Retired rancher Bob Cates has been chasing the cowboy lifestyle since he was a boy. Born in the Oklahoma Panhandle, he spent his career raising cattle across the High Plains, from Oklahoma to New Mexico. In 2007, Cates and his wife, Jimmie, retired to the tiny Texas Panhandle town of Channing—10 blocks wide and surrounded by the rugged breaks of the Canadian River—to be closer to family. He found new purpose in Channing’s most noteworthy structure: the 121-year-old general office of the legendary XIT Ranch. At its peak in the early 1900s, the XIT was the largest fenced ranch in the world, encompassing 3 million acres and 150,000 head of cattle. When Cates learned of plans to move the building to Lubbock, he organized a local campaign to preserve the office in its original site. Hartley County purchased the building in 2008, and Cates, now 89, became its caretaker. Open by appointment, the restored structure displays ranching artifacts and original furnishings.
The Cowboy Mystique
“When I was a little guy, my granddad had some Will James cowboy books. I saw the pictures, and they just fascinated me. I grew up wanting to be a cowboy, and so that’s what I did. To me, I never did work a day in my life. I just done what I liked and enjoyed it. When I learned about the XIT and got connected to it, it just fell into place.”
“We were ranching 48 miles out in the country, north of Clayton [New Mexico]. I sure liked it out there. It was nice and quiet. But my son said, ‘It’s time to come in.’ So we moved here. Channing is like living in the country. I think there’s 70-odd head of horses right here in town. You don’t have to go very far to get that outside feeling. Go 4 miles west of here and you’re in grass all the way around you. That’s what I like.”
“Channing was a real important town. The XIT office didn’t supply just the ranch but also the settlers coming in. Being that it’s still on the original site, along the railroad track and the highway, people can come to it from four directions.”
Cowboy Christmas in July
“We thought about a Christmas party [fundraiser], but we don’t have much room inside. It’s too cold outside. The first cattle herd came here in July 1885. So what about Christmas in July? This will be our third year. We have entertainers and a street dance and something to eat. Most of the people who come are from out of town, from California to Chicago. We’re getting more every year. We’re just old country people trying to make it come to life for historians and kids.
High Plains Isolation
“There’s one restaurant open in Channing. The Mercantile has a quick hamburger and a salad. They have a few groceries. No gas. On the ranch I had to drive 48 miles to get groceries, and I still have to drive 48 miles to get groceries! We go to Dumas or Dalhart or Vega. I think small towns like this are going to finally dry up. People want to be where the action is, seems like. I don’t like action. I like the slower pace.”
“At first I kept [the XIT office] open every day, but no one stopped. But it’s gotten more and more visitors. People come to the door and say, ‘We seen this from the road. What is it?’ I tell them the XIT was a cattle ranch, and this was the main office for it. It’s just an old building to them, but it isn’t to me. It’s history, about cowboys and cowboy people. It’s an amazing building and an amazing story.”
1 caution light
53 miles southeast
Cowboy Christmas in July
July 25, 2020