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PRAIRIE CATTLE COMPANY

Owner of large cattle ranches in New Mexico, Colorado, and Texas, the Prairie Cattle Company grazed herds of cattle in the Public Land Strip (No Man's Land, the Oklahoma Panhandle) throughout the 1880s. The first of a number of British and Scottish-backed cattle syndicates in the West, the Prairie Cattle Company, Ltd., was organized in 1880 at Edinburgh, Scotland. In 1881 for a reported $425,000 these Scottish investors purchased the Cross L Ranch, whose headquarters had been established by the Hall brothers in New Mexico Territory about forty miles up the Cimarron River from present Kenton, Oklahoma. That year the company also purchased rights to rangeland in Colorado and to the LIT Ranch, a large spread in the Texas Panhandle. The conglomerate's three divisions held 5,076,480 acres, and in 1885 its overall holdings were estimated to be worth $4.4 million. With ranch houses at Trinidad, Colorado, on the Cross L in New Mexico, and on the LIT east of Tascosa, Texas, the company controlled most of the region from the Arkansas River to the Canadian, including Oklahoma's future Cimarron County. Using the federally owned Public Land Strip, they grazed their herds tax free. A cattle trail through the Oklahoma Panhandle connected the Texas and Colorado operations.

Various factors impeded the Prairie Cattle Company's efforts to conduct a successful business. In 1886 blizzards killed a number of the their cattle in the Panhandle area. Many died as they gathered in huge numbers at a large drift fence that had been erected to control the spread of Texas fever. In 1890 No Man's Land was included as part of Oklahoma Territory, and homesteading began. Kansas placed restrictions on interstate herding of Texas cattle because of Texas fever, and the federal government enforced the collection of grazing taxes. In 1896 a federal judge ruled that the Prairie Cattle Company owed $7,400 in taxes for its nearly twenty thousand head that it had grazed in Beaver County. The company thereafter relied less and less on the present Oklahoma Panhandle.

Finally, public opinion turned against foreign persons and corporations that owned or controlled large amounts of land in the United States. To restrict the British-backed Prairie Cattle Company, the Texas Land and Cattle Company, the Matador Land and Cattle Company, and others, the Texas legislature passed an alien land law in 1891. This act was ruled unconstitutional, and a revised version passed in 1892 had no provisions against corporations. Nevertheless, the Prairie Cattle Company began selling its holdings in the late 1890s and by 1912 comprised only 200,000 acres. The company dissolved during World War I.

SEE ALSO: CATTLE INDUSTRY, NO MAN'S LAND, TEXAS FEVER.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: C. L. Douglas, Cattle Kings of Texas (Dallas, Tex.: Cecil Baugh, 1939). Berenice Jackson, Jewel Carlisle, and Iris Colwell, Man and the Oklahoma Panhandle (North Newton, Kans.: Mennonite Press, 1982). Ora Brooks Peake, The Colorado Range Cattle Industry (Glendale, Calif.: Arthur H. Clark Co., 1937). J. Fred Rippy, "British Investment in Texas Land and Livestock," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 58 (January 1955).

Larry O'Dell

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