The gravel road leading into the R.A. Brown Ranch, headquartered west of Throckmorton, Texas, is typical of many that leave the blacktop and wind their way into the quiet, inviting yards of rural America. The Brown family's been a West Texas cattle-ranching mainstay for more than 130 years, and every single one of those years provides a unique story to tell. Each successive family patriarch appears to have taken a silent vow to uphold the values rooted in the past while seeking ways to survive the future. Survival is something a person learns quickly in this challenging land.
How challenging is it? Consider the following anecdote.
"Robert E. Lee's first command when he left West Point was here in Throckmorton County,"; offers R.A. (Rob) Brown Jr., a gentle, grandfatherly man with an easy smile. "He got here in August, and his diary wasn't very complimentary. It was hot and dry and every little bush had a sticker on it. He thought they'd sent him down into hell."
Rob and his wife, Peggy, are today's link to the pioneer past. Peggy's family, the Donnells, moved into the area in the 1870s when Native Americans still controlled much of the rolling plains. Rob's great-grandfather, Robert Alexander Brown, was one of those displaced souls caught up in the turmoil of a post-Civil War reconstruction. But, in place of despair that overshadowed everything, opportunity soon presented itself.
After leaving his home state of Virginia, Robert Alexander traveled throughout Texas and eventually settled near Calvert, where he built his business interests. His son, Robert Herndon (R.H.) started ranching in the Waco area after Robert Alexander's death in 1890, and later moved his O Bar Ranch to Jack County.
In 1903, R.H. sold the outfit and took a position as manager of a livestock commission company at the Fort Worth Livestock Exchange. When land in Throckmorton County became available, he started to gather it and, before long, he had the makings of a cow outfit. When R.H. passed away in 1929, his son, R.A., kept the outfit going through the challenging years of the Great Depression, World War II and into the mid-1960s.
For more of this story, see the June 2006 issue of Western Horseman.