Baca County History

by the Plainsman Herald

Passing of a Great Range Herd


Prairie Cattle Company, Owners of the JJ Brand, Quits Business

The Prairie Cattle Company was established in December of 1880 with headquarters in Edinburgh Scotland. The initial investors noticed that the ranching business had assumed extensive proportions in the Western States and territories of America and had yielded very large profits, in spite of the fact that these activities were carried out by persons of limited means which were thus subject to many disadvantages. The Prairie Cattle Company intended to change that formula a bit. In 1915 the Prairie Cattle Company announced it would end its nearly 40 year existence in the American West. By 1917 “Mother of them All” had shut its doors.

Howard Glazbrook, the final manager of the Prairie Cattle Company, wrote a piece, which was published in many publications reflecting upon the history of the company which may have had as much influence as any over ranching in the American West, as well as the settlement of Southeast Colorado, Northeast New Mexico, the Neutral Strip and the northern Texas Panhandle. We have added a few artifacts enhance Glazbrooks work. Without further ado.

The Ordway New Era, Volume 13, Number 49, February 5, 1915
The Ordway New Era, Volume 13, Number 49, February 5, 1915
 Springfield Herald  Apr 27, 1917, Page 1  Springfield, Colorado
The Springfield Herald, Volume 30, Number 37, April 27, 1917
Prairie Cattle Company Sells The Lamar Register, Volume 31, Number 45, April 11, 1917
The Lamar Register, Volume 31, Number 45, April 11, 1917

Howard Glazbrook,
Manager, Prairie Cattle Company

A great deal has been written the past few years about the “Passing of the Range.” Thousands of settlers have been flocking to the West, there to build new homes and encroaching upon what was once the cattleman’s domain. Thus many of the large outfits have gone out of existence. Now comes the passing of another great herd of Texas and Colorado. Not primarily, however, for the reason quoted above, as the range of the Prairie Cattle company has been singularly fortunate in this respect; but the voluntary dissolution of the company means the passing of another great herd.

The passing of the JJ cattle! And where are not these cattle known! While maintaining its headquarters in Colorado, the company also operated extensively in Texas, New Mexico and what is now Oklahoma. The Prairie Cattle company is a foreign corporation (Scotch) organized under the laws of Great Britain in 1881, and all its general managers in America, with the exception of one, have been either Scotchmen or Englishmen.

Origin of the JJ Brand. 

About 1880 when cattle reached a higher price than they had even attained since the war, the price that the Jones Brothers were offered for their herd by Underwood, Clark & Company of Kansas City, representing the Prairie Cattle company, was too tempting. No one knew how long these prices would continue. A bird in the hand seemed worth more than two in the bush, and so Jones Brothers disposed of all their holdings to the Prairie Cattle company. One of these brothers was named Jim—Jim Jones, and thus originated the JJ brand.

JJ Brands of the Prairie Cattle Company
A brand listing for the Arkansas River division of the Prairie Cattle Company, the JJ, shown in a multitude of publications over the years the company operated in Southeast Colorado.

At the time of this purchase in that portion of Southern Colorado known as theJJ range, nearly all the small owners of cattle offered their herds at the same price paid for the Jones herd and they were taken by the same syndicate. About the same time, the Hall Brothers, owning the Crosselle ranch, whose cattle ranged in Northern New Mexico, and the then “Neutral strip,” now Oklahoma, disposed of their herd to the same company.

Immediately afterward Mr. Littlefield sold to the company his range with the cattle known as the LIT herd, located in the Northern part of Texas with head quarters at Tascosa, known at one time as the toughest town in Texas. It was here that many great drives of cattle from Texas crosses the Canadian river on their way to Fort Dodge, Kansas, then the terminal of the Santa Fe Railway. There was nothing between Tascosa and Dodge, a distance of about 250 miles. It was the last stretch of the great trail, and frequently large herds congregated at this point. Killings were innumerable at Tascosa, and the town, like Dodge, has its Boot Hill cemetery.

The Prairie Cattle company had at one time a herd waiting at this point to cross the river, which was in flood. The foreman refused to attempt to cross the cattle and waited several days. His men knowing him to be a fearless, intrepid man, and believing the crossing could be made with comparative safety, could not understand his actions and taunted him for not making the attempt. He finally yielded against his better judgment and ordered the cattle across. The foreman lost his life in the river, and upon the recovery of his body, in the pocket of his coat was found a letter from his wife begging him,if the river was up, to take no chances, but to wait. It was this that had held him back.

Went Extensively Into Herefords.

The Jones Brothers were among the first to give consideration to the improvement of the grade of cattle then in Colorado. They imported Shorthorn bulls from the Eastern states, and their herd became one of the finest in the West. The Halls, at the Crosselie ranch, did much the same, but they a little later, went more extensively into Herefords. The Prairie Cattle company sold this ranch some years ago to Mr. G. A. Fowler of Colorado Springs Colorado. The Littlefield LIT herd was started with well selected Texas cows, but the improvement of that herd and the high standard it subsequently reached was due to the management of the Prairie Cattle Company. 

The three herds of cattle were under one management. Underwood, Clark & Company of Kansas City, who were the promoters, appointed a Mr. Johnson to be general range manager. He was in this position for about a year when he was killed by lightning while riding on the range, and Willard R. Green succeeded him. Mr. Green was not much of a cattleman, but a very bright business man, and to him was due the credit of selecting and acquiring title to many of the water claims on the range. Mr. Green was suceeded by R. G. Head, who was with the company for about two years, being succeeded in 1885 by W. J. Tod, who remained in that capacity for three years.

Mangers of the Prairie Cattle Company
The above picture of Prairie Cattle Company managers was taken in Trinidad in 1886. The man with the beard seated is Murdo McKenzie, was the manager in 1885. McKenzie hired the regulator Big Bill Thompson. To his right, holding his hat is W. J. Tod who succeeded him in 1886. To the far left is Mr. Hopkins. Standard behind McKenzie is Henry Johnstone of the office force in Trinidad, Colorado. According to McKenzie the picture was taken in the Trinidad office of the company in 1886.

Mr. Tod who is known throughout the West, now resides at Maple Hill, Kansas, and is one of the largest and most successful cattle feeders in that state.

After Mr. Tod resigned, Mr. Murdo MacKenzie was appointed manager, but later resigned to accept the managership of the Matador Land & Cattle Company. Mr. MacKenzie was succeeded by Mr. James C. Johnston in 1890, who continued as manager for sixteen years. He retired in 1906 and now resides in Edinburg. He was succeeded by Mr. Howard Glazbrook, the present manager. Mr. Glazbrook came from England to Texas in the late seventies and immediately engaged in the stock business, which occupation he has followed to the present time. The JJ herd branded at one time about 10,000 calves a year on the JJ division; the Crosselie division about the same number and the LIT division about 4,000 a year. The three herds were run as separate and distinct outfits under one general management. The cattle roamed freely without hindrance and in the spring when the general round-up took place the JJ cattle could often be found as far south as Northern Texas. The bulk of them however were north of the Cimarron river. Crosselles went as far south as the Canadian river.

In those days the round-up was a great event, and an army of cowboys and horses met at stated points down the Canadian to bring the cattle north. At that time there were many large Owners through out the country, and they were all represented at the different wagons and camps. At each main division a captain of the round-up was elected. He was commander in chief and in all matters of dispute his verdict was final.

Origin of the Word “Maverick.

The maverick question was one which often caused disputes. There were different ways of deciding who should get the mavericks, and different associations had different rules. In some cases the mavericks were put up at auction and purchased by one of the members, the money being turned into the association and divided among all. In other associations the captain of the round-up was supposed to decide to whom the maverick ought to belong, and the rule he went by was that the maverick should belong to the person who had the predominant interest in the section of the country where it was found. In the large open country where the work on the range was stopped in the fall or early winter, many calves were missed and before spring they had weaned themselves and were going on their own account.

The word maverick (an unbranded animal going without a mother) originated at the time of the war. Before the war a gentleman of the name of Maverick owned large herds in South Texas. He often did not brand his calves, while his neighbors branded theirs carefully. Cattle were cheap then and when an unbranded animal was seen everybody agreed that it probably belonged to Maverick. During the war the cattle business was neglected and calves were not branded up, and at the close of the war when the cattlemen returned and had time to attend to their business, thousands of yearlings and older cattle were found unbranded. Mr. Maverick then claimed that they all ought to belong to him. Of course the other cattlemen did not agree to this. Nevertheless, there being no proof of ownership, and through long custom anything unbranded was supposed to belong to Maverick, so thousands of cattle were branded for him. Judging from the vast Maverick estate still in the hands of the Maverick heirs, this generosity, or call it what you will, on the part of the cattlemen helped to build for him the fortune which he amassed. In Southwest Texas bordering on the Rio Grande, a county is named for him. Such is the origin of the term “maverick.” During the years 1887-1888 the Fort Worth and Denver Railroad was built from Fort Worth to Denver. .At that time there was a great influx of settlers to Eastern Colorado. Hundreds of claims were taken up and many towns were started. Each town had its newspaper booming the town and explaining that within a very short time a railroad would be running through it, and that they were right in the center of the wheat belt.

The settlers soon found, however, that the prospects of a railway coming some day did not bring rain, and as a newspaper could not keep a town alive, the settlers borrowed what they could on their land and pulled back to visit their wives, friends and relatives. The towns, with the exception of one small remnant, disappeared. There can be seen today on the JJ range in Colorado the remains of what were once booming towns, but now and for years entirely abandoned. In nearly all cases the houses were built of rock, abundance of that material being in the district. The walls of a great many of these houses, several of which are two story structures, still_stand, clearly defining the business street and residential portions.

Much of the land then proved up on was later sold for taxes and got into the hands of the stockmen again. For years the Prairie Cattle company made one of their largest round-ups upon one of these old townsites, just as they did before the advent of the settlers who expected to make wheat growing their business, and “damn the stockmen and stock business.”

They persistently refused to believe that the country they had come to was the finest stock country in the West, but only a stock country. This country, or at least a part of it, is again being taken up by settlers. Are they to experience a like fate? They assuredly will unless they make stock raising a part of their business and raise enough fodder to protect their stock during the winter. If they can acquire sufficient land, under these conditions, the  Such has been the history of the West.

The first settler, as a rule, failed because he did not realize that the climatic conditions were so different from what he had left, and he did not know to what purpose the country to which he had come was best adapted.

At the time, and before the Prairie Cattle company began operations in Southern Colorado, there were few or no sheep in that district. While the range was free, the water rights were almost entirely owned by cattle men. The fine range, however, was too tempting to the sheep men, and they gradually began to drift up with large herds from New Mexico.

These sheepmen, the cattlemen claimed, paid little or no taxes, owned no water and consequently had no right to be there. In those early days so-called “range rights” had more or less respect. It was generally conceded by cattlemen that when one herd had been undisturbed in a certain locality it was bad form and unneighborly to further stock up that portion of the range. This was understood as a “range right,” although a small man with a few cows was never objected to.

During Mr. Green’s management the cattlemen found that the range was being very much hampered by large bands of sheep, and they had many private meetings and many consultations as how best to meet the difficulty. They thought that that country would always be an open range and that range rights would always be more or less respected. It was finally agreed that the cattlemen would join together and at all risks drive every sheep and sheep man out of that part of Colorado.

The raid was organized and in the hands of daring, trusty cowboys, armed to the

teeth, successfully carried through without the loss of a single man. Every flock was surrounded by a strong force, the herdsman disarmed, ordered to pack up their burros, and along with their sheep, were driven out of the state. Many of the sheep were killed, the different herds mixed and in the forced march many were lost.

In those days there were no telephones. The owners of sheep lived in cities, and the raid was so thoroughly organized that the whole trek was made and over before the owners knew anything about it. It was years before there were any sheep in that country again, but they gradually came back, the owners acquiring water and rights in the country. There were law suits in courts for years afterwards, but it was difficult to find out, in fact, it was never published, who were responsible and the actual instigators of the raid. There were of course damage suits in courts, principally leveled at the Prairie Cattle Company.

As soon as the range began to be fully taken up, range rights were no longer regarded. However up to about 1890 it was a risky thing and generally unprofitable, for a large owner to attempt to ride roughshod over the interests of those in any locality. In 1887 the Neederinghouse Brothers, St. Louis millionaires wanted to start in the cattle business in the West. Their plan was to turn large herds loose in Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico, hold them there for one year and drive them north to Montana. They found such strong opposition that they only remained one year and got their herds out the next spring as early as possible.

In 1904 the company discontinued breeding cattle upon the JJ range, since which time they have continued to use it exclusively for steers. About the same time they purchased another large ranch in the Panhandle of Texas, not far from the LIT and here carried on their breeding operations. The numbers bred here however were not nearly sufficient to keep a range like the JJ fully stocked, and each year they made heavy purchases of young steers in the Texas Panhandle. These were shipped to the JJ range and held until four years old, when while some of them would go into the hands of the packers, others to the distilleries, the great bulk were fed out in Kansas.

A company that has been engaged in the stock business for over a quarter of a century has of course been through all the vicissitudes of that business. The great losses or “die ups” that occasionally took place have, however, been eliminated in recent years. Old timers still delight to relate how in 1885 one could walk on carcasses without ever putting foot on the ground from the company head quarters in Las Animas, then the company’s shipping point, a distance of twenty-five miles. This must be taken with a grain of salt, but everyone remembers the enormous losses that did take place. 

The company has now disposed of all its holdings in Texas and has discontinued its purchases. It has upon the JJ range only one class of steers, coming fours, which will be disposed of this year, and so will pass into history the last of this great herd.

For the past few years this company has been probably at the height of its prosperity. Exceedingly handsome dividends have been paid to the shareholders and their shares have enormously increased in value. If it is asked, why is a company under such conditions voluntarily liquidating its assets and going out of business, the answer is to be found, “for the same reason the Jones Brothers sold to the company in 1880.”—H. Glazbrook

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