In 1874 Illinoisan Colonel Isaac Ellwood became one of the original patent holders of barbed wire (akin to striking oil in the ever-expanding frontier), and the Ellwood family quickly became wealthy. Seeing huge potential for their product in the vast, unfenced landscapes of the West, Ellwood and his son, W.L., traveled to West Texas—as far as the rails would take them—and stopped in Colorado City. Ellwood soon recognized an investment opportunity in the local real estate, as well. After buying a ranch headquartered at Renderbrook Springs, south of Colorado City, W.L. set out to find cattle to stock it.

He purchased 800 head of cows from J.F. “Spade” Evans—each branded with the distinctive spade shovel. Along with the cows, he bought the brand, and his ranch took on the name.

“For almost 125 years the Spade brand has represented a company that strives for advancement, while keeping an eye on our traditions and history,” says Wesley Welch, president and CEO of the ranch. “Spades was founded and established on the cutting-edge technology of the day, barbed wire, and has always been a first adopter of progressive production practices, from cross-fencing to cross-breeding. At the same time, we hold on to our heritage—the values and practices that are time-tested and proven.”

The Spade Ranch ( still owns the original spread, and leases several others, bringing their total ranching operations to around 275,000 acres. Today, they run around 4,500 head of cattle and maintain a remuda of Peptoboonsmal and High Brow Cat progeny. In 2010, Spade Ranch was the recipient of the prestigious American Quarter Horse Association’s Best of the Remuda award. The board of directors consists of six of Isaac Ellwood’s great-great-grandchildren, along with outside directors.

Did you know?

Before becoming a cowboy singer, R.W. Hampton worked for the Spade Ranches, often playing his guitar around the campfire. The late Dub Waldrip, who served as the President and CEO of the ranch for 37 years, encouraged Hampton to venture out and play for others, spurring his second career and true calling.

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