Q: I’m just a poor old guy from Michigan, born and raised on a small city lot, jammed in a house with a brother and two sisters, and spending my childhood playing in a yard that a person could spit a cherry pit across. I now receive Texas Monthly, and I enjoy it very much. A special friend, a former snowbird who use to winter down there, always renews my subscription for my birthday. I even enjoy the advertising, because it is so classy and well done. I especially enjoy the real estate ads in the back. I guess I kind of fantasize about owning one of the massive ranches I see for sale. My question is, what in tarnation (did I use that correctly?) does a person do with 38,000 acres? At first, I thought I would buy an ATV and just drive it around the perimeter, making sure that no kids were hitting baseballs over my fences. I don’t know how long it would take to orbit the whole property, but at least I would be utilizing my acreage. Then it occurred to me that a four-wheeler hardly seemed “Texan.” The idea of riding a horse around the property pleased me more. The only time I rode a horse, however, I was brushed off by a tree branch, and I still think the horse did it on purpose. But now I’m obsessed with the thought of riding a horse far out on the property, taking a last swig of whiskey out of clear bottle, tossing it up in the air, and blasting it to pieces with a six-shooter. Certain issues arise, though. I might have to get off the horse so as not to accidentally shoot him. I’d also have to be careful to not shoot myself in the foot. I’m sure I saw this in a movie and was mighty impressed. Do you suppose there are other fun things I could do if I scraped together $32.5 million to buy my spread?
Herb Bergstrom, Sparta, Michigan
A: It warms the cockles of the Texanist’s hardened old heart to learn that a Michigander such as yourself has fallen under the magical spell of the Lone Star State by way of Texas Monthly. The folks over in the advertising sales department will be especially glad to hear that you’re also enjoying the fruits of their labors. And the Texanist can relate; he has momentarily lost himself in daydreams quite similar to yours while lingering over the very same real ads touting jaw-droppingly picturesque ranch lands. It’s not uncommon for the unlanded to dream such dreams, after all.
In the Texanist’s version, he, clad in his favorite woolly chaps, bib Western shirt, and eighteen-gallon hat with a steep Tom Horn crown, is, with jangling spurs, sitting tall in the saddle of his trusty steed, a chestnut beauty with a nifty star-shaped patch of hair on her forehead. Sometimes his mount is a pretty paint. Either way, though, the Texanist is almost always meandering aimlessly through the backcountry of the @-THE-Bar Ranch. (Sometimes it’s called the Rocking Chair Ranch.) The sun is setting behind one of his far-off mesas and a soundtrack consisting of the works of Tioga native Gene “The Singing Cowboy” Autry plays in the background. “Clippety-clop, clippety clop … oh, give me land lots of land under starry skies above, don’t fence me in …” The Texanist always seems to snap out of his reverie when the ranch cook, Cookie, starts banging the triangle. This is an ongoing source of frustration because the Texanist has never been able to learn what’s for dinner in that vast dreamland. Probably biscuits and beans and colossal ribeye steaks. Sound familiar? There’s less gunplay in the Texanist’s fantasy, but you and he do seem to be on the same page.
Texas, in case you didn’t know, comprises some 171,891,840 acres in total—more than twice the size of Michigan, which is mostly covered in water anyway. And 95 percent of Texas land is in the hands of private owners, some of whom are the masters of gigantic spreads just like the ones you and Texanist are, um, shopping around for. Many of Texas’s most famed ranches are, in fact, famed mainly for their shear giganticness. For instance, there’s the 510,000-acre Waggoner Ranch, up in North Texas, which went on the market a few years ago with an eye-popping asking price of $725 million—and sold not long afterward. And then there’s the 278,000 Kokernot 06 Ranch in the beautiful Davis Mountains of West Texas. And the historic 6666 Ranch, which is part of the 275,000-acre Burnett Ranches empire. And, of course, the crowning jewel King Ranch, which at 825,000 acres of South Texas is bigger than all of Rhode Island.
So, what in tarnation (you deployed that word perfectly, by the way) can a person do with his own 38,000 acres of Texas? That’s a great question. But before answering it, the Texanist would like to ask a question of his own: Why in tarnation limit yourself to pretending to be the owner of a measly 38,000 place when you could pretend to be the owner of a ranch more than ten times that size?
Fortuitously, the Texanist recently learned of just such a ranch having hit the market out in West Texas. Brewster Ranch, owned by a Kentucky businessman who is reportedly the seventh-largest landowner in the nation, covers more than 420,000 acres of ruggedly stunning Big Bend country, boasts an airstrip, running waterways, and mountain peaks topping five thousand feet, and is currently the largest piece of real estate available anywhere in Texas. And it will set you back only $320 million. Dream big or wake up, the Texanist always says.
What rewarding activities would the Texanist engage in if he had such spread splayed out before him? Well, in addition to wandering around on that pretty chestnut mare, the Texanist might also raise livestock, farm, hunt, fish, camp, rodeo, watch sunsets, cook out, have friends over, stargaze, learn to play a mouth harp, drink whiskey out of clear glass bottles, plink things, paint landscapes, write poetry, swim in the buff, and be a good steward of his huge personal piece of Texas. Or, put more simply, just ranch a lot.
While you’re waiting for your cotton to get tall enough for you to be able to afford such a place, the Texanist would direct you to Texas Farm & Ranch, a publication affiliated with the Texas Monthly mothership that showcases exceptional specimens of rural real estate that are up for sale. It’s sometimes referred to around the office as “ranch porn” (PSA: do not google “ranch porn”) and sounds like something that would be right up your alley. Maybe it will help tide you over until the day your Texas-sized dreams are realized. And when that happens, please be sure that you engage in one more traditional ranch activity that no self-respecting Texas landowner would deny himself: inviting Texas’s foremost advice columnist over for a long visit.
Have a question for the Texanist? He’s always available here. Be sure to tell him where you’re from.