Texas is a state known for many things, but there’s nothing that compares to its ranching industry. The number of ranch operations is as vast as the territory itself, but we believe the below ranches deserve the most recognition. We take under consideration their contributions to the ranching heritage of Texas, impact on the cattle industry and their size.
1. KING RANCH
King Ranch was founded in 1853 when Richard King purchased 15,500 acres once owned by Rincon de Santas Gertrudis. In order to start the cattle operations King purchased cattle wherever he could. He offered to relocate those willing to come north and help him work the Ranch. Those who decided to join King became known as los Kineños, or “King’s people.” Many of their descendants continue to work for King Ranch today. His business thrived through and past the Civil War and he managed to grow his land by 100,000 acres. In 1961 the Ranch was named a National Historic Landmark and currently, it spans 825,000 acres.
2. The Waggoner Ranch
Dan Waggoner established the W.T. Waggoner Ranch, Inc., in 1849. Dan’s son, Tom, took a high interest in the ranch, so as the passion grew, he and his dad began gaining access to more land. They owned over 500,000 acres. After the passing of Dan and his son Tom, the ranch was passed down to members of the family, which soon resulted in a sale of the property. The ranch was listed at $725 million, which at the time was considered the most expensive ranch ever placed on the market. Today, it is owned by Stan Kroenke and his wife, Ann Walton (a niece of Sam Walton). W.T. Waggoner Ranch continues to be the largest ranch under one fence in the nation spanning 535,0000 acres.
3. JA Ranch
JA Ranch was founded in 1876 by Charles Goodnight and John George Adair and it is the oldest cattle ranch in the Texas Panhandle. Charles and Adair worked together to expand the ranch into a large-scale operation. After Adair’s death, his wife Cornelia continued to work with Goodnight and until this day her descendants are managing the ranch. The property was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960. The site includes a visitor and education center and exhibits about the Goodnights, bison, and settlement of the area.
4. XIT Ranch
The XIT Ranch was founded and operated from 1885 to 1912 by the Farwell Brothers. It was the largest fenced ranch in the world and covered over three million acres of land in the Texas Panhandle. In 1888, cattle prices crashed, and for four years the ranch operated without earning any profit until 1912, when the last of the XIT cattle were sold. Throughout the 1960s the ranch was being divided into parcels and sold off to other ranchers. Only about 60 years later it was able to reopen once again. A rancher descendant of the original owners began reacquiring some of the first XIT ranchlands and the XIT Ranch has returned once again to its historic Texas roots.
5. Four Sixes Ranch
The Four Sixes Ranch was founded by Samuel Burk Burnett in 1870 when he purchased 100 head of cattle with the now-famous 6666 brand. He was one of the first ranchers in Texas to buy steers and graze them for market. In 1938 Samuel’s granddaughter “Miss Anne”, inherited the ranch and turned it into a well-known Quarter Horse breeding operation. Anne passed it down to her daughter, “Little Anne,” who made a mark on the property and the entire 6666 community. She passed in 2020 and the 6666 Ranch was placed on the market and sold outside of the Burnett family for the first time since its conception.
6. Briscoe Ranch
Dolph Briscoe Sr. began to lease a ranch of 100,000 acres called Catarina Ranch in 1939. Although he knew his son, Dolph Jr., was passionate about it, he forced him to prioritize a college education. In 1954, Dolph Sr. passed away, and Dolph Jr. inherited the Catarina. He worked hard and used his business knowledge to help him succeed in ranching. He was elected governor in 1972 and he was the state’s largest individual landowner. Dolph Jr. passed in 2010 and the ranch is still owned by the family.