When the Matador Ranch Came to the Southwest Collection

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The Matador Ranch was established in 1879 by Alfred Britton, Henry Campbell, and their associates. It covered one and a half million acres in Motley, Cottle, Floyd, and Dickens counties of Texas. In 1882 the founders sold their cattle and range rights to a syndicate based in Dundee, Scotland. And it is there that the story of one of the Southwest Collection’s first and greatest collections begins.

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With rare exceptions, such as during periods of drought, Matador stockholders received substantial dividends. In 1951, however, they sold their shares to Lazard Brothers and Company. Many of the ranch records that were now no longer needed were quickly given into the care of the Southwest Collection. The Matador Land Book, pages of which can be seen above and below (and here!) was one such item. Another was a Payroll Ledger that names every cowboy in the employment of the ranch. These are only 2 among thousands of treasures that were donated.

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But one thing continued to plague Dr. Seymour V. Connor, the director of the SWC when the records arrived. Although many items of interest to researchers–such as the map of Matador lands provided to the Texas Pacific Railroad (below)–were now housed at Texas Tech, the remaining records remained in Dundee, Scotland, home of the ranch’s international administrators. As long as these documents lay overseas, they remained out of the hands of eager researchers. And so Dr. Connor set out to bring them back to Texas. Years of heartfelt, patient negotiations with past and present Matador investors and their families paid off in 1957 when, at long last, boxes full of Dundee records rejoined their brothers in our archive.

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Some at the time hailed the now-complete Matador Records as “one of the most valuable collections ever received by a college in Texas.” Its contents back up this assertion: reams of legal documents, payroll records, herd books, range diaries, and international correspondence can be found alongside mile-by-mile accounts of herds driven north. Detailed outlines of time-tested methods used by ranch superintendents to manage herds are also present. How much money would a top hand (or significantly lesser hands) receive in wages? The Records can tell you. They even noted the location of lands set aside for community projects, such as the Lee County School Lands shown below. As the news program “Texas in Review” declared, the Southwest Collection could now boast “a complete portrait of one of the most fascinating ranch stories in history.” We may be a little biased, but it’s hard not to agree!

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Folks interested in the Matador Ranch’s history should contact our Reference Staff who are always eager to help get these items into curious hands. Also, The Handbook of Texas has published more in-depth online biographies of the Matador Ranch and the Matador Land and Cattle Company.

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