In 1881, the state of Texas was cash poor and infrastructure-needy. The wheels to trade its most valuable asset—land—for the construction of a state capitol in Austin were already in motion when the existing building burned in November of that year.
The state legislature had set aside more than three million acres in the northwest corner of the Panhandle and was taking bids. Mattheas Schnell won the bid and assigned the contract to Taylor, Babcock and Company of Chicago. When the capitol was complete, the cost per acre of the land came to $1.07, more than double the going rate.
The brand itself came into existence when the famous drover Ab Blocker delivered the first herd of cattle to newly installed ranch manager Col. B.H. Campbell in July of 1885. Campbell had the idea of marking the beeves with a frying pan as the brand, perhaps as a nod to the ranch’s Texas Panhandle location. However, Blocker recommended the XIT for two reasons: it would require only one iron—a bar—to apply, and it would be difficult for rustlers to alter. Campbell took his suggestion.
An incorrect story about the brand’s origin, however, has become more famous and more broadly accepted than fact. Because the ranch existed in 10 Texas counties, someone crafted the idea that the X was symbolic of the Roman numeral for ‘10,’ the I for ‘In’ and the T for ‘Texas.’ Ten In Texas, while a more poetic idea, is simply a myth.
And while Ab Blocker’s off-the-cuff invention of a brand that was difficult to alter seemed effective, the XIT became one of the most famous examples of possible alterations in cowboy lore. For example, it was simple to convert the XIT to a Star Cross.
During the reign of the ranch, the herd varied between 125,000 and 150,000 head—excluding ranges in Montana to which the ranch had expanded. Starting in 1901, the Capitol Freehold Land and Investment Company—as the XIT ownership was known—began selling land and by 1950 had completely liquidated.