Post 12: Getting down to business

1949 Williams, J. W. & Neal, A.D., Sr. Texas Ranches Panhandle Section.
1949 Map of Texas Ranches in the Panhandle J. W. Williams & A. D. Neal, Sr. Source: Texas History Portal

I’ve spent a lot of time this past week working on my historiography for this project and noting spatial questions. Information relating specifically to the Progressive Era in West Texas isn’t in abundant supply, but I’ve cobbled together a few texts that help to frame the subject.

Harley True Burton’s 1927 thesis, A History of the JA Ranch, truly is the definitive work on the subject. The unattributed map that I found earlier this semester is from this thesis. His work includes annual data on the size of cattle herds from 1888-1925 that I can graph out.  It’s possible that I may be able to at least sketch out some estimates of the number of cowboys employed at various inflection points (during the days of cattle drive,  arrival of the railroads near to the ranch, and advent of the automobile.

I’m also examining how I might use a plat map to depict the land under direct control of the ranch versus leased or otherwise “open” land.  I’ll be playing with Sketchup tonight to see if elevating each plat based on ownership will work as a visualization. According to several sources, Charles Goodnight encouraged ranch employees to claim sections within ranch boundaries, something that would have kept good land “in the family” (my words, not his.)  That suggests to me that a comparison of land maps over time, plat by plat, would be important clues to building a prosopography for the ranch.

Another graph I’m considering is a population over time in the JA Ranch counties. Even in 2000, the 5-county population was just under 125,000, of which 104,000 live in Randall County; presumably, most of them are within or near Amarillo.  I think it’s important to convey how few people lived in the region, and how far they lived from each other.  Iva’s letters and some of the texts mention the time and transportation means involved to get to the nearest town, Clarendon, for supplies.

I also think it may be worth mapping out the development of organized government over time; one of the things I learned this week is that the formation of a county and organization of a county (literally, setting up county government, judicial, and school organizations) did not necessarily happen at the same time. Understanding the timeline is necessary to the research, but it’s not high on the priority list for this initial atlas.

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