Due to a financial hardship, Charles Goodnight (Goodnight) decided he would return to Texas after living in Colorado. In 1876 Charles Goodnight determined to drive his cattle from where he lived near Pueblo, Colorado to the Palo Duro Canyon in Texas. After establishing a place to live in, preparations made for winter, and getting the cattle situated where he wanted them, he left his cowboys there with the cattle. He returned to Colorado to retrieve his wife, Mary Ann (Molly) Goodnight.
While in Denver, Goodnight met up with John and Cornelia Adair, husband and wife. John Adair was a wealthy Scotch-Irishman looking to make an investment in the cattle industry. His wife, Cornelia Wadsworth Ritchie Adair, was from an affluent family in New York state. Her relatives dated back to the Revolutionary War. John was her second husband. They had no children together. The two boys that Cornelia gave birth to were from her first husband, Montgomery Ritchie.
The two parties drew up a 5 year contract in which the Adairs would furnish the capital needed to build up the ranch. Goodnight would supply the know-how in hiring cowboys, purchasing cattle and land. At Goodnight’s suggestion the name of the ranch and the brand would be the “JA”, using John Adair’s initials.
As the money became available, Goodnight began purchasing land in a crazy-quilt pattern carefully choosing selected areas with good grazing land and water until he felt the ranch was solid. He drove the first JA trail herd in 1878 north to Dodge City, Kansas, led by his famous bell ox, Old Blue.
Goodnight decided to move the central location of the ranch headquarters in 1879. He chose the site of the foot of the Caprock which was 25 miles east of the old Home Ranch. He built a new house of cedar logs consisting of four rooms. He supervised the building of several other structures including a bookkeepers house, bunkhouse, blacksmith shop, a wagon boss’s house, a wagon-yard, an ingenious milk and meat cooler. Later a two story, nineteen room main house was added. The old Home Ranch house was utilized as a line camp. On Christmas Eve 1904 it burned down.
Goodnight learned at an early age that whiskey and gambling do not mix well with cattle. Therefore, as the JA manager, he did not allow whiskey, gambling, or fighting. He also refused to hire any man who had been fired from other ranches for drunkenness or theft. No one ever heard of JA cowboys getting in trouble with the law. Some men he hired early on were Cape (Caleb B.) Willingham, “Vint Bairfield, Jim (James T.) Christian, Frank Mitchell, J. W. Kent, George Doshier, Mitch Bell, and the brothers Judd, Jeff, and Lige Campbell and they served as outstanding employees during JA’s early years. Leigh R. and Walter Dyer, brothers of Mary Ann Goodnight, also worked on and off for the JA especially during roundups and trail drives.
In 1882 Goodnight built the Panhandle’s first barbed wire drift fence across canyon bed above the Home Ranch to separate the purebred cattle–using the JJ brand—from the main JA herd.
By 1882 when the contract expired, Goodnight and Adair had purchased 93,000 acres and were still looking.Goodnight had also purchased the Quitaque (Lazy F) range in Briscoe County for Cornelia Adair. The Paloduro post office had been established at the JA headquarters. The enterprise had realized more than $512,0o0 in profits. They decided to extend the contract for another five-year period.
In 1883, Goodnight erected fence on the Quitaque properties. He also added the Tule Ranch in Swisher County. In 1884-1885 he fenced in to the JA properties. Goodnight also added other purchases from the railroads, from Gunter and Munson, and the state. The Ranch’s size had increased to 1,325,000 acres in parts of Swisher, Hall, Donley, Randall, Armstrong and Briscoe counties.
John Adair died in St. Louis, MO in 1885 and was taken back to Ireland for burial. As John Adair’s sole heir, Cornelia Adair continued the partnership with Goodnight. By 1887, with the building of the Fort Worth and Denver City Railway, falling beef prices, the influx of settlers, politicians attempts to stop large scale ranching, Goodnight was ready to settle and limit his ranching activities. The partnership was terminated at the end of the Contract. In the settlement Goodnight acquired the Quitaque Ranch.
Colonel Goodnight continued to act as the manager of the JA until 1888. John C. Harrington served next for 3 years. James W. (Jack) Ritchie served a short time as foreman at the Ranch’s Steer Division in Tule Canyon. He returned to New York City where he was in charge of purchasing JA horses for the New York City police department. Arthur Tisdale followed next. He was succeeded in 1892 by Richard Walsh, who had been with the ranch since 1885 and had immigrated from Ireland. It was at this point in time when improvements continued to be made by crossbreeding with blooded Hereford and Angus stock on the JA. By 1889 the herd had increased to 101,023 head. Walsh is credited with building up one of the finest quality herds of cattle in the USA. Walsh resigned in 1910 and was replaced by John S. Summerfield who only served in that capacity for one year. Then a nephew of Cornelia Adair, James W. Wadsworth, Jr. held the position of manager until 1915. He left to serve in the US Senate from his home state of New York.Next came Timothy D. Hobart from Pampa Hobart and Henry C. Coke, a Dallas attorney, were named as co-executors of Cornelia Adair’s Estate upon her death in September 1921. She had left the bulk of her estate to her only surviving son, Jack Ritchie, and his heirs. During this time-frame Clinton Henry became the ranch bookkeeper in 1924 and helped Hobart in the management of the JA. After the deaths of Coke and Hobart, in 1935, Montgomery H. W. (Monte) Ritchie became the manager. J. W. Kent had worked for the JA since 1883 and retired in 1940.
With the arrival of more settlers, the JA began selling and leasing much of its excess pasture. Walsh cleverly purchased several nesters’ land who had located near school lands with in the JA boundaries. A school was opened for children of ranch employees in 1891 in the Palo Duro community near the ranch headquarters. Gradually through the years the JA Ranch reduced in size. Longtime employees of JA began their own operations on former JA lands. George Doshier, Wint Bairfield, Mitch Bell, Jim Christian to name a few, Edward D. Harrell purchased the old Home Ranch acreage in 1917 including the Mulberr7y Ranch which was named for the nearby creek that drained it. In 1945 JA Ranch was confined by 335,000 acres in Armstrong, Briscoe, Donley and Hall counties.By 1948 the Adair Estate was finally settle with its accompanying debts and inheritances. By 1990 the ranch was fenced and cross-fenced. By this time it became well known for its purebred Herefords and Angus bulls. Their Quarter Horses where primarily raised for ranch use along with a small buffalo herd. Some commercial hunting of the buffalo as well as deer hunting was allowed. They continued to lease tillable land. Ranchland at Larkspur Colorado, near Colorado Springs was also owned bgy the Ritchie family.
The JA Ranch continues to be owned and managed by Cornelia Adair’s blood relatives. In 1960 the original house became a national historic landmark. Two of the original JA buildings–the oat bin (donated 1988) and old milk house(donated in 1971)–were donated to the Ranching Heritage Center at Lubbock, TX.