Spur Granary and Stable

c. 1900

The Spur Granary was built with “sweat equity” long before anyone knew what those words meant. Ultimately, it was designed to make an easier job each day of feeding the ranch’s horses. At the time of its donation to the National Ranching Heritage Center in 1969, the structure was still in use, but it was presented for preservation and interpretation because of its historical value. The granary represents human ingenuity and innovation, byproducts of this well-known ranch.

The Spur started as a road brand used on J.M. Hall’s herd in 1879, moving out of the Dry Cimarron in New Mexico to the head of the Middle Pease River in Texas. One of Hall’s hands, J.R. Beasley, had previously established for him there what neither realized at the time would be the first headquarters of the Spur Ranch. In 1882, Hall sold all of his cattle and the brand to the Stephens and Harris outfit. Less than a year later, the two sold their entire holdings to the Espuela Cattle Co. (espuela is Spanish for spur.) The corporation’s president was A.M. Britton of Denver, Colorado, and secretary was S.W. Lomax of Missouri.

While Lomax stayed in Texas with the ranch, Britton traveled to England in search of a buyer for the Spur. He found several men interested in the Texas property. The Englishmen organized the Espuela Land and Cattle Co., Ltd., of London and purchased the Spur Ranch from Britton, Lomax and their partners on April 9, 1885.

In 1886, the Spur kept 800 horses for its ranch work. That number decreased as fences reduced pasture sizes and railroads shortened the distance cattle were driven to market. By 1898, the ranch’s work required only 300 horses. The Spur purchased all of its horses from outfits in Texas and Wyoming.

The English owners brought in an experienced Michigan farmer to start an experimental farming project. The initial tract was 30 acres, probably the first farm in that part of Texas, according to historian William “Curry” Holden. By 1888, fields were planted in Johnson grass, maize and grain sorghum. The excellent crops led the way for agricultural development of the land. In 1890, Espuela manager Fred Horsbrugh bought a cotton gin and a French Burr grist mill in Fort Worth and brought these first pieces of farm machinery to West Texas.

By 1907, the English company sold the Espuela Land and Cattle Co. to E.P. Swenson and his associates. Large ranch owners, the Swensons purchased the land for development. The cattle were sold and the land leased for two years. The owners founded Spur and Jayton and began attracting people to the new West Texas towns.

In 1913, Clifford B. Jones became the Spur’s manager, leading the ranch operations for 20 years. He was chosen to be the second president of Texas Tech University in 1938, making Jones the last manager of the Spur Ranch. In 1941 the Swenson associates divided their remaining holdings. The daughter of A.C. Swenson and her husband, O.J. Barron, later donated to the NRHC the granary and stables and funds for them to be reconstructed.

The unique structure was restored as it had been built—on a hill several feet above its stalls and corrals. The grinding room was on the top level, so grain could be poured through holes in the floor into storage bins below or poured into wooden chutes that led from the floor of the granary to a grain box at the level of the stalls. Trap doors in the roof allowed hay to be dropped into the managers. With this arrangement, the person responsible for feeding the horses had grain or cracked corn or hay delivered to him by gravity.

The hill on the granary’s north side protected the stables and horses from cold winter winds. Workmen at the NRHC duplicated the rise by constructing a retaining wall of concrete and lined it with stone brought from a quarry near the Spur Ranch. Earth was packed against the wall until the slope was correct.

Mrs. Coy Dopson, daughter of W.A. Johnson, said her father built the granary in 1895. Another source cites the granary’s installation in 1900. Records also show that Henry Johnstone, a manager of the Spur Ranch, oversaw the granary’s construction in late 1905. The only record of the granary that appears in the Spur’s general ledger was under “Improvements.” Apparently, the “grain house and stables” as they were called, were built in stages, making it difficult to pinpoint an actual date of construction.