Spade Ranch (Texas)

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This article is about the ranch in Texas. For other uses, see Spade Ranch (disambiguation).

Spade Ranch was the name of two separate West Texas ranches, both of which were invariably linked through the innovation of barbed wire. The two were under separate ownership.

The early and first Spade Ranch[edit]

The first Spade Ranch was begun in the Panhandle in 1880 by John F. "Spade" Evans, who had formed a corporation with Judson P. Warner, an agent who sold Joseph Glidden's barbed wire. On 25 August 1880, J.F. Evans and Company purchased 23 parcels of land in Donley County, Texas, near Clarendon, from J.A. Reynolds.

Their first camp was established near Glenwood Creek, and they erected a log cabin on Barton Creek, which they designated as their permanent headquarters. In the end, neither Evans nor Warner had the time to devote to active ranching. They turned over operations to such able ranchers as Baldy Oliver and Dave Nall. Alfred Rowe worked at the Spade for a time before he started his own RO Ranch.

The unique brand[edit]

The designer of the ranch's distinctive brand is unknown. The brand, which resembles a shovel or a "spade", was first used on a cattle herd that Evans and Warner had gathered in Parmer County. The wranglers trailed the cattle to the open grasses of the Panhandle and turned the herd loose near Saddler Creek.

Renderbrook, second Spade, and Isaac Ellwood[edit]


While Evans and Warner's startup ranch operated, J. Taylor Barr was operating the Renderbrook Ranch. Renderbrook was near Renderbrook Springs in Mitchell County, about 25 miles south of Colorado City. In 1882, Barr was bought out by brothers Dudley H. and John W. Snyder. The Snyders enlarged the operation in the five years that ensued. By 1887, the Renderbrook Ranch encompassed 300,000 acres (1,200 km²) in four counties.

Second Spade and Ellwood[edit]

Isaac L. Ellwood came onto the scene after Texas was ravaged by terrible drought and blizzards during the late 1880s. Ellwood was co-owner of the barbed wire patent with Joseph Glidden. Ellwood bought the Spade Ranch from Evans and Warner during this time; along with his purchase came the ranch's unique brand and 800 head of cattle. Ellwood then purchased the sprawling Renderbrook Ranch from the Snyders and began to stock it with Spade cattle. In 1889, Ellwood acquired the 128,000-acre (518-km²) north pasture of the Snyder Brothers ranch and renamed it Spade Ranch, so the second Spade Ranch was born. Ellwood registered the ranch's distinctive brand in Mitchell County in 1889 and Hale and Lubbock Counties in 1891.

In 1902, the Spade was enlarged further when Ellwood acquired adjacent land tracts totaling 262,000 acres (1,060 km²). The ranch was 10 miles wide by 54 miles long. The ranch's main headquarters were located in southeastern Lamb County and the south pasture operations were headed up in eastern Hockley County, near present-day Smyer, Texas.

Spade Ranch after Isaac Ellwood[edit]

Ellwood put his oldest son, William Leonard Ellwood, in charge of his Texas ranches. After Isaac's death in 1910, W.L. and his younger brother, Erwin Perry Ellwood, jointly inherited both Spade and Renderbrooks ranches. The brothers set about to running the ranches. Water was provided through the use of windmills and wells, with the mills placed at intervals of four miles. Renderbrook and Spade were both stocked with 15,000 head of cattle. Though the Ellwood brothers first ranched Red Durham cattle, they soon found that Hereford cattle were much better suited to dry environment of the South Plains. In 1919, they switched to Hereford bulls.

Farther south, the Renderbrook Ranch was primarily a breeding ranch. Once old enough, the young steers were sent to the Spade Ranch to graze. Each year before 1908, three to five thousand head of cattle were transported to market in Kansas by freight train, usually at Bovina or Amarillo. From 1908 until 1912, cattle were driven to Abernathy. In 1912, the Santa Fe Railroad built its line up to Littlefield, which allowed the Spade to ship its cattle without having to drive them long distances.

The end of Spade Ranch[edit]

W.L. Ellwood put the northern acreage of the Spade up for sale as farmland. In October, the ranch shipped 6,000 three-year-old steers and another 5,200 the following spring, in a second roundup. By 1926, about 80% of the north land had been sold. By 1938, Ellwood Farms, as the conglomerate was called, had sold off about 189,000 acres (765 km²); most was used for farming in subsequent years. By 1947, the sales of the former Spade land was completed. The Ellwood family retained only 21,754 acres (88.04 km²) in Hockley County. In the early 1980s, Spade cattle were still being run from the nearby Renderbrook Ranch by some of Ellwood's heirs.

Ranch towns[edit]

A number of towns sprung up on and around Spade Ranch lands in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Some of the towns prospered to become larger towns, others, today, are practically ghost towns, only echoes of the days of ranch life and cattle drives.


Ropesville, Texas, was a town whose existence coincided with the development of Ellwood's Spade Ranch. It was the first settlement in Hockley County and opened for settlement in 1900. Settlers were led into the area by Jim Jarrot in 1901. Later, when the Santa Fe Railroad built a line from Lubbock to Seagraves, the company build stock pens, switches, a sectionhouse, and a depot on land donated by Isaac Ellwood. The cowboys at the town, who built rope corrals to hold cattle awaiting rail shipment wanted to call the depot/town Ropes. The post office, however, refused the name in light of its similarity to another Texas town Ropers. The name Ropesville was submitted and accepted.[1]


Wolfforth, Texas, like many Panhandle towns, was founded when the Santa Fe Railroad came through the area. It was established in 1916 by two brothers, George C. "Tildy" and Eastin "Easty" Wolffarth. Wolfforth, near the Spade Ranch, profited greatly when the ranch lands were sold for farm land in the 1920s and '30s.[2]


Roundup, Texas was directly on the property of Spade Ranch. It was established when the Santa Fe Railroad built a switch for shipping cattle, cotton and grain in 1912. Its population was 50 in 1948 and in 1980 and 1990 the population was 23.


Spade, Texas, sprang up when W.L. Ellwood began to sell off the northern parts of Spade Ranch, near the old Spade Ranch headquarters. The townsite was formed when farmers began settling on the former ranch land in 1924, shortly after its sale. In 1940, Spade had 200 people, six businesses, and two churches. By 1968, the town had its own water system, and in 1980 and 1990 had a population of 174.[3]

Other towns[edit]

Other towns associated with Spade Ranch include:

External links[edit]

  • Interview: with Mart "M.F." Driver, ranch hand at Spade Ranch, Library of Congress
  • Ellwood papers at Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library, Texas Tech University

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ Ropesville, Texas: University of Texas at Austin
  2. ^ Wolfforth, Texas: University of Texas at Austin
  3. ^ Spade: University of Texas at Austin