“The largest herd of cattle I ever saw was in the summer of 1888. It stretched north from the mouth of Leon Creek, 25 miles southwest of the present Clayton for 5 or 6 miles. It was accompanied by 2 crews of 12 men each. Cattle belonging in Southern Colorado and the Cimarron River country to the estimated number of 15,000 head made up this great mass of cows, fresh branded calves and steers — old and young — which were being moved to their home ranges. At night the stock was loose guarded. It was too bulky to close up. In this herd were cattle bearing brands of the Prairie Company, the Western Land and Cattle Company (101’s) and the Muscatine Cattle Company, all Scotch companies.” – A. W. Thompson, Editor Clayton (NM) Enterprise
For those not familiar with the story. The Prairie Cattle Company exerted great influence over the development of early SE Colorado and Baca County. They were sometimes called the “mother of British cattle companies” since it was the first foreign syndicate to take advantage of the southwestern “Beef Bonanza” of the early 1880s. It was established in 1880 by the Scottish American Mortgage Company, based in Edinburgh, and by the following year it had purchased the JJ spread in southeastern Colorado and the Hall brothers’ Cross L Ranch in northeastern New Mexico. The company’s first big investment in the Texas Panhandle occurred in July 1881, when it purchased George W. Littlefield’s LIT Ranch for $253,000. Included in the transfer were 14,000 head of cattle, 250 saddle horses, and the LIT headquarters east of Tascosa. Subsequently the company added several small holdings to these properties. By the end of 1882 the Prairie Cattle Company owned close to 100,000 cattle and range rights to an unbroken, 300-mile strip of land from the Canadian River to the Arkansas River. We’ll a little bit more on this a little later
I’ve spent many glorious days at the Steven Hart Library in Denver over the past few years. Much of that time revolving around topics which relate to Southeast Colorado, Boston Colorado, and the Prairie Cattle Company. According to many early sources all the Prairie Cattle Company records and documents burned which is a bit confusing as in the Steven Hart Museum there is still 7.5 miles of microfilm with records which include the Articles of Association and a record of much day to day business. They existed from 1880 – 1916 so granted there are many missing years and there.are many pages with a note that said the mice got them but I am not so sure they all burned since there still is the 7.5 miles of microfilm. A fact I am thankful for.
I noticed something the other day as I was organizing files. The address of the Prairie Cattle Company in 1880 was different than the one we posted a couple years ago on the Baca County Facebook page. Not that it really matters, as people and businesses move all the time. Always have, probably always will, but I thought it might be fun to compile some of social media posts and add some to it. When the Articles of Association were filed in Edinburgh Scotland on Dec 29, 1880, the office was listed at 62 Frederick Street Edinburgh.
The only other info I could find on this address was from 1907-1908. At that point the tenet at the address was occupied by a group of lawyers. Not sure it’s relevant to our work other than the Prairie Company was still in operation and they don’t appear to be headquartered there any more.
Here is a shot of 62 Frederick Street, Edinburgh, Scotland today.
The key piece of this which tells me they were loocated elsewhere later is the letterhead shown below. This letter is one of a series of letters 1915-1917 which began the work dissolving the Scottish syndicate which so greatly influenced Southeast Colorado. Also note their “Telegraphic Address”.
Below is 2 York Place Edinburgh Scotland today. So at least in the later years of the company this was the home office of the Prairie Cattle Company. (Red Door).
There is another Scottish address, 18 George Street Edinburgh, mentioned by A. W. Thompson in the excerpt below which may indicate a third address occupied by the Prairie Cattle Company.
Among the corporations launched in Scotland in 1881 was one known as the Prairie Cattle Company Limited. The corporation, had voted, raised, an appropriated for the purchase of land and cattle in America, no less than 650,000 pounds sterling, over $3,000,000 American dollars. (NOTE: the initial capital raised as shown in Articles of Association above was 200,000 pounds. There were multiple stock issues after that which I think may have exceeded Thompson’s numbers above) It was called the Prairie Cattle Company, Limited. Its American office was located in Kansas City Missouri, its registered office and principal place of business, in Edinburgh, Scotland. If indeed in 1881 you had cared to look up the gentlemanly directors of The Prairie Cattle Company Limited, some of whom had been knighted, you would have found them dressed in loose-fitting Scotch tweeds within Dowell’s Rooms, 18 George Street Edinburgh.
To further break it down, a deed on record in Colfax County New Mexico, gives insight into the organization of The Prairie Cattle Company. The deed recites in part that John Guthrie Smith and James Duncan Smith solicitors before the Supreme Court, Scotland and William A. Clark, Muscatine, Iowa were trustees of the Prairie Cattle Company, Limited.
Clark and a Mr. Underwood of Kansas City were bankers and established firm based in Kansas City that operated under the name of Underwood, Clark and Company. This firm during its early years was delegated almost unlimited power in the purchase of lands and cattle. Their acts were approved by a board of directors in Edinburgh. All of the of the general managers of the Prairie company, except one were natives of the the British Isles. The purchases of the all the ranches in Colorado, New Mexico and Texas, however, was left to the discretion of the American’s, either Underwood Clark & Co., or their lieutenants.
Finally, the Trinidad location was the home of ranch managers which were Americans until 1885. After that they imported Scots to run it. The most prominent was Murdo Mackenzie. Interestingly even after Mackenzie became manager of the Matador he continued to live in Trinidad. I guess that was the first instance of telecommuting. Not sure what you would have called it in the 1880s.
In America there were management offices referenced in Kansas City and Trinidad. I have no documentation on the Kansas City Location, but most references such as Thompson’s Above as well as the one below list something about the management of Underwood, Clark, and Company of Kansas City. Mr. A. H. “Gus” Johnson became the 1st general range manager in 1881. He held the position for only a year before his untimely demise. Anything the Prairie Company was doing in 1881 was big news. The following account of his death was reported in The Tennessean (Nashville, Tennessee) 11 Jul 1882.
The clipping below doesn’t mention the specific location address, but does indicate the photo was taken at the Prairie Office in Trinidad.
In the 1909 Trinidad Business Directory lists the Prairie Cattle Company Office at 319 W Main, Which is still there. Couldn’t find them listed in any of the other Business directories available at the museum. The current occupant is a Photo Gallery.
H. G. Glazbrook, the manager of the Prairie Cattle Company was technically “officed” in Trinidad, but I bet this letter from Springfield, CO Attorney, L.H. Alberti, addressed to him in La Junta, on the topic of the killing of JJ Steers on Butte Creek in 1915 probably got to him.
The Division Headquarters
So back to A. W Thompson. Albert W. Thompson (For Baca County folk, he was the Sam Konkel of Clayton NM). He was editor and publisher of the Clayton Enterprise Newspaper. He wrote “The Early History of Clayton New Mexico” in 1933. That document is the equivalent of JR Austin’s “A Early History of Baca County.” written in 1936. His early writings also record much of a different part of the Prairie Cattle Co history than we are used to hearing about in Baca County. However, it gives perspective of how large the Prairie outfit really was and provides some perspective on how conversations about the Prairie Cattle Company were and still are very regionalized. The Prairie had 3 divisions.
In 1871 the hall Brothers William James and Nathan established the ranch known as the “Cross L” in northwestern New Mexico. Their first experience in northwest New Mexico was in 1869 when they trailed a herd of red white and yellow cattle from Texas Across the plains where they wintered them on the Cimarron and the next spring they drove them 300 miles north to then struggling town of Denver Colorado where they were sold for a nice profit. In their drive from Texas, the Halls got across the plains and the Canadian river by the Middle Water then on to Buffalo Springs. This was later the celebrated site and headquarters the syndicate company also known as the XIT Ranch. This is a location the Halls still claimed until 1882.
In 1873 Jim Hall trailed a bunch of stairs from the Cimarron to Nevada where they were sold. He took Goldust as payments and $38,000 which you brought back with him on a pack horse. This was later invested in Texas Cattle. Albert W Thompson also tells the story of Bill Metcalf another pioneer of the dry Cimarron and builder miles of fence. Thompson says in 1873 he operated a toll road in a store on a leg of the Cimarron and it was he who furnished the Halls with provisions until they could make cattle sales.
In 1882 the Cross L was purchased by the Prairie Cattle Company Limited and Division 1 or the Cimarron River Division was created. It was the first purchase of an American Ranch by the Prairie Cattle Company. This was the beginning of the great movement to incorporate cattle companies in the American West in an attempt to provide capital and bring ranching in the American west to scale. Many foreign cattle syndicates came and went but the largest and most profitable of them was the Prairie Cattle Company. In addition to a Scottish headquarters, a Kansas City Office and a Trinidad office they established three Ranch headquarters under distinct and different brands with the Cross L being the first.
The Arkansas River Division was the most northern of the Prairie companies divisions, some 20 miles south of La Junta Colorado (Higbee). In SE Colorado the stories you hear about the Prairie Cattle Company are about the JJ. The picture below, with my great uncle John Layton squatted down at the fire is a picture which I found in my mothers basement is an example of conversation about the different divisions of the Prairie Cattle Company. There never really was discussion of the Prairie Cattle Company. It was always about the JJ. In fact the envelope in which I found this photo is labeled “J J Pictures” no mention of the Prairie Cattle Company.
Sometimes the terms are used interchangeably, but the JJ was a Division of the Prairie Cattle Company. Frances Bollacker Keck’s book The J J Ranch on the Purgatory River in Colorado focuses on the Jones family, and the JJ Ranch but barely mentions the other divisions of the Prairie Cattle Company. The shortened version of this story is that the JJ was a brand was the namesake of the Jones Brother. About 1881 cattle reached a higher price than they had even a chain since the war, the price that the Jones Brothers were offered for the 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 is worth more than two in the bush, and so Jones Brothers Disposed of all their Holdings to the Prairie Cattle Company. One of these brother’s name Jim– Jim Jones, and dust originated the JJ brand. At the time of this purchase in the portion of Southern Colorado known as the JJ range, nearly all the small owners of the cattle offered Their herds at the same price paid for the Jones heard and they were taken by the same syndicate. 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 3rd Division or the Canadian River Division was an outfit known as the LIT some four or five miles from Tascosa Texas on the Canadian river . The Texas Historical society records the LIT story but misses the story of the other divisions. Again the story of these three divisions of this gigantic company is hardly mentioned as a whole. Beyond these three cores ranches which made up the identity of the three divisions of the Prairie Cattle Company were many smaller ranches. Although numerous smaller operations were also purchased it was under the brands of these three ranches, Cross L, JJ, and LIT that the Prairie operated and it was these three in conjunction with the numerous smaller purchases that created the 300 mile north south expanse the Prairie Company controlled.
By 1886 they were even bigger and the biggest of that time with 124, 212 head of cows. That is a lot of beef.. Here you also see the influence of other Scottish syndicates such as the Swann and Powder River companies.
In the Cimmaron River area of the Prairie Cattle Company Holdings in an area known as the public strip the neutral strip or no man’s land, many other cattle companies foreign as well as American begin establishing a foothold. Below the Cross L and just over the line of no man’s land which is the Oklahoma Panhandle today was established the Western Land & Cattle Company another Scottish company. They branded with the 101 brand. Downstream 10 miles was the headquarter of the Tower brothers and still further down 15 miles the Muscatine. There were still more but this very interesting 1884 New York Times clipping (below) shows even more of their ambition…they wanted to buy the Panhandle, the neutral strip. Yep,the whole neutral strip.
As I look at these old but well kept buildings, I can’t help but wonder if the current occupants know how much prior tenants influenced the settlement of the American West, Southeast Colorado, Northwest NM and the Oklahoma Panhandle. Or what about the neutral strip? If they had succeeded in buying it would they have setup another headquarters and how might that have change the development of that area? That’s all for tonight…