13, 1883, the Pitchfork company was established with 52,500 acres (21,200 ha) and 9,750 cattle. Unlike most ranches established during the great cattle boom of the 1880s, the Pitchfork survived drought and price depression of the cattle market. The company named A. D. Brown as president; Eugene Williams as vice-president; A. P. Bush, Jr., as secretary, and D. B. Gardner as general manager. At the end of the first year, Bush withdrew from the company, and Gardner was made secretary in addition to his duties as general manager.
For forty-six years, Gardner augmented and managed the ranch, adding more range land and cattle, fencing the property, and fighting business panics and blizzards. No matter the obstacle, Gardner made the Pitchfork pay an annual dividend. He paid $45 for good bulls, a considerable amount in the early 20th century. Most of his management years were spent at ranch headquarters on the Wichita, where the literary-inclined Gardner established an impressive library. Gardner was married in 1889 to the former Sula Pope Ellison. She lived only two years after the marriage. A son, Sula Gardner, died in Fort Worth in the late 1930s.
At the time of Gardner’s death in June 1929, the Pitchfork had reached a national standard in breeding. He attributed much of the success of the Pitchfork to the wagon bosses, John McKenn, Med Gardner, Dick Germany, Press Goen, and W. H. Bryant. Gardner was a respected officer of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association in Fort Worth, and many cattlemen sought out his advice over the years.
Gardner served as manager until 1928, a year before his death. The management then passed to O. A. Lambert, 1928–1930; Virgil V. Parr, 1930–1940; Rudolph Swenson, 1940–1942, who was killed by a train; Douglas Burns (1895–1977), who served from 1942–1965; Jim Humphreys (1921–2007), who served from 1965–1986; Bob Moorhouse (born 1947), who served from 1986–2007, and Ron Lane (born 1969), whas has managed the ranch since 2007. Fencing of the ranch began in 1887, and oil drilling followed early in the 20th century. In the early 21st century, the Pitchfork had no income, however from either oil or natural gas. In addition to the cattle, the ranch raises championship quarter horses, having won the 1993 American Quarter Horse Association Remuda competition in Amarillo.
Hermon "Babe" Oliver (July 17, 1920—February 3, 2009) worked for the Pitchfork Ranch for forty-two years. In 1960, he was elected as one of the four King County county commissioners, a part-time position which he held until 1976, when he was elected King County sheriff. In 1984, he was appointed King County administrative county judge, a position which he held until his retirement in 1990. Oliver was born to M. N. and Ada Oliver in Steedman in Pontotoc County in southern Oklahoma. He moved to Texas with his family in 1934 and thereafter was a United States Army veteran of World War II. On February 25, 1945, he married the former Bama Nell Smith (1924–2007) in Paducah, the seat of Cottle County, Texas. The Olivers relocated in 1995 to Pampa, the seat of Gray County, and then to Clyde in Callahan County in West Texas in August 2007. Oliver was survived by two daughters, Linda and husband, Jimmy Barton, of Clyde and Beth Watson and husband, Randy Watson, of Pampa; one son, Terry and wife, Linda Oliver, of Dumont in King County; nine grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren. Services were held at the First United Methodist Church in Paducah. Interment was at Garden of Memories Cemetery in Paducah.
The Pitchfork today
The cowboys work the range in a manner consistent with their forebears who first rode for the brand in the 1880s. The ranch also produces the “Pitchfork Gray”, a gray horse with a black mane and tail – has now become as synonymous with the ranch as the brand itself. For a century, the Pitchfork's profits and losses were affected only by the weather and the price of cattle. The ranch is now a diversified modern agricultural business: cattle ranching, hunting for deer, boar, and game birds, oil exploration (with finds in the Tannehill Sands area), and farming. Helicopters and computers are as common at the Pitchfork as traditional ropes and saddles. The Pitchfork hands, however, still eat at the same table as did the cowboys of 1900. The ranch manager is Ron Lane, who assumed duties in 2007, upon Moorhouse’s retirement.
In 1999, the Pitchfork Ranch won the annual Ranch Award from the American Cowboy Culture Association, which sponsors the annual National Cowboy Symposium and Celebration held each September in Lubbock, Texas.
Pitchfork ranch cookbook
Ranch manager Douglas Burns’ wife, the former Mamie Sypert (1896–1982) published Recipes of a Pitchfork Ranch Hostess: The Culinary Legacy of Mamie Burns. She assumed management of the ranch’s Big House, including the feeding and entertaining of personal and business guests. The recipes and reminiscences in her notes, reproduced in the cookbook, reveal that Mrs. Burns set a bountiful table. Though she claimed not to have enjoyed cooking, her recipes and comments on ranch living reveal a real enthusiasm for preparing food for her guests. The book provides not only the ingredients of her special dishes but a glimpse into West Texas ranch life.
- Pitchfork Ranch
- Pitchfork Ranch
- Big Ranch Country - Pitchfork Land & Cattle Company
- Handbook of Texas Online - PITCHFORK RANCH
- Fred Arrington, History of Dickens County; Ranches and Rolling Plains, 1971
- "Obituary of Hermon "Babe" Oliver". Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, February 5, 2009. Retrieved February 5, 2009.
- "Teresa Cox Young, Cowboy life rides high at awards show: Symposium saddles up with tribute to heritage, September 10, 1999". Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. Retrieved September 5, 2013.
- http://www.ttup.ttu.edu/BookPages/0896724751.html: Mamie Burns, Recipes of a Pitchfork Ranch Hostess: The Culinary Legacy of Mamie Burns, edited by Cathryn Buesseler and L. E. Anderson
- Company records, 1837-1983 and undated, in the Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library at Texas Tech University