The Land Report

Spring 2015

The Magazine of the American Landowner is an essential guide for investors, landowners, and those interested in buying or selling land. The award-winning quarterly is known for its annual survey of America's largest landowners, The Land Report 100.

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66 The LandReport | S P R I N G 2 0 1 5 LANDREPORT.COM T he couple's personal histories parallel one another to a remarkable degree. Both grew up on Texas cattle ranches: Katharine, 63, on the Armstrong Ranch in South Texas, and Ben, 70, along the Llano River on part of the Fitzsimons Ranch. Each has earned national renown: Katharine as a board member of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and later as the first woman to serve as its chairman, and Ben as a real estate attorney whose client list reads directly from The Land Report 100. In addition to real estate, his legal expertise includes oil and gas, agriculture, natural resources, and property rights. He has been a Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association director since 1977, which is when he befriended Katharine's father, Tobin Armstrong. "My father would come home from Cattle Raisers meetings singing Ben's praises. But he was married, and so was I. Funny how it only took a couple of decades for things to work out the right way," Katharine says. It was while he was attending Texas Tech that Ben ended up migrating from the Texas Hill Country to the Trans-Pecos. "In the late 1950s and early 1960s, my family was sending 2,000 to 2,500 yearlings to South Dakota every May, and they'd come out in October. We ran a full-time cow/calf operation at Llano. We ran about 500 mama cows in Dakota year-round. We were leasing ranches in Mason, Menard, and Llano counties to warehouse all of them. That's a lot of cattle. You've got to have a lot of places to put them. There are not many places where you can park 2,000 to 2,500 head of steers for several months. It took a long time to assemble them. We started receiving those cattle about the end of January, buying big-framed, lightweight steers out of Mexico. We were getting them at Presidio [100 miles west of Persimmon Gap Ranch] through a broker. Man, there was a lot of freight involved. Coincidentally we stumbled onto this place. It fit the steer program perfectly, and my family bought it in 1960," Ben says. "As remote and wild as this country is today, what was it like back then?" My question elicits a long laugh from Ben. "It was the biggest, wildest thing I'd ever seen, with mountain lions, bears, smugglers, and maybe a renegade Indian left over here and there. I couldn't get enough of it. This highway had been paved for about six months when we came here. You could break down on it, and you might be there for two days before somebody ever came along," he says. Then why buy it? "Because it was available, it was cheap, and it was an ideal place to warehouse steers heading to Dakota. Nobody in my family really had any affection for this ranch but me. I was the only one in my family who really fell in love with this place. It took me about 20 years to buy and trade and acquire the whole thing from my family. This is home to me and has been. I took care of it when I was going to school at Texas Tech. I was down here nearly every weekend if I wasn't playing polo somewhere." Geologists from around the world journey to the westernmost part of the Lone Star State to study the Marathon Uplift, a standout feature visible from the Persimmon Gap Ranch.

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