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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Conan the Barbarian! (And Robert E. Howard and The Cross Plains Review)

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This weekend, June 13th and 14th, Cross Plains, Texas is hosting its annual Robert E. Howard Days celebration. Who was Robert E. Howard? Why, the creator of Conan the Barbarian! In honor of the legendary adventurer and his author, this week we’re sharing excerpts of Howard’s writing from 1930s editions of the Cross Plains Review, the newspaper in which many of Howard’s stories first appeared. The SWC is fortunate to have an almost complete run of the Review, almost all of which is now available digitally.  Sadly, the Howard pieces we’re about to share do not concern Conan – but rest assured, they are still entertainment of the highest quality!

The story, Drums of the Sunset, begins poetically: “Now come all you punchers and listen to my tale/When I tell you of troubles on the Chisholm Trail!” And so begins the story of Steve Harmer (and, soon enough, a host of other characters.) We’ve truncated the text here to make it more readable, and also because there is a lot of it…and of course to inspire you to read the whole first installment.

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We’ve skipped part two and are sharing this excerpt from part 3. We hope that you’ll check out its predecessor so as to make sense of why Steve demands from Murken a new hat! Also, what mine is he talking about? And who is this woman he so gallantly offers to defend? Read on!

howard part 5Once again, we’ve left you guessing about part 4, a feeling no doubt shared by folks in 1928 who had missed the previous issue of the Review. That must have been particularly painful because our hero, Steve, had apparently just fought the Edwards! Who are they? Fortunately for you, we have the issue available online with all its many answers. (Note that we’re also not posting part 6, so to follow this tale of the old west you’ll need to follow along in our digitized issues!) In the meantime, this fifth installment contains Howard’s usual mix of action, gallantry, and the inevitable cliffhanger ending.

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Drums of Sunset was published in eight parts. This is the seventh. Steve and Hard Luck, his newfound companion (or is he? The curious should check those back issues linked above!), are hot on the trail of a host of criminals ranging from ‘Navajoes’ to a ring of counterfeiters. Pieces of the mystery that have plagued Steve for six installments are starting to come together. And oh, the CLIFFHANGER! Steve and Hard Luck are locked in mortal combat with a rowdy group of Native Americans. For the thrilling details of part 8 you’ll again have to visit our digital holdings…but we regret to say that we have dire news. The story was actually published in 9 parts, the final of which we haven’t found. Organizers of the Robert E. Howard Days have similarly come up short in their search. If you should find it, you have to let us know! We’re dying to read the end of Steve’s tale!

Speaking of our staff, at least one demands – nay, commands – that you attend Robert E. Howard Days. If you can stomach his disappointment, then at the very least read through the story we’ve been linking above. It is a good one, with a pace that will be familiar to any of Howard’s fans. And as always, for an in-person view of our newspapers or any of our other collections, you can always contact our ever-diligent Reference Staff who would be happy to arrange that.