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The JA Ranch in Historic Texas

Today, we are going to step back in Texas history to discuss two men. One of the men you know quite well. The other, not so much. Both men had a dream. One succeeded, where the other failed. As you read this story, you will see that there is a thin line between humiliation and triumph. But the line is profound.

Moreton Frewen was amazed as he gazed at the Llano Estacado for the first time. Everyone is. In Spanish, Llano Estacado means “the Staked Plain” or “Plain of Stakes.” The region was named the Llano Estacado by Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado in 1541. It basically covers the area from Amarillo to Midland, and even stretches west into Eastern New Mexico. The Llano Estacado is a flat plateau that is covered with short grass. It is perfect for raising cattle.

Moreton Frewen was an English aristocrat that was born into wealth. But by 1878, he had lost most of it through unwise, and sometimes shady ventures. That’s when Frewen met John George Adair, a wealthy entrepreneur from Ireland. Adair had just finalized a contract with Charles Goodnight to create the JA Ranch, located in the Llano Estacado. Adair invited Frewen to visit the ranch, and that’s when the dream to own a ranch was born.

Adair and Frewen were nothing alike. While Moreton chased windmills, Adair was a solid businessman. Adair formed a historic partnership with Goodnight that founded one of America’s greatest ranches. The JA Ranch eventually grew to over 1.3 million acres of land containing over 100,000 head of cattle. Adair married Cornelia Wadsworth Ritchie in 1869, and together they established a business empire that stretched from the Palo Duro Canyon to Ireland.

The Adairs were known to be deeply religious and civic minded. They were instrumental in the founding of Adair Hospital, and the YMCA in Clarendon, Texas. In 1887, in honor of her late husband John, Cornelia built the incredible Adair Memorial Protestant Church near Belgrove, Ireland. Because of the expensive construction, it was branded by the locals as “the Lump of Gold.” Today, it is known as the Rathdaire Protestant Parish Church. In 1921, Cornelia died and was also buried at the church she built. Around the world, the Adairs were known as highly successful people.

Moreton Frewen was the opposite. Though he was the uncle of Winston Churchill, he lacked the business acumen to find success. He tried to duplicate in Wyoming what he had seen at the JA Ranch in Texas. Using borrowed capital from investors in England, his plans got ahead of his abilities. While he amassed much land and cattle, his inability to hire experienced management, combined with his own ignorance of ranching, led to corporate disaster. Always trying to be ahead of others, Frewen unwisely established expensive feeding lots in Nebraska, and a slaughter house in Superior, Wisconsin.

Frewen’s audacious plans to develop a shipping network to transport fresh beef to Europe, was decimated during the Winter of 1886-87. That winter was so brutal that he lost nearly 50% of his calves and almost 20% of the entire herd. While many ranchers were hurt, this catastrophe ended Frewen’s dreams of fortune. Rudyard Kipling wrote that Frewen lived "in every sense, except what is called common sense, very richly and wisely to his own extreme content, and if he had ever reached the golden crock of his dreams, he would have perished."

There is a lesson in this somber story that was taught long before Moreton Frewen stumbled onto the stage of life. In his excellent treatise “The Defence of the Government of the Church of England,” (1587) Dr. John Bridges wrote: “If they pay a penie or two pence more for the reddinesse of them, let them looke to that, a foole and his money is soone parted.” Or as Solomon said in Proverbs 17:16 NASB, “Why is there a price in the hand of a fool to buy wisdom, when he has no sense?

Enough said.

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