Cowboy culture and Old West traditions are alive and well today in Texas which has more ranches and cattle than any other state.
“Texas being Texas, the state also has some of the largest ranches in the world,” says the Texas Almanac.
The Texas Department of Agriculture says that a census of agriculture taken a decade ago found:
- Nearly a quarter of million farms and ranches in Texas
- Those properties cover some 130 million acres of land
- Texans were tending more than 11 million head of cattle worth more than $13 billion
To put those numbers in perspective, Texas has 72,000 more farms and ranches and 4 million more acres of farm and ranch land than Oklahoma, Nebraska and Kansas combined.
“It’s no bull, and no fairy-tail (tale) – Texas cattle production alone is worth more than the total agricultural production of all but six states,” said the USDA.
Texas, with approximately 5,000 properties that have been continuously owned by the same family for 100+ years, is home to some iconic ranches.
What Makes an Iconic Texas Ranch?
When we talk about Texas ranches, there is a lot of guesswork because much of the information is private and that is the way Texans like it!
CattleToday.com relayed this story: “Recently a new ranch owner in our area forced himself into the conversation at the morning coffee club of old ranchers … he asked one of the crankier members how many acres he owned. Judging by the response you’d have thought he killed the old boy’s dog, stole his horse, or insulted his wife.”
“Cowboys and ranchers are alive and well here in Texas, if somewhat less visible to the masses. 95 percent of land in Texas is privately owned, and it's on some of the largest plots of privately owned land that cattle ranching is still a source of income for many, many people,” says Wide Open Country.
What makes an iconic Texas ranch? Size certainly plays a key role, but heritage also is key.
4 Iconic Texas Ranches
Here are four iconic Texas ranches in operation today:
Any conversation about ranches in Texas starts with the legendary King Ranch, one of the largest ranches in the world, sprawling over approximately 825,000 acres in South Texas between Corpus Christi and Brownsville.
Founded in 1853 by Richard King, the ranch led some of the first cattle drives, developed the Santa Gertrudis and Santa Cruz breeds of cattle, bred Quarter Horses and produced champion Thoroughbreds including a Triple Crown winner, all under the “Running W” brand.
Today, King Ranch is a major agribusiness, including cattle, farming, luxury retail goods, and recreational hunting. You can even find the King Ranch logo on Ford F-150 pickups – much needed as the ranch covers more ground than the state of Rhode Island.
The 6666 Ranch is having its moment with native son and Hollywood writer, director, producer and actor Taylor Sheridan casting the ranch in his Yellowstone series and now making it the star of a spinoff.
The ranch was founded by Samuel “Burk” Burnett at the age of 19 in 1870.
Sheridan, born in Cranfills Gap with a population of less than 300, was part of a real estate group that in 2020 bought the ranch (list price: $347 million), famed for being where cowboys are born and made, from Burnett’s heirs.
“Being a Texan today and what it means to live in Texas — there’s a responsibility that comes with it, in that you really do represent the entire state,” Sheridan told Cowboys and Indians magazine.
The 266,000-acre west Texas ranch between Lubbock and Wichita Falls features 119 pastures and employs 20 full-time cowboys.T. Waggoner Ranch
The Four Sixes is not the only Texas ranch with a Hollywood connection as Waggoner Ranch owner, billionaire Stan Kroenke, was last seen holding the Super Bowl trophy aloft as the owner of the Los Angeles Rams.
Kroenke bought the ranch, considered the largest contiguous ranch in the U.S. with 510,000 acres across six counties, in 2016.
The ranch, south of Vernon, was founded by Dan Waggoner in 1849 with six horses and 240 longhorn cattle.
The second largest ranch in Texas, the 600,000+ acres Briscoe Family ranch was once home to the largest individual landowner in Texas, Gov. Dolph Briscoe, Jr., known to close relatives as “Big Daddy”.
Unfortunately, “Big Daddy” died in 2010 and his children and their heirs are now in a public squabble over who gets control of an estimated $1 billion in assets.
Briscoe oversaw a land empire that stretched about one thousand miles and across 10 counties, from the Rio Grande to the hills of Uvalde to the mountains of West Texas.