In 1879, the Texas legislature appropriated three million acres of land in the Texas Panhandle to finance a new state capitol. The land was set aside for a Chicago syndicate that would construct the new building. This “worthless” piece of land became the fabled XIT Ranch.
During the 1880s, the ranch was the largest ranch in the world under fence. And it was the largest fence-building project in American history. One fence ran 150 miles without a turn.
According to legend, the X represents the 10 counties that made up the ranch, and the IT meant “In Texas.” Some also claim the name meant “Ten in Two,” as the outfit also had another ranch in Montana.
Another version of the story says the brand was designed to make it hard to alter in order to thwart rustlers.
One rustler was running cattle bearing the brand Star Cross, a star with a cross inside. The XIT outfit claimed the cattle were stolen from them. Nobody could figure how he did it until he was arrested. They paid the thief to reveal how he turned an XIT into the altered brand. Using a running iron, he used the “X” and “T” to draw a star and then burned a line across the “I” to make a cross.
Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official historian. His books include The Arizona Trilogy and Law of the Gun.
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