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Southfork Ranch fiction

A history of the Ewing family home Southfork Ranch.
Ewing Oil

History of the Ewing empire
Southfork Ranch factual

Factual information on the Ewing home used in the series. Includes photos of the original ranch.
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Southfork Ranch - history of the Ewing home

The original Southfork ranch
The original Southfork Ranch

To the construction barons who are bulldozing the ranges, pouring concrete, and hoisting thick steel beams in the name of progress for the Metroplex, the area around Dallas-Fort Worth, Southfork Ranch stands as a defiant dinosaur, daring any would-be attacker. To die-hard Texans, however, Southfork is the symbol of a proud people fiercely protecting their rich cultural history.


Located in the town of Braddock, Southfork has largely preserved the ranching way of life for over a hundred and twenty years, despite its proximity to "The Big D," razzle-dazzle Dallas. It stretches over a hundred thousand acres. Mile after mile, the gentle rises, bluffs, and grassy plains, dotted with cattle and horses, never fail to produce a burning excitement deep within the visitor's heart. For this is the land of Texas. This is the unscathed horizon that reawakes man's inherent yearning to be one with the land.


The ranch is the home of the illustrious Ewing family, but, more important—certainly to Dallas County—it is a testament to the alliance between two often bitter adversaries: Great Ranches and Big Oil. For while ranch after ranch across the state was violated by the maniacal search for raw crude, Southfork too was almost lost, and it was in an ironic twist of fate that Big Oil proved to be its savior.

Ellie Ewing takes a quiet moment of reflection at Southfork
Miss Ellie takes a moment for reflection at Southfork in 1985


In 1841, Tennessee lawyer John Neely Bryan built a pole hut on the east bank of the Trinity River and named it Dallas. Pioneers started straggling in in the 1840s, sharing Bryan's vision of a great port for steamboats coming up the river from the Gulf of Mexico. By the 1850s, a new group of settlers had arrived—largely French, Belgian, German, Swiss, and Polish— whose skilled artisans and unusually high number of intellectuals promoted the cultural development of the envisioned city. But a man with a different dream, Enoch Southworth, steered clear of Dallas and bought up thousands of acres roughly thirty-five miles to the north.
Southworth was a man in love with the earth, its textures, its gifts of sustenance to the grasses, the animals, himself. He had carefully chosen this site for his ranch. He had grown up hearing of Bryan's boasts of Dallas as a major boat terminal, and in 1858 he shook his head in bafflement as he studied the shallowness and unpredictable nature of the Trinity River, knowing full well that it could never handle boats. No, Southworth thought, that water was not meant for shipping, it was meant for the regeneration of life.


He garnered one hundred thousand acres—all of which is still intact today—the choice Sections bountiful with water from a stream which divides at one point—hence the name Southfork—small ponds, and several underground springs. Other Sections, each equivalent to 642 acres, like Two Stick pasture and Little Horn Country, were plentiful in the grasses and low-to-the-ground vegetation needed to support cattle and horses. And then there was an area that bore little of anything, except rattlers, which the deed called Section 40. But it was land, and Southworth bought it along with the rest. The soil on Section 40 was heavy with salt, rather than the limestone that permeated the rest of the area, but he thought that perhaps one day he could somehow channel water there and bring the land back to life.


On the whole, Southworth's dream was realized in Southfork as the most splendid place in which to start his cattle empire. There was indeed a heavenly quality to this land: the mild temperatures, the brilliant blue skies irnd gentle breezes, the rolling magnificence of the prairie grasses, wildflowers of all kinds, and the clusters of mesquite, pecan, hickory, cottonwood, and live ak trees. Enoch himself felled some of the trees and began work on the main , where he planned to bring a new bride and begin work on a family of his own.


By the fall of 1860, Southfork Ranch was well on its way as the eader of the territory. The first thousand head of Southworth Texas longhorns were driven north to market on the new Chisholm Trail and several hundred head of horses were rounded up by Southworth's small army of cowboys. But when on February 1,1861, Texas joined the Confederacy and Southworth had no choice but to send himself and his "army" off to war.

When he returned to Southfork in 1865, he was faced with rebuilding almost everything. In his absence, fences had fallen, , and his horses had been appropriated by theArmy. But he set to his work with a vengeance, and by 1870 the ranch was resurrected in even greater glory. He then married, and his wife bore him a son, Aaron. In celebration, Enoch moved his family into the finally completed "white clapboard house and began the tradition that is honored to this day: the Annual Barbecue.

Aaron, Enoch's sole child and heir, was every bit the man his father was, and more. His respect for the land was without condition, his way with animals extraordinary, and even as a young man his leadership abilities and fairness with the hands were the talk of cowboys throughout the territory. He was bright, strong, charismatic, and vital, and also gentle and kind, though on occasion he tried to hide those qualities.

Southfork was prospering along with Dallas, the growth of the latter not particularly delighting Enoch, since it was apparent that Dallas's future was attracting a level of sophistication that wasn't necessarily in the rest interests of the ranching way of life. Dallas was now the intersection of the northbound Houston & Texas Central Railroad with the westbound Texas and Pacific, which was good for the local economy, but the new wave of eager settlers chugging into the area were not of Enoch's liking. That was when he purchased miles of barbed wire from Betcha-a-million Gates (John W., the barbed-wire king who had been pestering Enoch for years) and ordered high fences to be erected. "Not to keep the cattle in, Son, to keep those crazy Eastern folks out."


Young Aaron's acceptance of new ranching ideas, integrating them compatibly with the old ways, brought even greater prosperity to Southfork. In the late 1880s, when the cattle trails to markets were more easily traveled, when the trains were more efficiently shipping beef to the north and east, he was responsible for Southfork's being one of the first ranches to raise less-tough, fatter cattle and slowly diminish their number of longhorns. "Daddy," he explained, "for every one of 'em with those eight-feet horns, I can git three Herefords on the boxcar." More revenues poured into the Southfork chest.

With their expanding funds, Aaron supervised the building of the best bunkhouses in the county for the loyal Southfork hands. New pens, barns and corrals were also built, and more cattle and horses moved across the land.

Aaron began experimenting with open irrigation, with moderate success. Perhaps his most important contribution, however, at least in terms of the ranching coimmunity, was his cooperative effort with other ranchers to finance, launch, and support the Fort Worth Stockyards Exchange in the late 1890s—a move that put "Cowtown" on the map as the third largest exchange and meatpacking center in the United States.

Like his father, Aaron kept a wary eye on the ever-expanding Dallas. He didn't quite understand that city, what the people were doing there.
Of the new arrivals he said, "Hellfire if I kin figure out why they come all this way just to live like they did back East." He felt the future lay in Fort Worth, where ranchers and cowboys could meet and talk and share ideas—feel like neighbors, like a community, like men who were born to be a part of the range and part of each other through their common bond. And, better yet, it was a place to hoot and holler and wheel and deal and parade their best livestock, to boast of their successes and advise one another in times of trouble.

On January 11, 1901, a very tired, elderly Enoch Southworth rode back to Southfork from Dallas. He tied up his horse, trudged up the stairs of the ranch. and summoned his son. Slowly, with a seriousness Aaron had never seen. he told his son the news. The day before, in Beaumont, Patillo Higgins and Anthony Lucas's well, the Lucas #1, had hit a gusher and raw crude was spewing up from the ground by the thousands of barrels. "I know that land," he said glumly, "and if there's oil there, then, God almighty, the entire state's ccmin' in it." He paused. "They're carryin' on in Dallas about Black Gold. Jr.. What it is, is poison. It kills every living thing that it covers."

And right then and there, Enoch made his son pledge that he would never, ever let anyone drill for oil on Southfork Ranch. His son took the and Enoch nodded, satisfied. A few days later, he passed away.

Aaron married and had two children, the eldest a boy, Garrison, and then a little girl, Eleanor. Aaron was one of the most respected and power-I men in Texas and the children grew up in awe of him. Garrison, however, :ce to fear his daddy because, as he hit his teenage years, it was apparent by some freak accident of nature, Garrison was not cut out for the ranching way of life. But Aaron was not unkind to him, he just basically ignored him.

After—to his utter joy—he found out that it was his daughter, Ellie, who had inherited every bit of the Southworth spirit.

For Ellie it was a magical place to grow up in, a peaceful place that also held many moments of exquisite excitement: calving time, the roundups, the rodeos, the auctions in Fort Worth. Southfork cattle were commanding some of the highest prices in the state, bulls and new breeds won prizes every year at the State Fair in Dallas, and money, well, it was just there, lots of it.
But then it all started to change. Oil—Big Oil—began its encroachment on all of Texas, bringing a wave of grimly determined men in search of it, the wildcatters. The state was reeling, drunk with new dollars from the new industry. Ellie watched her father speak out in Dallas, and then in Austin, bellowing, pleading with his fellow Texans to protect the ranchlands from this insane invasion. But who listened, who cared? Oil meant big money, much bigger than the ranching community could ever dream of.

And then, for Aaron, everything his father and he had worked for started coming apart. In 1929, following the stock market crash, the country slumped into depression and the money that was once so plentiful at Southfork began to dry up. Cattle prices plummeted to next to nothing and Garrison and Eleanor watched their father's face grow lean and more tense.
Oil. Oil. Oil—the only word that meant survival in the listless, dangling economy. Ranch hands, shrugging helplessly to Aaron, deserted Southfork to earn wages in the oil fields. Derricks were bursting onto the horizon, moving closer and closer to the region, as Southfork continued its sickening slide into decay. The year 1930 brought one of the most devastating droughts in Texas history, and it was plain to all that Southfork was dying. The stream was barely a trickle, the ponds just gaping holes in the ground. The fields and ranges were burned out, cattle carcasses rotting in the sun. Day after day Aaron rode back from Forth Worth with hardly any money as he sold what was left of his bulls and horses. As Garrison remembered years later, "He'd bark orrders in that tough, leathery voice of his like Southfork was the most dus ranch on earth, but his voice had an edge of fear."

It was a gut-wrenching day when the Sheriff of Dallas County up and knocked on the once beautiful main house, now in sad disrepair. - was bankrupt, finished. The Sheriff was there to foreclose and evict worths from the land. Garrison was too horrified by the scene to it, and he ran away. Aaron barely noticed or cared in his anguish.


And then, bursting through the door, came young Ellie, pulling in her a very tall, ruggedly handsome man. Glancing at the Sheriff, Ellie er daddy that the man's name was Jock Ewing and that she was marrying him. Jock spoke up, telling Aaron that he would save the ranch. Aaron was thunderstruck. His eyes first lit up with hope, then narrowed in suspicion. Yep. Jock Ewing was a wildcatter. Big Oil in the making. Ellie smoothed things over, talking sense to her daddy and grati-r.er fiance. The ranch was saved and Ellie was married to the maverick niaian. Things went along smoothly as Jock poured thousands of dollars into the revitalization of Southfork. Smoothly, that is, until he thought he should get :"ning back on his investment and did some testing on the salty Section 40 his delight, located the only oil reserve in all of Dallas County. Right iiEffe on Southfork. Without Aaron's knowledge, Jock moved in drilling equipment. When he made a strike, Jock proudly showed Aaron how Southfork was able to finance itself.

Local lore has it that the ensuing fight between Aaron and Jock over those wells caused the clapboard house to collapse from the sheer volume of it. (Jock built the new main house that presides over Southfork today.) In the end Jock decided he needed Miss Ellie—who was as appalled as her father— more than he needed that oil, and he capped the wells.
When Aaron Southworth died, he bequeathed Southfork to Ellie Southworth Ewing and to the Ewing family, on the provision that they would maintain it as a working ranch and, as his father had instructed, that no one fver drill for oil. The family has respected that provision to this day.

Southfork is a mighty ranch out of the past, though it is slightly different with the times. Its traditions continue: the riding, roping, branding of cattle (some of the state's finest Charolais, Angus, and Santa Gertrudis), the buying of supplies from MacGregor's in Braddock. representation at the Monday and Thursday auctions at the Fort Worth Stockyards, and the holding of the (Ewing] Barbecue every year. However, there is daily evidence of the modern world: helicopters and jeeps used in roundups and chasing strays; an intricate network of underground irrigation pipes that feed water to all acres; an electronic intercom system that hooks up all points of the ranch to the main house; and a flood of paperwork necessitated by government regulation and price support system of the beef industry.
The ranch's foreman is Jock's son Ray Krebbs, and it is managed by the youngest of Ellie and Jock's sons, Bobby Ewing. There are fifty full-time hands, a loyal group still reminiscent of the personal armydfchat stood with Enoch Southworth in the 1860s.
The Ewing family is by no means stuck in a bygone era. This is a family of immense wealth, power, and culture, but maintained through all the ups and downs that the family has endured in recent years has been their sacred duty to preserve every square inch of the land that Enoch staked out so many years before. The Ewings hold this land in trust. They're caretakers of a way of life, honor-bound to their roots in the Lone Star State.
While the city of Dallas may appear to be pushing its history away in favor of a world-class, sophisticated image, Southfork Ranch carries on as an awesome reminder of the past—the regeneration of life in all of its God-given glory.

Check out the official Southfork Ranch website