By the 1870’s, Texas was in need of a new Capitol. Being cash-poor and land rich, the Sixteenth Legislature set aside 3,000,000 acres of the public domain in 1882 to pay for the Capitol building and appointed a Capitol Board composed of the governor, comptroller, treasurer, attorney general, and land commissioner. These 3 million acres, now known as Capitol Land, are located in the Texas Panhandle counties of Bailey, Castro, Dallam, Deaf Smith, Hartley, Hockley, Lamb, Oldham, and Parmer. Another 50,000 acres were sold to pay for incident expenses, surveying the Texas Panhandle, and for the employment of an architect.
“Working Sketch showing shaded areas that are Capitol Lands”
The destruction of the old capitol building by fire in 1881 made the construction of the new building urgent. In 1882, Maltheas Schnell of Illinois was one of two contractors to accept the contract, taking Texas land in payment. In turn, Schnell transferred a three-fourths interest to Taylor, Babcock, and Company of Chicago, which organized the Capitol Syndicate, in which Charles B. Farwell, John V. Farwell, Col. Amos C. Babcock, and Col. Abner Taylor of Illinois were leading investors. Several months later, Schnell assigned the rest of his contract to the Syndicate after rumors surfaced that he had bribed one of the capitol commissioners and had also attempted to bribe designing architect Elijah E. Myers.
“Texas Capitol circa 1888”
The Capital was finally completed in April 1888, costing a total $3,744,630 - roughly a dollar for every acre the builder received to complete the project.
The Syndicate determined that ranching would be the only profitable use for the new land. It was converted into the world's largest fenced ranch known as the XIT Ranch - a 30 mile wide piece of land stretching 200 miles through 10 counties along the Texas-New Mexico border. They quickly built up a massive but highly efficient cattle-raising operation that stretched over parts of ten Texas Counties. The cattle herd averaged about 150,000 head and employed 150 cowboys. The ranch lasted until 1912, but as land prices increased and cattle prices fell, the XIT owners thought they could make more money by selling their land piece-by-piece for about $2.50 per acre. By 1912, the XIT abandoned ranching altogether with the sale of its last herd of cattle. The corporate managers gradually sold the remainder of their property to farmers and smaller ranchers throughout the first half of the 20th century. By 1950, the once-mighty XIT had control of only 20,000 acres.
“XIT Ranch Cowboys circa 1891”