Checking in from Dickens, TX …
Since leaving Seymour on Wednesday June 6, I have walked some 90 miles through the big ranch country of the West Texas Panhandle. Miles and miles of ranch land with a tiny town (each with a population under 300 and each a separate county seat) approximately every 30 miles. I walked into Benjamin, TX on Thursday where we had moved the RV to a spot behind the country store (not to be confused with a convenience store according to the owner) that could accommodate up to three RVs. Benjamin has the second smallest school in the state with just 93 students in K-12 grades. The school is a power in six-man football. I’ve never seen a six-man game, but I’d imagine it is a lot like backyard games most of us have played in our youth. At noon every day, a siren goes off that can be heard for miles around. Coincidentally or not, the siren welcomed me from my morning walk one day and signaled Brenda and me leaving the next.
Just a few miles west of Benjamin, you see the outline of the Caprock Escarpment on the horizon. To a flatlander, this looks like a mountain range. The Caprock is a 200 mile long ridge that runs from the Oklahoma Panhandle through the Texas Panhandle and into New Mexico. It rises rather suddenly 400 to 1,000 feet and is the separation line between the central plains and the high plains. Actually, the Caprock is not a rock at all, but is a higher plateau running southwest to northeast etched over time by the prevalent winds and infrequent but severe rainstorms.
Guthrie, Texas is on the eastern edge of the Caprock. When we reached Guthrie, we stopped by the county courthouse to seek assistance with a place to park. We were greeted by Tracie Butler, King County Treasurer, and Tammye Timmons, King County District Clerk, who helped us locate the RV right across from the courthouse and gave us background on the area. Like many Texans we have encountered, these ladies were very gracious and helpful, providing guidance and advice for the next few days of our travel through the ranch country.
Guthrie is the home to the famed Four Sixes (6666) Ranch. This massive ranch dominates the area and covers some 350,000 acres. That’s almost 550 square miles. The ranch was started in 1868 by a 19 year old named Burk Burnett. Legend has it that the ranch was named for the poker hand that Burnett held as he won the first tract of land that would be the nucleus for this huge ranch. Another version of the start of this enterprise says that Burnett bought his first 100 head of cattle with the 6666 brand which he liked because the sixes were not fully closed and were difficult for rustlers to over brand. Both we and the locals prefer the first version of the story.
Burnett expanded his holdings over the years, first by leases from his friend Quanah Parker who was chief of the Comanches. Parker was the son of a Comanche chieftain and a white girl who had been captured in a raid in the 1850’s. When the Comanches were relocated, Burnett was able to purchase the land from the US Government after going to Washington and making a special appeal to President Teddy Roosevelt. Roosevelt became Burnett’s friend and a frequent visitor to the ranch to hunt after leaving office. On one such visit, TR and Burnett participated in a “barehanded” hunt for coyotes and wolves.
Four Sixes today is known for both its cattle and quarter horse operations. Some 20,000 head of cattle range across the acreage. Most are a breed developed on the ranch called Black Baldies. This breed of cattle is a cross between a Brangus (which is a cross between a Black Angus and a Brahma) and a Hereford. Black Baldies have a strong resistance to cedar flies which are a problem in the area. I can attest that these flies are a pest.
The quarter horse operation is the showplace for Four Sixes and is renowned around the world. Brenda and I were privileged to visit the breeding barns where we got a tour from Terri and her beautiful toy Australian Shepherd pup Remi. Forty purebred quarter horse stallions were at stud offering champion lines for racers, show horses, cutting horses and performance quarter horses. Names like Hollywood Gold, Tanquerey Gin, Dash for Cash and Steakin’ Six are well known in the quarter horse world. Four Sixes horses and frozen semen from the studs are shipped to Europe, South America and all across the US and Canada. The first shipment of horses is headed to China. Stud fees range from $4,000 to $35,000, and mares, fillies and geldings sell for $4,500 to $25,000. Wouldn’t I love a Four Sixes buckskin gelding or filly?
Four Sixes has another claim to fame for those old enough to remember when cigarettes were advertised on television in the 1960’s. The ranch was the site for the filming of the Marlboro commercials and several ranch hands at Four Sixes were the “Marlboro Man.”
Between Guthrie and Dickens, TX, other huge ranches stretch across the landscape. Spike Box Ranch is known as well for its quarter horses and cattle but is also a destination for wild hog hunting and a source of cactus for nurseries across the country. Pitchfork Ranch is diversified ranch with cattle, horses, oilfields and grain crops. Many of its fine horses are known as “Pitchfork Grays,” distinction gray animals with black manes, tails and lower legs. The ranch is home to Bob Moorhouse, a noted Western photographer. Other large ranches in the area are the Spur Ranch and the Matador Ranch.
When we arrived in Dickens, we stopped at the sheriff’s office and historic jail to seek assistance with a parking spot for our RV. Pattie and Julie were very helpful, finding us a spot at the local Seniors Center. Appropriate, huh? The jail is one of the oldest jails (over 100 years) in continuous operation in the state. Julie gave us a tour including the trapdoor operation where hangings were to take place, though it has never been used in Dickens. With no prisoners currently incarcerated, we were told that Zuzu could run loose in the exercise yard of the jail surrounded by a fence and concertina wire. We politely declined the offer.
On Sunday, June 10, I walked through Dickens and headed west toward Crosbyton. I’ll probably do only a morning walk since our first 100 plus degree day is predicted. Depending on temperatures, the next few days will take us through Ralls, Lorenzo and Idalou and into Lubbock.
Send us cool thoughts.