Texas has a rich history of ranching, and for most people, the cowboy spirit is one of the quintessential factors that make Texas unique. Agriculture has always been one of the most important industries in Texas, and land ownership is a vital part of this. 93% of Texas is privately owned and passed down through generations.
Unsurprisingly, Texas has more farms and ranches than any other state, with an estimated 248,416. The shared land amounts to approximately 127 million acres. Ranching is a way of life in the Lone Star State. Over the years, there have been several enormously famous ranches in Texas.
Famous Ranches In Texas: Ranching History
Ranching has been an integral part of the social, economic, and often, political landscape in Texas for close to three centuries. Even the term, ranch, comes from the Mexican-Spanish term, rancho, originating from the early days when Texas was part of Mexico.
In Texas, ranching is predominantly linked to cattle and has always been since Christopher Columbus brought Spanish cattle across the Atlantic during his second voyage to the West in 1493. These bovines were the predecessors of the now-famous Texas Longhorn.
During the 16th and 17th centuries, cattle ranching became increasingly crucial as populations of the species grew. During times of military conflict (of which there were many) in Texas, cattle drives were widespread, as militaries needed to provide rations for their people.
Once Texas was annexed in 1845, local settlements were developed, and much public land was set aside for railroads. This opened up lucrative opportunities for ranchers to expand into new marketplaces in bordering states. With an abundance of land and growing economic demand, the cattle industry exploded.
It was around this time that the cowboy culture was born. Ranching large quantities of cattle in open ranges requires a lot of manpower and management. So, cattle hands were used to round up cattle on horseback, move animals around the land, and brand the cattle with the ranch’s logo.
Certain landowners could grow enormous portfolios of land, which they used to build ranching empires. Many of the 100 largest ranches in Texas have been around for hundreds of years and haven’t passed through many different hands. Ranching is often a legacy endeavor.
Famous Ranches In Texas
Over the years, the costs associated with ranching and cattle rearing have increased significantly. Although cattle ranches are still plentiful and in many cases, profitable, the business certainly isn’t as lucrative as it once was. Today, many ranchers have diversified their land into other businesses.
Oil and gas, alongside solar energy, are common industries among modern ranchers. In some instances, ranch owners use their energy businesses to fund and grow more traditional livestock management. The oil industry has saved many landowners but concurrently causes problems for other Texans.
Regardless of the specific businesses that the owners are now involved with, there are some extremely famous ranches in the great state of Texas. While the majority of ranches and land holdings are known only to locals, some are part of Texas legend and have been prominent in the region for hundreds of years.
With that, here’s our list of ranches in Texas that are famous inside and outside of state borders.
King Ranch is not only the most famous ranch in Texas, but it’s also the biggest, spanning a total of 825,000 acres. To give this some context, that’s over 56 times bigger than the island of Manhattan. What’s even more startling is that in 1925, the ranch was approximately 1.25 million acres in size.
At its busiest, it housed 125,000 cattle and around 2,500 horses. The story of King Ranch is so epic that it’s been subject to articles, books, and even movies. The most notable publication is a book series by the hugely popular and famous Texan author and historian, Tom Lea.
The story is so long and wild that we recommend reading up on it for the full breakdown. For now, we’ll stick to the cliff notes. King Ranch is named after one of the men who established the ranch, Captain Richard King, an Irish immigrant that started his American journey in New York.
King went into the ranching business with a partner from nearby, Corpus Christi, buying land between Brownsville and Corpus. Although his partner perished in a rather dramatic fashion, King continued to build an empire and within a few years, owned several hundred thousand acres of land. The King Ranch mansion is still on site.
In 1961, part of King Ranch was designated as a National Historic Landmark. It’s no longer one of the predominant cattle ranches in Texas, but has diversified into a multifaceted agribusiness that dips into livestock, produce farming, recreational hunting, and ecotourism.
To this day, King Ranch remains the property of Richard King’s descendants. King left a tremendous legacy on the region. Kingsville, Texas, is named after him and so too is the high school in Corpus Christi. Richard King is a posthumous member of the Hall of Great Westerners at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.
The legendary XIT Ranch is no longer standing today, but at its peak, it was the biggest ranch in the world. Operating between 1885 and 1912, XIT occupied over three million acres along the New Mexico border, all the way to the edge of Oklahoma.
The ranch required a large staff, including around 150 cowboys. During its busiest years, it’s estimated that the ranch held 150,000 cattle and 1,500 horses at a time. Astonishingly, much of the ranch’s borders were encased in thousands of miles of barbed wire. With extremely large ranches, this isn’t very common due to maintenance requirements.
XIT was started by Chicago businessmen in 1882, who received the three million acres of land as payment for building the Texas Capitol Building in Austin. At the time, Texas’s biggest asset was its land and the state didn’t have the cash to build the type of Capitol Building it envisioned.
“XIT” uses the Roman Numeral “X” to represent the number ten, and the “IT” stands for “In Texas”. Ten In Texas refers to the ten counties that the ranch occupied. Shortly after launching the business, the owners ran into problems. Weather, competition, poachers, and predatorial animals caused serious issues for the new ranchers.
By the early 1900s, XIT was struggling to make a profit so the owners came up with a new strategy. Rather than continue in the cattle business, they decided to divide the land into smaller ranches and farms, and sell them. Most of the land and cattle were gone by 1912 and the final piece was sold in 1963.
Four Sixes Ranch (6666)
The Four Sixes Ranch is famous for its size and history of producing some of the top cattle and racehorses in the United States. Located in King County, the ranch is 266,000 acres. While much of the land is used for livestock, in recent years, it has become an important renewable energy hub (solar and wind).
According to legend, the Four Sixes Ranch was won by Samuel Burk Burnett in a poker game when he pulled a hand of all four sixes. While we would love to believe this story, it has been largely dismissed. The real tale is that when Burnett bought his first 100 cattle, they each had “6666” branded onto their flanks.
Burnett originally hauled from Missouri but drove cattle all the way to South Texas along the Chisholm Trail. He ranched on leased land before deciding to purchase some of his own in King County. In the year 1900, the Four Sixes was established. Burnett successfully reared purebred Durham and Herford Bulls, which won national prizes.
As his ranching and cattle business thrived, Burnett continued to grow the ranch. At its high point, the ranch comprised around 300,000 acres. In 1921, Burnett struck oil on the ranch, opening up a whole new business venture and significantly more money. However, he passed away the next year, leaving the ranch to his family.
By then, the Burnett family was very wealthy and had multiple revenue streams from the ranch. Aside from oil, the main focus of the business was producing top thoroughbred cattle and horses. The land was passed through generations up until very recently.
In 2020, after the passing of then-owner, Anne Burnett Marion, as requested in her will, the ranch was to be sold. It was bought in 2021 by a group of buyers that was represented by Taylor Sheridan, the screenwriter responsible for the ranch-based television series, Yellowstone.
The Waggoner Ranch
The Waggoner Ranch is another historic spot located near Vernon, Texas. Established in 1855 by Daniel Waggoner, the ranch became famous for being the largest ranch bound by a single fence in the entire country. Today, the ranch contains over half a million acres.
However, when Waggner first started ranching here, it was just 15,000 acres (1850). Originally ran as a cattle ranch, the Waggoners were able to expand operations and build their wealth significantly when they discovered oil on the site. Texan social commentator, Will Rogers famously said that the ranch had an oil well for every cow.
After being passed down through several generations, the ranch was eventually sold in 2014. The buyer was Stan Kroenke, the billionaire owner of the L.A. Rams and Premier League soccer team, Arsenal. It’s reported that the land was purchased for approximately $725 million.
The Y.O. Schreiner Ranch
The Y.O. Schreiner Ranch has one of the most interesting and unique histories of any in Texas. It was founded by Charles A. Schreiner in 1880 as he started to amass an empire that also consisted of retail stores, banks, and other plots of land.
Schreiner successfully reared Texas Longhorn for several decades, keeping the 556,000-acre business operational through World War I, the Roaring Twenties, and the Great Depression. When he passed away in 1933, his late wife, Myrtle, and their son, Charlie, took the reigns and continued to run it successfully.
In fact, Myrtle was regarded as a fantastic businesswoman. She was the first person to diversify a ranch by leasing the land to hunters during certain periods. In the 1950s, Charlie added further diversification by raising exotic species on the ranch. The Y.O. even sold some of these animals to zoos.
The Y.O. Schneider Ranch has remained with the same family for over 130 years now. It operates under an ethos of wildlife conservation and legacy. Today, it’s a very modern operation where visitors can take wildlife tours, hunt, and stay overnight in cabins.
Corn Ranch is a famous piece of land in modern Texas history for reasons very different from the others mentioned on our list. It’s a 160,000-acre site near Van Horn in Culberson County. The ranch was bought in 2004 by billionaire and Amazon owner, Jeff Bezos.
Today, Corn Ranch is not used for agriculture or anything close to it for that matter. Also called Launch Site One (LS1), it’s a spaceport used by Blue Origin, where the land is used to test space technology and launch its rocket, New Sheperd. If Bezoz is successful in his mission to colonize space, Corn Ranch will have played a major role.
Biggest Ranches In Texas
Now, we’ve already discussed the most famous ranches in Texas. While many of them are among the biggest, they also have interesting histories that are deeply ingrained in the development of Texas over the past 200 years or so. Today, not all the biggest ranches are famous.
With that, here’s a look at the biggest ranches in Texas today.
|O’Connor Family Ranch
|Van Horn, TX
|Big Bend, TX
|Hill Country, TX
|Kokernot 06 Ranch
|Davis Mountains, TX
|Four Sixes (6666) Ranch
|Jones Family Ranch
|Corpus Christi, TX
|Fort Stockton, TX
|Van Horn, TX
- Number of Texas farms and ranches: texasagriculture.gov
- XIT Ranch history: xitranch.com
- Waggoner Ranch sale price: nationalland.com
Christian Linden is a seasoned writer and contributor at Texas View, specializing in topics that resonate with the Texan community. With over a decade of experience in journalism, Christian brings a wealth of knowledge in local politics, culture, and lifestyle. He holds a Bachelor's degree in Communications from the University of Texas. When he's not writing, Christian enjoys spending weekends traveling across Texas with his family, exploring everything from bustling cities to serene landscapes.