On this day, the XIT Ranch of Texas, once among the largest ranches in the world, sells its last head of cattle.
Despite the popular image of the cattle rancher as an independent and self-reliant pioneer, big-city capitalists and stockholders owned many of the most important 19th century ranches. The Chicago capitalists behind the XIT—also known as the Capitol Syndicate Ranch—were trying to get rich by catering to the growing American passion for fresh western beef. They received the land in exchange for financing a state capitol building in Texas.
Given the aridity of the region, the Chicago capitalists determined that ranching would be the only profitable use for their new land. They quickly built up a massive but highly efficient cattle-raising operation that stretched over parts of nine Texas counties. At its peak, the XIT had more than 160,000 head of cattle, employed 150 cowboys, and encompassed nearly 3 million acres of the Texas panhandle—an unusually large tract of land even by western standards.
As land prices increased in Texas and cattle prices fell, the owners of the XIT realized they could make more money by selling their land. By 1912, the XIT abandoned ranching altogether with the sale of its last herd of cattle. The corporate managers gradually sold the remainder of their property to farmers and smaller ranchers throughout the first half of the 20th century. By 1950, the once-mighty XIT had control of only 20,000 acres.