The Biggest Ranches

From the fabled King to the formidable 06, the twenty most storied spreads in Texas.

if W.W. had no other options: He was a graduate of Roanoke College in Virginia and the Draughn Business School in New York, and his father owned a thriving bank and mercantile store in Beeville; he could have run either or both. But the son held firm, and in 1897, at age 39, he bought 6,000 acres in Jim Hogg County that were once part of the Las Animas Spanish land grant. Over the years Jones and his wife, Louella Marsden, and their children added some 373,000 acres. Today his grandchildren and great-grandchildren own and operate the family ranches.

6666 Ranch

LOCATION King County
ACRES 350,000
PRIMARY USE cattle, horses

SOMETIMES FICTION IS MORE ENTERTAINING THAN FACT. According to lore, Missouri cowman Burk Burnett won a ranch in a high-stakes card game and named it after his hand: the Four Sixes. Yet Burnett himself denied the lively Wild West story, as do his ancestors, who say he bought the ranch from the Louisville Land and Cattle Company and named it after the brand already imprinted on his first herd: 6666.

Whatever the case, no one disputes the majesty of the Four Sixes, which is managed by Burnett’s great-granddaughter, 62-year-old Anne Winfohr Marion, and her husband, John, a former chairman of Sotheby’s. In addition to the revenue they’ve generated through traditional operations, the Marions have earned a few dollars a less likely way: In the sixties and seventies Marlboro featured the Four Sixes’ red-and-white barn in its cigarette ads, making the ranch noteworthy not only in Texas but also on Madison Avenue.

East Family Ranches

LOCATION Brooks, Cameron, Hidalgo, Jim Hogg, Kenedy, Kleberg, Starr, and Willacy counties
ACRES 340,000
PRIMARY USE cattle, oil and gas

THE EAST FAMILY IS ONE OF THE MOST INTERESTING ranching clans in the state, but they won’t talk to the press. And public information about them and their holdings is scarce—strangely so, given their connection to the well-examined King Ranch. What little we do know comes from books like Tom Lea’s two-volume 1957 classic, The King Ranch. According to Lea, Tom T. East—described only as a local rancher—married Alice Kleberg, the granddaughter of King Ranch founder Richard King, in 1915. The newlyweds went to live on East’s San Antonio Viejo Ranch about 75 miles from the King Ranch. When the Easts fell on hard times, they sold their 77,000 acres to the Kings. (Not long after, the King Ranch’s first producing oil well was found on the San Antonio Viejo.) In 1935, when Alice Kleberg’s estate was settled following her death, title to the San Antonio Viejo was trans-ferred back to the Easts.

Today the East Family Ranches are owned by the Easts’ surviving son, Robert, and Evelyn East, the widow of his late brother. Robert owns the San Antonio Viejo, the Casa Verde, and the San Pablo; Evelyn owns the Santa Fe.

La Escalera

LOCATION Brewster, Pecos, and Reeves counties
ACRES 272,000
PRIMARY USE cow-calf

LIKE THE LEGENDARY BUT NOW DEFUNCT XIT RANCH, La Escalera was born of Texas’ desire to have a grand statehouse. Originally given to the GC&SF Railway in exchange for money and materials used to the build the Capitol, La Escalera was bought in 1884 by Edwin Giddings of Colorado. Actually, the property was called the Elsinore back then, or the E L for short. The name changed in 1992 when San Antonio contractor Gerald Lyda, Sr., bought the property from Douglas Giddings, Edwin’s grandson. Lyda, who had just transferred the title to his 360,000-acre Ladder Ranch in New Mexico to Ted Turner and Jane Fonda, christened the new ranch La Escalera (Spanish for “ladder”). Keeping the name in some form was more pragmatic than sentimental: Lyda had five thousand calves already carrying the Ladder brand. “To keep from rebranding them, I went to Spanish,” he says.

Lyda has added 38,000 acres to La Escalera since he bought it, bringing the total up to 226,000 acres. He also owns the 46,000-acre Lake Ranch in Reeves County, which is run by his son Gene.

Reynolds Family Ranches

LOCATION Culberson, Dallam, Hartley, and Jeff Davis counties
ACRES 250,000
PRIMARY USE cow-calf

ONE OF THE FIRST PERMANENT RANCHERS in the Davis Mountains area, Barber Watkins Reynolds moved his family from Arizona to Texas in 1845, eventually settling on the Clear Fork of the Brazos River just east of Fort Griffin. His choice was excellent economically and socially: His cattle business thrived, and five of his children married the children of his neighbor, friend, and sometime business partner Joe Beck Matthews.

Reynolds’ two eldest sons, George and William, were in the cattle business for sixteen years before they founded the Reynolds Cattle Company in 1884. (As trail drivers, they participated in the ride that became the basis for Lonesome Dove.) Their holdings consisted of the Long X Ranch—once 250,000 acres, it is now 150,000, parts having been sold to actor Tommy Lee Jones and Emmett McCoy (see page 123)—and the 100,000-acre Rita Blanca, which was carved out of the old XIT. Passed down from generation to generation, that land has been divvied up into four parcels, each of which is owned by a descendant of George or William.

A. S. Gage Ranch

LOCATION Brewster and Presidio counties
ACRES 190,000
PRIMARY USE cow-calf

ALFRED S. GAGE WAS BORN IN VERMONT IN 1860, moved to Dallas at age eighteen, and four years later, took a job with his brother Edward, a Dartmouth College graduate who had started a land business. But within a year, he got restless and went to work as a cowboy on a ranch in Archer County. After Edward died in 1892, his company was reorganized and renamed the Alpine Cattle Company, and 32-year-old Alfred returned to be its general manager. In 1913 he bought out the other stockholders, merged Alpine’s 170,000 acres with more than 230,000 that he owned, and created the A. S. Gage Ranch.

At the time of his death in 1928, Alfred still owned those 400,000 acres, and they were

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