Springs on The Duncan Ranch

 

Nestled just off of the caprock of the Llano Estacado lies a valley of tall grass meadows and majestic cottonwood trees, an unlikely find in the semi-arid grasslands of the Texas Panhandle. In this oasis a slow flowing creek meanders North to the Canadian River. Beaver, muskrat, deer and wild turkey abound in the sheltered protection of the valley. The Comanche called it the waters of the White Deer, and frequently used it for summer hunting encampments. In 1840 the first trail across the vacant expanse of the Texas Panhandle, a land called "The Great American Desert" by most maps of the time, was plotted out by Josiah Gregg who came North from Chihuahua Mexico until he struck the Canadian River and turned East towards the United States. Later explorers included Lt James W. Albert, 1845, and the famed explorer and guide Captain Randolf B. Marcy. Marcy guided a gold rush wagon train across the Panhandle in 1849 and made an extended camp on a creek he called Timbered Creek in his diaries. A women in Marcy's party had gone into labor and the train was forced to camp for three days while the woman recovered from the delivery. In the summer of 1849 the first white was born on White Deer Creek, and while Marcy made his way across the Panhandle peacefully, meeting with several Comanche and Kiowa chiefs along the way, it was inevitable that the days of the Indian were nearing their conclusion in the Texas Panhandle.

White Deer Creek on The Duncan Ranch

 

After the Civil War the United States turned it's sites West to the heart of the Great Plains Tribes, sporadic violence between the U.S. Army and the Kwahadi Comanche began to break out from 1864 to 1872 but the Comanche and Kiowa remained the true Lords of the Southern Plains until 1875. On June 27, 1874, after repeated incursions on the Medicine Lodge Treaty by both sides, possibly the largest band of Comanche, Kiowa, and Cheyenne ever assembled for battle attacked 28 buffalo hunters at their encampment at Adobe Walls Just North of the inlet of the White Deer Creek into the Canadian River. The Kwahadi Comanche battle chief Quannah Parker, the Cheyenne chief Stone Calf, and the Kiowa chief Lone Wolf formed a unprecedented alliance aimed at saving the great Southern herd of buffalo from the hunters guns, this alliance failed to drive the hunters out, but succeeded in attracting the attention of the U.S. military. The decision was made to attack the hunters at their main encampment at Adobe Walls, Quannah Parker felt this would inspire the fear necessary to keep additional hunters from coming down from Kansas. On the morning of June 26 the medicine man Isatai began a ritual that would protect the band from the hunters bullets, for 24 hours Isatai chanted and sang until worked into a frenzy the warriors rode out to battle. The night before the hunters at Adobe Walls had awakened early to the sound of the center beam of Hanrahans Saloon cracking, and while possibly 800 Indians crept up to the encampment under the dim light of the pre-dawn the hunters were already up early shoring up the ridgepole of Hanranhans. The Shadler Brothers, who had been sleeping outside under their wagons heard the war cries of the descending band too late, The only warning to be had came from the Shadlers Big Newfoundland dog, who began barking frantically before it was killed and scalped along with its owners. But that was enough for all the men to reach one of the four sod buildings in the enclosure. The Indians had the advantage of numbers but the hunters had the weaponry, the skill in its use, and the cover of the buildings. The battle lasted only one day. In the end it was a turkey shoot, the Indians, without cover, were prey to the hunters amazingly accurate bullets. The hunters, with marksmen like Billy Dixon and Bat Masterson, lost only four men that day, the Indians lost an estimated 100 and had twice that many wounded. By four o'clock that afternoon the Indian forced began to disperse and wander their separate ways carrying the dead and wounded home. It was a sound defeat that spelled the end of dominance in the Panhandle of the Southern Tribes. In August of 1874 Col Nelson A. Miles, Major William A. Price, Col Ranald S. Mackenzie, Lt. Col John W. Davidson, and Lt. Col George P. Buell advanced from different outposts into the Panhandle on a five prong assault aimed at moving the Indians out of the Panhandle forever. What followed was called by many the Red River War, but the truly decisive battle of this war was fought by 28 buffalo hunters out of stores and saloons against 800 Indian warriors. It was this defeat the Indians never truly recovered from.

Winter on The Duncan Ranch

 

By the end of 1875 news of the Indians defeat had reached all corners of America, and men like Goodnight, Lee, Scott, Bugbee, and a host of other pioneers, attracted by the new free range of the Texas Panhandle, began moving vast herds of cattle on to the Llano Estacado. This land of opportunity even attracted financiers from Europe and the Eastern United States as well. Large corporate interests sunk millions of dollars into cattle and improvements on the promise of the never ending grass that the Panhandle offered. There was some competition, Mexican shepherds who had lived along the Canadian River for the better part of a century soon found their ranges invaded by Texas Longhorns. There was no open warfare between the Cattlemen and Shepherds, but a few hostilities, mainly in the form of a disappearing cowboy or cattle, or a spontaneous fire at a Mexican Plaza, were known to occur. W.M.D. Lee, of the LS Ranch had the most problems, his solution was simple but effective. Intimidate the Mexicans with force, then buy them out for next to nothing. A tried and true system of commerce in the West, it worked to perfection.

Upland Praires on The Duncan Ranch

 

In 1882 Col. B.B. Groom leased 529,920 acres of land in Carson, Gray, Roberts, and Hutchinson counties of the Texas Panhandle from an Eastern conglomerate called the New York & Texas Land Company. In his lease Groom had an option to buy all or part of the land he leased before 1883. Col. Groom contacted New York capitalist Charles G Francklyn, who in turn sold shares in what would soon become the Francklyn Land & Cattle Company, and one of the largest ranching interests in the Texas Panhandle Almost immediately the Francklyn made plans to use a new device known as barbed-wire to fence in it's range. In the midst of severe winters, and a four year drought the Francklyn decided it could no longer afford to graze other peoples cattle on its range. The first range to be fenced was the Francklyns most sought after, The White Deer Lands. With a massive allocation of capitol and manpower the White Deer Lands were fenced off in just over a year. Making it one of the first ranges in the United States to see barb-wire fence. With the advent of barb-wire another Texas legend was about to fall prey to the hands of time. The Texas Longhorn was on it's way out of the picture. Col. Groom was now living full time in Texas, and he began to put together an improved herd of Shorthorn and Hereford cattle to breed to the Longhorn stock cows. Under the controlled conditions bard-wire offered it was now possible to isolate herds of cows and breed them to specific bulls for an improved herd. It is believed that Col. Groom may have brought the first British Bulls to the Texas Panhandle. But fencing did not solve all the ranchers problems. In 1883 the Francklyn lost a number of cattle to rustlers despite the fencing, and as it turned out, most of the rustlers worked for the Francklyn. Leading the Francklyn to implement the policy which had caused the notorious Cowboy Strike of 1883. This rule stated that no employee of the ranch could own any cattle of their own, on or off of Francklyn range. A few of the men quit in disgust, but most stayed on after seeing what happened to their fellow cowboys of the Western Texas Panhandle during the Cowboy Strike. Not wishing to be without employment during a period when so many men were out of work, the cowboys sold their herds to Groom and Brown for a fair price. By 1885 the Francklyn was experiencing financial difficulties and was in danger of being over run by the other large ranches if it could not complete it's fencing of it's range. A crash in cattle prices, the continued drought, and a forgery of drafts on the Francklyn by a man named Grothouse had all but exhausted their credit. Their investors, sensing trouble throughout the Texas Panhandle cattle industry began to balk on calls for additional capitol, thus forcing Groom to sell some of his best producing cows to raise capitol for ordinary expenditures. In his diary Groom wrote, "I am loath to sell these cows for they are our best producers. I feel as though I have been ordered to cut my own throat." On July 1st of 1885 the banks demanded payment in full on all accounts regarding the troubled Franklyn Land & Cattle Company. In April of 1886 the British bond holders of Francklyn Land & Cattle Co. Began a move to take over the White Deer Properties. On June 25th, 1886 Col. Groom was removed as the manager of the White Deer Properties, and George Tyng was appointed manager by the trustees of the Bondholders of Francklyn Land & Cattle Co, an inventory was ordered and foreclosure proceedings begun. In only four years one of the largest ranching concerns in the Texas Panhandle had fallen in the mire that was claiming so many other cattle conglomerates throughout the country. Without Grooms cattle savy things quickly fell into confusion on the White Deer Properties, rustling became rampant, and employees went unpaid for months at a time. Some, disgusted by the new ownership simply rode off without notice, and unnoticed by their employers for months. The fences quickly fell into disrepair and cattle began to wander off of the range. After a brief reorganization a foreclosure sale was held on Feb 7, 1888 in Dallas, Texas where the trustees for the British bondholder bought the company and it estates in full. Tyng remained the manager of the White Deer Land & Cattle Co. For the remainder of its tenure and under better climatic and market conditions made a fair profit. Until the late 1890's when financial panic, climatic conditions, and a depressed cattle market once again put strains on the ranches of the Texas Panhandle, and while the White Deer Land & Cattle Co. Leased most of its property to other ranchers, the strain was still there in unpaid leases and reduced carrying capacity. By 1895 the White Deer Land & Cattle Co. Was having trouble finding people willing to risk the cattle market and lease their lands. By 1900 the White Deer Land & Cattle Co. Had opted to begin offering some of it's lands for sale. Land offices for White Deer Land & Cattle sprang up in Pampa, Panhandle, and Clarendon and sales boomed.

Frank Duncan, founder of The Duncan Ranch

 

In 1919 oil and gas were discovered in Carson County and well fields quickly expanded to Grey and Hutchinson counties. The agricultural value of the White Deer Lands quickly became secondary in nature to the amount of income being derived from petroleum production. On May 29, 1957 after almost 80 years of operation the White Deer Land & Cattle Co liquidated it's remaining lands when the board of directors approved a bid of $70,000.00 by M.K. Brown for all remaining lands in the White Deer Properties. With the discovery of oil came an increase in the number of people settling into the Panhandle. Boom towns like Borger, and Stinnett sprang from the dust in a matter of days and with it came the oil field worker. Hard working and hard playing, they were known as roughnecks and whole industry's were built to suite their needs. With the twenties came prohibition and the roughneck was no tea-sipper. A new industry sprang up in the Panhandle, again to cater to the needs of the roughneck, moonshining became a staple income on many ranches of the day. Throughout the rough breaks of the Canadian River and it's tributaries stills were pumping out almost as much whiskey and the wells were oil, it was surely enough whisky to keep the saloons open for business. The eye of the federal government once again turned it's gaze to the Panhandle, only this time they were not soldiers but revenuers. Plenty of sheriffs and a handful of these revenuers disappeared in these broken canyons and sandy hills, and the whiskey flowed on. It was a wild time in the Panhandle, Oil money flowed, fortunes were made and lost in moments.  Through it all, the cattle still grazed, and though the glamour was gone, cattle was still king in the Texas Panhandle.

Frank Duncan's Funeral on The Duncan Ranch

The rumor of war was in the air when R.A. and Frank Duncan purchased the first tract of land that was to be the beginning of The Duncan Ranch.  The year was 1938 and war had already begun in Europe.  At home, the years of drought and depression had taken their own toll on the populace.  Land was cheap, money was cheaper, and the people of the Texas and Oklahoma Panhandle's were a dispirited lot.  As a doctor, Frank often took chickens, a bushel of vegetables, or a quarter of beef as payment for services rendered, that was when payment could be proffered at all.  His practice grew quickly and he became loved and respected by his patients in the Texas Panhandle.  In 1941 Frank joined the Army and was shipped out as a Lieutenant Colonel to the European theater where he served as an Army doctor until 1945.  When he returned to Texas, he and his father, R. A., purchased the last of the land that would make up the ranch.  Frank had now wholeheartedly joined what would be a fifty year love affair with a small piece of the earth that came to be known as The Duncan Ranch.  It was a love that he would instill in his family after him.  A pride of ownership that made them all wish to improve that small piece of the earth.  As time went on Frank Duncan became well known in the Texas Panhandle Ranching community as a fine cattleman and conservationist.  In his early years he enjoyed hunting and fishing on the ranch.  Later he enjoyed just watching the birds and wildlife.  He instilled these values of caring for the land in his children and grandchildren.  In 1991 Frank Duncan passed away, and his ashes were interred on the ranch.  Ownership passed to his wife Estelle, and she, in turn, passed that ownership to their daughters, Donna, Alice, and Patsy.  They were now the third generation of Duncan's to own The Duncan Ranch.  By 2000 management of the ranch had become cumbersome under the three owner structure, and it was plain that if the ranch were to survive they would have to take steps to make management quicker and more efficient.  In 2002 Patsy and her only son, Ronnie, formed a partnership to buy out her sisters.  In doing so Ronnie became the fourth generation to own a stake in the Duncan Ranch.  They hope in the future to pass that ownership along to the next generation of Duncan's, and they can only hope that they instill a little of what Frank instilled in them - a devotion to the land, a love for the cattle and the wildlife, and a deep sense of place that comes from owning your own little spot of heaven...

Rhoan and Rowdy Cox riding Mississippi and Buddy on The Duncan Ranch


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