When John Adams steps out his front door in the early morning light, the view he sees now hasn’t changed much in the last century or so. Beautiful short-grass-covered rolling hills dotted with sagebrush attracted his great-grandfather, H.G. Adams, to this remote part of southwest Kansas in 1900.
Now called the XIT Ranch, John and his wife, Lisa, run the operation with the help of foreman Cory Rickard and cowboy Alan Schmidt. Angus, Hereford, and black baldy cows and calves graze the land, along with quality American Quarter Horses. The details might be different, but the ranching lifestyle is much the same as it was a century ago. John and Lisa work together on the ranch, and Lisa cooks for the cowboys, as well.
“It’s a team effort,” John says. “We are so blessed to be able to live this lifestyle and do what we love.”
Credit goes first to his great-grandfather for getting the family started in the business.
Horace Greely (H.G.) Adams was born in 1862 in Mendota, Ill., and traveled to Maple Hill in the Flint Hills of Kansas in 1879. No doubt impressed with the wide, open spaces, H.G. learned the business of being a stockman and invested in land and cattle. It wasn’t long before he looked to add to his enterprises and went farther West in search of more country to buy.
In 1900, H.G. entered into partnership with William Robert of the XI Ranch in what is now Meade County, Kansas. Around the same time, H.G. was erecting silos at the operation in Maple Hill and storing grain to feed his cattle. There he constructed one of the first feedlots in Kansas and his success in the cattle business continued.
H.G. had three sons and expanded his operations to include land in Shawnee, Wabaunsee, Seward, and Meade Counties in Kansas, and Beaver County in Oklahoma.
On the XI Ranch, H.G. and his partner stocked quality Hereford cattle of Anxiety 4th bloodlines. They purchased top stock from Gudgell & Simpson, noted as some of the first seedstock producers of Hereford cattle, and bought bulls from the Armour and Hazlett herds.
“A painting that is displayed in the dining room at the main ranch house today shows [H.G.’s] champion load of fat steers at the 1910 International Stock Show in Chicago,” John explains. “They sold for the world’s record price at the time of 10.5 cents per pound.”
In 1933, however, H.G. passed away, leaving his three sons to divide the ranchland and cattle. Raymond Sr., John’s grandfather, saw an easy way to make the brand his own by simply adding the “T” to the XI, and the XIT Ranch was born. He added to his inheritance by purchasing the land in Maple Hill from family and operating as Adams Cattle Company.
Raymond Sr. and his son, Raymond Jr., continued successfully raising cattle and making beef by rearing calves on the XIT Ranch, growing them in Eastern Kansas on the Flint Hills ranch, and feeding them at the lot near Maple Hill. They did well, and in 1960 made another large purchase from family of some of H.G.’s original land.
As good horses are essential for traditional ranch work, cattle weren’t the only business for the Adams family. John explains that quality American Quarter Horses have been a staple on the family’s ranches.
In the mid-1930s, Raymond Sr. started breeding horses. In fact, the American Quarter Horse Association credits his membership as one of the first.
“He purchased mares off the Matador Ranch, along with horses of Waggoner Ranch bloodlines,” John says. “The stallion “Shiek” also had a great influence on the breeding.”
Raymond Jr. continued the program, focusing on raising sound ranch horses. He added the breeding of stallions “Flying X 6” and “Hired Hands Rey” from the King Ranch, and one stallion from Duane Walker of Jackie Bee breeding.
“The foundation of the horses on the ranch today dates back to those bloodlines,” John says.
The cattle have also been improved through the decades with some of the top genetics in the industry. Raymond Sr. began using artificial insemination in the 1940s to improve the cattle, in conjunction with purchasing top Hereford bulls from around the country. In the mid-1950s, Angus cattle were introduced with bulls bought from the Gardiner Angus Ranch at Ashland, Kans.
“[Gardiner Angus] genetics have been used exclusively since that time, culminating in a herd of straight Angus and black baldie cows that are thought to be the ranch’s most productive females,” John says.
Top-quality Hereford genetics have been brought in to outcross cattle on. Most recently, John purchased semen from one of Cooper Hereford Ranch’s top selling bulls to artificially inseminate cows.
Now, home-raised Hereford and Angus bulls and heifers are sold off the ranch via private treaty, and bred heifers are sold in the Gardiner Angus Ranch Profit Proven Sale, which is held in conjunction with Gardiner’s fall bull sale.
XIT Ranch’s steers are part of USDA’s Non-Hormone Treated Cattle program and sold via private treaty at weaning. All heifer calves are retained and those not sold as bred heifers are used as replacement heifers on the ranch.
These fancy cattle are worked with equally impressive horses. Foals have been sired for the last four years by XIT Ranch’s stallion Royale CD, who is by cutting horse CD Olena.
“His first colts are three-year-olds now and we are really liking them,” John says.
The Adams are excited about complementing those bloodlines with a young stud they purchased by Hydrive Cat, who is by famed sire High Brow Cat.
“We are going to breed him to some fillies by Royale CD,” John explains. “We think that will be a great cross.”
John says he and Lisa strive to produce quality ranch horses that have good conformation and bone, great disposition and cow sense, that travel well, and are good looking. The horses are used every day for ranch work and also provide mounts for the cowboys’ ranch rodeo team.
The Adams family is raising cattle and horses—as many ranches do—but their dedication to the industry sets them apart. H.G. Adams was a visionary and astute businessman, amassing more than 95,000 acres and finishing cattle on corn in a feedlot. He was posthumously inducted into the National Cowboy Hall of Great Westerners in 1997. Raymond Sr. increased the family’s wealth enough to buy out and keep all the land his father put together in the Adams family name. He also progressed the operation with the use of reproductive technology to improve the cattle and added the horse-breeding program.
Of greatest significance, though, was Raymond Jr.’s role in the development of U.S. Premium Beef. As a Kansas State University graduate with a degree in animal science, Raymond Jr. kept abreast of the changing marketplace and ensured the operations continued to thrive through various challenges. In 1996, Adams Cattle Company became one of the founding members of U.S. Premium Beef—a producer-owned company that owns part of, and markets cattle through, National Beef Packing Company, one of the largest meat packers in the world. In fact, Raymond Jr., was the secretary on the founding board of directors.
“The creation of U.S. Premium Beef was an important part of my dad’s life,” John says. “Its original concept was something he preached for years and years before the program’s inception. In short, he believed in getting paid fairly for what kind of beef you produce. For years, he prided himself on working hard to produce quality cattle, but when it came time to sell, he was not paid any kind of premium. The packers would bid the same as they would for a pen of mongrel cattle.
“U.S. Premium Beef played a huge role in changing that and getting more money into the pockets of people who raised quality cattle,” John adds.
Raymond Jr. was involved in, and recognized by, many other organizations. He was active in the Kansas Livestock Association, earning an award in 2004 for 50 years of proud membership. That same year, he was honored with the Commercial Breeder of the Year award by the Kansas Hereford Association. In 2005, he earned the Livestock and Meat Industry Council’s Stockman of the Year Award and the Outstanding Stockman of the Year Award from Kansas State’s Block & Bridle Club. He passed away in 2009, but was inducted into the Kansas Cowboy Hall of Fame in 2013.
Needless to say, given John’s impressive lineage, ranching is in his blood. Although he was raised on the Flint Hills operation at Maple Hill, southwest Kansas and the XIT Ranch is where he has made his home for more than 30 years.
“When I was young, I enjoyed working with my father and as I got older, I fell in love with our ranch in southwest Kansas and the Oklahoma Panhandle,” John says. “I was fortunate to work closely with my father for 30 years. Ranching has always been in my blood, and it’s what I truly love to do, so I never considered another line of work.”
John operates the XIT Ranch, near Plains, Kans., in Meade County, which is on the original headquarters of the old XI Ranch that his great-grandfather purchased so many years ago. That all of the nearly 100,000 acres H.G. originally purchased are in production and operated by his direct descendants is very impressive.
Like his father, John is also involved in the industry. He is active in the Kansas Livestock Association, even serving as the Stockgrowers Council Chairperson for 2015. He also served on the U.S. Premium Beef Board of Directors for six years.
John’s heritage is not maintained without challenge, though. The historic drought that started in 2011 left grasslands parched for roughly four years. In late 2014 and 2015, the XIT Ranch finally received revitalizing rains. It wasn’t easy to get through.
“Fortunately, giving up and selling out was never an option. Cow numbers were cut back and year-long feeding of livestock seemed to go on and on,” John explains.
Feeding cattle through what should be a growing season is often a financial death knell for a ranch. Luckily, XIT’s cattle are hardy and efficient thanks to decades of selective breeding for those traits.
“My father never followed the fads of the ’70s and ’80s that promoted a variety of different cattle breeds. We stayed hooked up to Hereford and Angus cattle. Our cows, consisting of quality Hereford and Angus genetics, are at a smaller stature, consuming less feed, while being extremely fertile,” John says. “They wean a calf [at more than] half their body weight.”
This efficiency is important to survive a drought because the animals can survive on less forage grown or fed.
“Economically, you can’t haul enough feed to a 1,400-pound cow if there’s not enough grass to eat,” John says. “We survived the most devastating drought in modern history with cows that could maintain with proper management and flourish with very little grass.”
During the drought, the XIT Ranch was just as dry or drier than many ranches in the Southern Plains. But when many ranches were forced to sell all their cattle, John says the XIT was able to retain part of the cowherd. The efficiency of the cattle, plus their ideal location, and key improvements played a role in the ranch’s survival.
“If it wasn’t for the Cimarron River Valley, the genetics of the cow herd, and hard work, there wouldn’t be a cow on the place,” John says. “Water for the cattle was never an issue during the drought because of the Cimarron River that runs year-round through the ranch, and windmills and solar-powered wells produce good water. With hard work, we made it to a great cattle market and plentiful rains. Once the rains started again, it has shown how forgiving and productive the range is.”
The work continues even though the weather has improved. Even once it starts raining, drought can affect the range for years. During the dry years, native perennial grasses die and are replaced by annual forbs, like weeds, when the rain comes.
“The grass has come back strong and now we can focus on weed and brush control on the river bottom and outlying areas,” John says.
Hard work is one thing there is no shortage of on a ranch, even as it is passed down through the next generations, like John’s two grown children, Jack and Lacy, who were raised on the XIT Ranch, and Lisa’s children, Mary Grace and Katherine Mullendore, who grew up in the ranching business in southeast Kansas. Around the XIT Ranch now, foreman Cory Rickard and his wife, Chateece, have four boys—Sam, Ace, Tre and Tag—and cowboy Alan Schmidt and his wife, Christina, are raising their daughter, Madaline Rose.
In fact, John’s son, Jack, plans to return to the operation as the fifth generation in the Adams family to make a living off the land, meaning, for the most part, the view outside John’s door is likely to stay the same for many more years.
“Everyone on the XIT Ranch is proud to preserve our ranching heritage for future generations,” John says. “We and the cowboys who work here are dedicated to raising quality horses, cattle, and families.”
This story is from the Legends: Great Ranches of the American West collector’s issue. Purchase your copy here.