CHANNING, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — Spanning an area of three million acres, and more than 200 miles long, the XIT Ranch was once considered the biggest ranch in the world.
But have you ever wondered how it was formed? How did it come about?
We are about to take you on a journey to find out.
For Drew Knowles, the XIT is more than just a huge ranch, it is an extended family member.
“The ranch is is unique in my mind because it is land that my family owned, starting in 1885,” said Knowles, who recently purchased the Rita Blanca Ranch. “My third great grandfather is John V. Farwell, and John V. Farwell and his brother Charles, put together the Capital Syndicate.”
Knowles currently owns the 11,600-acre Burson Rita Blanca Ranch near Channing, part of the famous XIT Ranch.
To give you a little history lesson, back in 1881, a fire destroyed the Austin Capitol building.
In 1882, there were 3 million acres of unsettled land in the Texas Panhandle.
After extensive survey and research, the land was used to purchase and rebuild the state capitol.
“The group of individuals that bought it was not just a handful it was it was a large group, they called themselves the Capitol Syndicate, or that’s how they referred to, and their official title was the Capital Freehold Land and Investment Company,” said Renea Dauntes, Archivist and Research Assistant at the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum in Canyon. “So you can see when they use the Capitol Syndicate, which is an homage to the fact that the land that was used was to purchase the capitol building and to have it constructed.”
According to Dauntes, in 1885, the syndicate, which was formed by investors from the U.S. and England, decided to run it as a ranch instead of trying to sell it right away.
“They got their first their first herd and over the years they averaged a roughly around a 150,000 so they didn’t do any crop cultivation, there wasn’t a variety of animals that they were raising for stock purposes,” she explained.
The XIT Ranch was a geographical marvel. Those three million acres stretched through 10 counties and were 200 miles long, which naturally made for strategic advantages in cattle raising.
“They were able to have these purebred longhorns largely and have them as they grew, until they get closer to the top of the northern sections of land where then they would be taken off to auction houses,” Dauntes recalled.
Throughout the lifetime of the XIT, there were eight different base camps. Each of them in different environments, with their own personality, and serving different purposes.
Another industry that was critical to the XIT and the Panhandle area, was the railroads, which were crucial in transporting cattle from the ranch, to markets out of state like Kansas City or Chicago.
“There was a Rock Island (railroad) line that went through and then there was a Fort Worth Denver (railway) line that went through there, you could see sort of remnants of this in Dalhart especially because it’s one of those places they cross. So there’s this ability to take the in this investment that you’ve made, and get it usually safer to the endpoint and where you can actually make more money. The ability to compartmentalize these large groups of cows, and they would, they would order in dozens, hundreds, in some cases of cars, or these paddles to travel in, and then they would make it to their destination,” Dauntes said.
The XIT was dismembered in 1912, but there are still plenty of remnants of the world-famous ranch across the area.
As for Knowles, he told us he will continue to take care of the land just like his great-grandfather.
“We really believe in taking care of the land so that the land can take care of us,” he said.