By 2000 the Hitch Ranch comprised one of the Oklahoma Panhandle's largest and most influential business operations. The ranch was established by James Kerrick Hitch (1855-1921), a native Tennessean. In company with his father-in-law, Henry Westmoreland, Hitch had been involved in the cattle business in southwestern Kansas from 1876. In 1884 or 1885 he pastured a herd on Coldwater Creek, a tributary of the Beaver or North Canadian River, in present Texas County. He soon moved his ranching enterprise to that area of unoccupied, open-range grassland in unorganized No Man's Land, or the Public Land Strip. When in 1890 the Strip became open for settlement, Hitch and his family claimed land. By 1900 they were running ten thousand head on forty to fifty thousand acres. However, open range began to disappear under settlers' plows, and when a "herd law" in 1902 required cattlemen to fence their land, the nature of ranching changed.
From 1895 to 1910 Hitch purchased many "relinquishments" from failed homesteaders, eventually accumulating 12,080 acres in the area south of present Guymon, and also invested in ranches in Hansford County, Texas, and Seward County, Kansas. His OX brand was seen on cattle herds in three states. At his death in 1921, his son Henry Hitch (1884-1967) assumed direction of the family interests in addition to running his own ten-thousand-acre ranch. Under Henry Hitch's leadership, the cattle business took on a new character and over the next seventy-five years came to involve extensive agribusiness operations.
During the harsh winters of the late 1880s James Hitch had quickly learned to plant and cut large crops of hay for winter feed. Subsequent generations practiced "ranch farming" in an even larger way. Diversification became a family byword. Growing winter forage led Hitch into wheat farming, and high prices during World War I led Texas County to be one of the nation's largest wheat growers. In the postwar agricultural depression the Hitch operation became more efficient and mechanized, counteracting the price drop. During the Great Depression and the drought of the 1930s the family practiced pasture conservation, leased some land for oil exploration, and greatly reduced its cattle herd but reconstituted it during World War II.
In 1953, deciding to further diversify, Henry Hitch built a feedlot on the ranch. The decision was momentous for the family enterprises and an economic boon for the Oklahoma Panhandle. Under the leadership of Henry Hitch, Jr. (1918-1996), known as "Ladd," by the mid-1970s the family opened three high-capacity commercial feedlots, and the Panhandle economy supported twenty-nine such operations. The Hitch ranch, farm, and feedlot empire, headquartered in Guymon, grew to include ten thousand acres of farm land, three feedlots, a cattle-buying company, a company that financed feeder cattle operations, a commercial cow herd, and pig production facilities.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Donald E. Green, Panhandle Pioneer: Henry C. Hitch, His Ranch, and His Family (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Heritage Association). "Hitch Ranch," Centennial Farm and Ranch Program File, State Historic Preservation Office, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City. Mary Jo Nelson, "Hitch Enterprises Has Birthday Fete," Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City), 6 May 1984.
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