RO Ranch


Alfred Rowe

Alfred Rowe Taken at the Time of His Marriage



Alfred Rowe arrived in America in 1878. He set his prospects on the Texas Panhandle region with its large, just opened abundant grasslands. He was educated in agriculture in England but he began his journey in Texas by learning the ropes as a cowboy on the JA Ranch owned by fellow Englishman John Adair and Charles Goodnight.

A few months later he started purchasing cattle from Southern Texas as well as entire outfits of owners utilizing the open grass range lands in Eastern Donley County. He started his ranch headquarters utilizing an abandoned dugout. He started the RO Ranch with two of his brothers but later bought them out. He also leased all available grass and built a profitable cattle enterprise second to none.

He eventually was one of the most successful ranchers in the Texas Panhandle. He gained the respect of cowboys by his honest, true-to-his-word and a hard worker. He was one of the very few foreign investors who made a profit form their American investments during this time frame of large ranches.

He had a program of improving the quality of his ranch herds long before many of his peers. By 1895, RO Ranch, as it became known, had accumulated over 200,000 acres of owned or leased acreage. Alfred became a US Citizen going to Kansas City to take the oath. Then Alfred married an English woman, brought her to RO Ranch and started his family.

After his children began school he moved his family back to England. He would travel back and forth to the Texas Panhandle at least twice a year. By 1897 the railroads reached Pampa, TX, some 30 miles north of the RO Ranch. Another railway passed through the southern parts of the RO Ranch at Hedley, TX a year later. The Rock Island Railroad passed through the northern edge of the RO ranges by 1900-1901.

People began settling on the suitable farmlands soon thereafter. Alfred started selling small farms and town lots. Alfred donated the land for a cattle loading facility at a site beside the Rock Island Railroad in southern Gray County. Alfred also donated a plat of land for the town of McLean, TX recorded on December 3, 1902. Alfred named the town after William Pinkney McLean who was a Texas Independence hero and the first Railroad Commissioner.

At 59 years of age, Alfred went to England to visit his family where his wife was expecting their 5th child. Alfred secured passage back to America on the Titanic. His body was recovered and taken to Halifax, Nova Scotia which was the nearest port to where the Titanic sank. His remains were shipped to England for final burial. Bernard Rowe, his brother, filed an Application for Probate of the Last Will and Testament in Donley County, TX on July 8, 1912.

Due to complications of travel to and from England caused by World War I, it took until November 12, 1918 to settle the estate when a Deed of Trust was filed in Donley County by William Jenks Lewis. By this time RO Range had been reduced to 72,000 acres in Donley and Gray Counties. He purchased this acreage for $595,113.26. Lewis and his son, Will Jr., continued to use the RO brand and Rowe’s policies over the years.

The largest repository of Alfred Rowe artifacts known is located at the McLean/Alanreed Area Museum in McLean, Texas.

William Jenks Lewis

William (Will) Jenks Lewis, Sr.

William Jenks Lewis, a/k/a William (Will) J. Lewis, was born to Charles J. and Hallie (Koogle) Lewis in Frederick, Maryland on May 7, 1871. They moved to old Clarendon in the Texas Panhandle when Will was 14. Will’s father, Charles Lewis, who had been a merchant in Maryland, became a partner in the Half Circle K Ranch with his brother-in-law, Bill Koogle, in 1885.

Almost as soon as he started living in Clarendon, Will was occupied with the frontier environment of the Panhandle. He began learning to work as a cowboy on the Half Circle K. In the first few years, Will seldom swore or carried a gun. He preferred low-heeled shoes to boots, and relied on the tapadero, which is the leather guard over the front of the stirrup to prevent him from being dragged if the horse suddenly bolted or bucked.

By 1886, the summer droughts and bad investments resulted in the failure of the Half Circle K Ranch. Will began working for the RO Ranch, which was a neighbor to the Lewis’.  In the next few years, Will proved himself and was raised to top hand. Will was ready to be his own man by the 1890s.

By 1904 Will had purchased the Bell Ranch cattle. By 1911 Will bought 43,000 acres of the Shoe Bar Ranch land and herds from Edward F. Swift of the Swift Packing Co. e. By 1917 Will had made arrangements to purchase the remaining 72,000 acres of the RO Ranch thus fulfilling a boyhood dream.

Will married Willie Newbury on September 19, 1912, whose father was a Dallas merchant. They had a son, William, Jr. and three daughters, Betty, Anne, and Joan.

Will maintained the old RO headquarters on Skillet Creek with the large old rambling English style ranch house built by Rowe in the 1880s but the family of Will’s almost never stayed there. Will was widely respected as a modest, mild-mannered businessman.

In 1942 Will and partner, Shorty Rorie, purchased 36,000 acres of former Mill Iron properties. By 1949 Will bought out his partner’s interest. Will established the Flying U Bar Ranch for his girls. Will made Will Jr the owner of the Shoe Bar property plus made Will Jr. an equal partner in his business interests.

At the height of his prosperity, Will had built up an empire consisting of 140,000 acres of land with over 10,000 head of high grade Hereford cattle. His health gradually failing Will died on July 23, 1960, in the Gaston Hospital in Dallas. He had his funeral services at St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church in Clarendon, where he was a charter member. He is buried in Citizen’s Cemetery in Clarendon.

Will Jr. and his wife, Vera Lewis, continued to manage their Shoe Bar property and other family ranching interests. Will Jr. died suddenly from a bout with cancer in a Boston hospital on March 11, 1961. Will Jr. is buried beside his father in Clarendon.

After the death of Will Jr. in 1961 the family sold much of the ranch. The Shoe Bar and part of the old RO Ranch have remained in possession of the Lewis Estate.