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Littlefield’s legacy still felt in Texas, NM


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George Washington Littlefield (June 21, 1842 – November 10, 1920) was a Confederate Army officer, cattleman, banker, and regent of the University of Texas. Born in Mississippi, Littlefield moved to Texas with his family when he was a boy.

In 1861, Littlefield enlisted in the 8th Texas Cavalry, popularly known as Terry’s Texas Rangers. He mustered in as Second Sergeant of Company I. On Jan. 10, 1862, he was elected 2nd Lieutenant by the soldiers under his command.

He commanded the company at the Battle of Shiloh in Tennessee because the Captain and 1st Lieutenant were on furlough in Texas. The Captain never returned and the 1st Lieutenant was killed a few days after returning to the regiment. Littlefield was elected Captain on May 10. There was only one man younger than Littlefield in the entire company, and Littlefield was not yet 20 years of age at the time. Littlefield commanded Company I through the battle of Perryville in Kentucky. After the battle of Chickamauga, Tennessee, on Sept. 18-20, 1863, he was made acting major of the regiment. On Dec. 9, 1863, at Mossy Creek in East Tennessee, he was severely wounded and given a full promotion to major. Littlefield was discharged from service because of his wound and returned to Gonzales County. He was unable to walk without the assistance of crutches until 1867.

Littlefield did not prosper immediately after the war. His attempts at farming foundered. River floods in 1869 and 1870 took him to the brink of bankruptcy. It was not until 1871 that he speculated in the cattle market and made a profit. Over the next several years, he drove large herds of beef cattle from South Texas to Kansas. With proceeds from his cattle drive, Littlefield opened a dry goods store in Gonzales in partnership with J.C. Dilworth. He obtained ranches in Caldwell and Hays and later Mason, Kimble, and Menard counties. He established or purchased such outfits as the LIT Ranch in the Texas Panhandle, the Bosque Grande in the Pecos River Valley and the Four Lakes on the Plains, both in New Mexico, the Yellow House on the Texas South Plains, and the Mill Creek and Saline ranches in the Texas Hill Country. At one time, his cattle, branded LFD, roamed over an area of eastern New Mexico the size of the state of Rhode Island.

George W. Littlefield

In 1883, he relocated to the state capital of Austin He organized and served as president of the American National Bank from 1890 until 1919. The bank commonly paid an annual dividend of 20 percent to its shareholders. The Littlefield Building on Congress Avenue in downtown Austin now houses Capital One Bank. From 1895 to 1903, Littlefield owned the Driskill Hotel, located near the Littlefield Building, still a very popular and beautiful hotel today. He installed the first electric lighting system in the hotel, which became a gathering place for Texas politicians during much of the 20th century.

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In 1901, Littlefield made his greatest cattle acquisition, when he purchased at $2 per acre 312,000 acres of the Yellow House (southern) Division of the XIT Ranch in Lamb and Hockley counties. He erected a windmill 130 feet tall. The windmill was then believed to be the world’s tallest such structure. He founded the town of Littlefield on the ranch and beside the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railroad between Galveston, Texas and Clovis.

Littlefield home on the UT Campus. (Photos courtesy of the Historical Society for Southeastern New Mexico)

In 1911, Governor Oscar Branch Colquitt appointed Littlefield as a regent of the University of Texas. His largess to the school in the following nine years became legendary. He gave and bequeathed some $3 million to UT — more than any other individual during the first 50 years of the existence of the university. Littlefield’s gifts preceded the larger ones which came later from numerous oil philanthropists. By virtue of his philanthropy, Littlefield’s name is visibly entwined with many aspects of UT life. In 1917, when Governor James E. Ferguson vetoed appropriations for UT in the state budget, Littlefield offered to fund its operations for the biennial period from his personal funds.

Littlefield paid for a prominent and well-recognized fountain on campus, the Littlefield Fountain, which was established as a war memorial. He also bankrolled the construction of one of the university’s dorms, named for his wife. He stipulated that this dormitory be reserved specifically for freshman women. He commissioned statues of Confederate generals, including Robert E. Lee. Sadly, it was taken down in August 2017, by the university.

He willed his residence, the Littlefield House, to the university. The structure is now used for offices and special events.

Littlefield married the former Alice Payne Tillar on Jan. 14, 1863. They had two children, both of whom died in infancy. As a result, he was very close to his extended family, which included his nephews J. Phelps and Tomas David White. George W. Littlefield died at his home in Austin on Nov. 10, 1920. He is interred at Oakwood Cemetery in Austin next to his wife who survived him by 15 years.

Littlefield Bronze Doors

These are massive doors 10.5 feet tall by 7 feet wide when closed that weight 2.5 tons which Littlefield commissioned for the entrance to his American National Bank. They were sculpted in 1911 and slightly curved so as to open onto the most important and most traveled intersection in Austin — Congress Avenue and Sixth Street. The top left panel of the doors is a reproduction of the image of the two cowboys sort of facing each other. The location of this depiction was the Bosque Grande headquarters. On the bottom of the upper left panel the date of 1883. This confirms that the image was taken at the Bosque headquarters. There was no other Littlefield ranch headquarters that it could be. Moreover, it is the only image known of the Bosque. The scene of the two middle panels is Mescalero Spring from the Four Lakes Ranch near Tatum, that the White Brothers established. It has been stated that in large part, George Littlefield’s successes were due to the help and management of his two nephews J. Phelps White and Tom White.

James Phelps White

James Phelps White, (1856-1934) rancher and businessman, the son of Thomas Jefferson and Martha Elizabeth (Phelps) White, was born in Gonzales, Texas on December 2, 1856. He spent much of his youth with his uncle, George Washington Littlefield watching Littlefield manage the family farms after the Civil War. Littlefield gave White his start in the cattle business in 1871, when he told White and his brother, Thomas David, that the nephews could have all the calves they could catch from a herd that Littlefield was assembling to drive to Kansas. The boys captured nine calves. In the spring of 1877 White accepted Littlefield’s invitation to join him in the ranching business. After trailing herds Littlefield sent from the Gonzales area to Kansas, White helped establish the LIT Ranch and managed it from 1877 to 1881. Popular with the cattlemen and residents on the Canadian River, he played a prominent role in organizing Oldham County in 1880–81. After selling the LIT in 1881, Littlefield sent White to find a good ranch location on the Pecos River in New Mexico. He bought a homestead and water rights for the Bosque Grande Ranch property, located about 40 miles north of Roswell. In 1882 he and his brother Tom joined Littlefield in partnership in the Littlefield Cattle Company. In 1883 White became manager of the Littlefield ranches in New Mexico, which included both the Bosque Grande and the Four Lakes (near present Tatum), which White developed as the earliest windmill ranch on the New Mexico plains by 1886.

When Littlefield bought the Yellow House Ranch in 1901, he appointed White manager. In April 1904 a major prairie fire burned across the ranch. When White attempted to fight the blaze, the wind changed direction, trapping him. Though left with a loss of feeling in his hands and other parts of his body and with permanent scars, he continued to manage the Littlefield ranch interests. From 1912 to 1915 he served as general manager of the Littlefield Lands Company, which George Littlefield established to sell portions of the Yellow House Ranch, but White never enjoyed participating in the breakup of the cattle operation. After he began receiving his mail at Roswell, he commenced investing in the community. In 1892 he made his first purchase of irrigated farmland, which became the basis of the LFD Farms. He married Lou Tomlinson, with whom he had four children, and established his permanent home in Roswell in 1903. In 1912 the Whites occupied the house built for them, which has been the headquarters of the Chaves County Historical Society since 1976. At the first meeting of the Old Settlers’ Society of Chaves County in 1905, White was elected president. He served on the Board of Regents of the New Mexico Military Institute and generously supported that school. By 1920 he was the wealthiest man in the Roswell area and managed most of his business interests there through his J. P. White Company. With the help of a group of investors, in 1921 he built the first cotton gin in Roswell. In 1926 he bought and expanded a building that he named the J. P. White Building, which served as headquarters for his operations. Toward the end of the decade, he purchased land east of Roswell on which he established the LE Ranch. White died in San Antonio on Oct. 21, 1934, and was buried at Roswell, New Mexico.

Article from the Roswell Daily Record, Friday, Aug. 25, 1905

Phelps White was one of the Original Settlers of the Southwest. Although as cattleman Phelps and Tom White should be discussed together inasmuch as their interests along that line are identical, when it comes to telling of real pioneering, Phelps White should be discussed alone, for he left home before Tom and had a greater part of his pioneer experience alone.

Phelps White was here when horses were stolen from the present Courthouse Square by the Indians, also from Missouri Plaza when the Indians stole horses, took them to Four Lakes and killed them to eat.

When he came, there were no cattle on the Pecos River except at Chisum’s, and a small herd at 12 mile beyond owned by the Hernandez Brothers, Pete Maxwell’s bunch at Fort Sumner and what are known as the Bloom Cattle owned by George Taylor on the Hondo at the place now occupied by the Diamond A Ranch.

Phelps White started in the cattle business as a cowpuncher at $20 per month, having left home, Gonzales, Texas at the age of 19. Tom White left their native town at the age of 21, which was several years after Phelps hit the trail, the latter being the older. Tom was also a cowboy in those days and thus learned the business from the bottom.

When the LFD outfit was organized, George W. Littlefield, of Austin was the financial manager and the Whites were the managers in charge of the ranch property and cattle. The company was supposed to have $100,000, of which the Whites had 1/4, on paper.

Both of the Whites came here from Gonzales, Texas indirectly. Phelps coming in 1881 and having spent five years before that time on the Canadian river at Tascosa. In 1887 he took the LIT herd to Tascosa and that was the second bunch of cattle to feed there. That part of the country was then a part of Clay County, Texas. United States Court was held at Graham and District Court was held at Henrietta and there was no railroad running this way this side of Fort Worth.

In the days when the Whites first ranched in the Pecos Valley it was nothing uncommon to find Buffalo at every round up on the east side of the river. With some of Chisum’s men the brothers went in the second wagon that ever struck across the plains east of here, and located Four Lakes. That was in 1882. There were about 12 in the party and all are now dead except the two Whites, Hoss Cummins of this city, and Bud Wilkinson, of Canada.

At the age of 21 Phelps White took a ride that would be a story in itself. He rode alone in the dead of winter with nothing but a horse and his blanket from Tascosa to Fort Dodge, Kansas, a distance of 225 miles. It was bitter cold and there was not a single house on the trail.

The same winter Phelps White came to Roswell, Captain Nolan and his whole command, consisting of two companies of soldiers, died of hunger and thirst between the Four Lakes country and what is now the Yellow House ranch. White and others afterward found the skeletons, recognizing the remains by the U.S. saddles and other U.S. materials that did not decay so quickly.

Although he did not get out and kill an Indian or two every morning before breakfast, as the storybooks tell, Phelps White was an average “Indian Fighter” of the old days. He was then a cowboy and had his occasional fights with the Indian horse and cattle thieves and was in several open engagements with them. In ‘78 and ‘79 during the Cheyenne outbreak, he had the greatest experience. That was in Kansas and Oklahoma country mostly, but this portion of New Mexico and northern Texas suffered from threats the same as the rest and sent its men to help fight. He was with Captain Will Day when he took a company of citizens and cowboys and joined five or six companies of soldiers in a general fight against the whole Cheyenne band on Sand Creek in Kansas.

Many were killed and wounded on both sides, the Indians that escaped found their way to the Black Hills. They were under Chief Dull Knife, and on their way to Dakota found revenge in killing Captain Louis and his command at the head of the Pawnee River. Captain Day was known in Roswell. After his death, his widow married Captain J.C. Lea, of Roswell, and is now known as Captain Lea’s widow. She lives in Dallas.

In the fight at Sandy River, Phelps White distinguished himself to the extent that his name was sent to Washington for special orders. A number of those fighting were about to be ambushed. They were going down to a draw when a party of Indians saw movement and it was White who proposed to rush out and fight the Indians while the ones in his party had time to get out of the draw. Two other cowboys responded, and the three rushed out and fought the whole band. So fierce was the fight of the three cowboys that the Indian band was dispersed for the time, and his men were saved. Strange to say, White was not injured.

The L.F.D. outfit has bought and delivered cattle at every shipping point west of the Missouri River. Thus the Whites are known all over the cattle country. They have their big ranching property In the Pecos Valley and great interests in Texas. Four years ago they bought, in addition to what has been mentioned, 300,000 acres from the XIT people. Phelps White had many, many holdings in the county and was always very generous in helping to build the city of Roswell.

It is his home that serves as the Historical Society for Southeastern New Mexico at 200 North Lea, Roswell, New Mexico.

Credits for this story:

David B. Gracy II, C.A.

Governor Bill Daniel Professor Emeritus in Archival Enterprise

Editor Emeritus, /Libraries & the Cultural Record/

School of Information, University of Texas

(Great, great, nephew of George Washington Littlefield)

Phelps White III, grandson of J. Phelps White

Mary Lou Glass, granddaughter of J. Phelps White

Elvis Fleming