The Four Sixes Ranch is part of the famous Burnett Ranches LLC, which is among the most storied family-run businesses in Texas history. Founded by Captain Samuel “Burk” Burnett in 1868—when he purchased 100 head of cattle wearing the “6666” brand from Frank Crowley of Denton, Texas—Burnett Ranches today encompasses 275,000 acres near Panhandle and Guthrie. Superbly bred cattle and champion horses grace its pastures, and oil flows from its depths.
Today, the Four Sixes Ranch in Texas represents both the present and the past. This is largely due to the foresight of Captain Samuel “Burk” Burnett and the management and support of his descendants, who value their heritage and the prominent ranch’s place in the history of Texas and the American West.
The Burnett Family
Captain Samuel “Burk” Burnett
Born in Bates County, Missouri, on Jan. 1, 1849, to Jeremiah and Mary Turner Burnett, Samuel Burk Burnett became one of the most well known and respected ranchers in Texas. His parents were in the farming business, but in 1857-58, conditions caused them to move from Missouri to Denton County, Texas, where Jerry Burnett became involved in the cattle business. Burk, ten years old at the time of the move, began watching the nature of the cow business and learned from his father.
At age 19, Burk went into business for himself with the purchase of 100 head of cattle, which were wearing the 6666 brand. With the title to the cattle came ownership of the brand. He was one of the first ranchers in Texas to buy steers and graze them for market.
During the winter of the following year, Burnett bought 1,300 more cattle in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas and drove them north up the Chisholm Trail to the open range grazing lands near the Little Wichita River. He soon saw the need to have control over the lands on which his cattle fed and began buying property. He also decided to build his first headquarters near what would later be Wichita Falls, Texas. Drought conditions in the 1880s forced Burnett and other ranchers to go in search of grass for their cattle. The tribal lands of the Kiowa and Comanche north of the Red River in Oklahoma had not suffered the dry conditions which had devastated the range farther south.
So Burnett negotiated with legendary Comanche Chief Quanah Parker (1845-1911) for the lease of the Indian lands. Not only was Burnett able to acquire the use of some 300,000 acres of grassland, he gained the friendship of the Comanche leader. He is pictured here with Captain Burnett’s son, Tom.
Burnett kept running 10,000 cattle until the end of the lease. The cattle baron had a strong feeling for Indian rights, and his respect for these native peoples was genuine. Burnett learned Comanche ways, passing both the love of the land and his friendship with the Indians to his family. As a sign of their regard for Burnett, the Comanches gave him a name in their own language: “MAS-SA-SUTA,” meaning “Big Boss.”
The much-needed lease continued until the early 1900s at which time the federal government ordered the land turned back to the tribes. Burnett traveled to Washington, D.C., where he met with President Theodore Roosevelt to ask for an extension on the lease. Roosevelt gave the ranchers two more years, allowing them time to find new ranges for their herds.
In the spring of 1905, Roosevelt came west for a visit to the Indian lands and the ranchers whom he had helped. Burk Burnett, his son Tom, and a small group of ranchers entertained the old Roughrider in rugged Texas style. The highlight of the visit was an unusual bare-handed hunt for coyotes and wolves.
The friendship which developed between Burnett and the President grew. In fact, it was Roosevelt, during a trip to Texas in 1910, who encouraged the town of Nesterville to be renamed “Burkburnett” in honor of his friend.
As the 19th Century drew to a close, the end of the open range was apparent. The only protection the cowman had was the private ownership of land. A purchase around 1900 of the 8 Ranch near Guthrie, Texas, in King County from the Louisville Land and Cattle Co., and the Dixon Creek Ranch near Panhandle, Texas, from the Cunard Line marked the beginning of the Burnett Ranches empire. The 8 Ranch became the nucleus of the present day Four Sixes (6666) Ranch. These two large purchases, along with some later additions, amounted to a third of a million acres.
In his personal life, Burnett, at age 20, had married Ruth B. Loyd, daughter of Martin B. Loyd, founder of the First National Bank of Fort Worth. They had three children, two of whom, sadly, died young. Only their son Tom lived on to have a family and build his own ranching business. Burnett and Ruth later divorced, and he married Mary Couts Barradel in 1892. They had one son, Burk Burnett, Jr., who died in 1917.
Burnett added to and developed his holdings, including the building of the Four Sixes Supply House and a new headquarters in Guthrie. In 1917, Burnett decided to build “the finest ranch house in West Texas” at Guthrie. It cost $100,000, an enormous sum for the time. With 11 bedrooms, it was, indeed, a favorite place to welcome guests. Burnett’s hospitality engaged such well-known visitors as President Roosevelt, Will Rogers and others. In the main room, alone, visitors would see hunting trophies, exquisite art and personal items given to Burnett by his friend Quanah Parker and the Comanche chief’s wives. Also of interest to note is that although Burnett had a bedroom in the home’s southeast corner, he chose to sleep in the back room of the rudimentary Four Sixes Supply House, where he maintained his office.
In 1921, oil was discovered on Burnett’s land near Dixon Creek, and his wealth increased dramatically. This discovery, and a later one in 1969 on the Guthrie property, would greatly benefit the Burnett family ranching business as it grew and developed throughout the 20th Century.
Captain Samuel “Burk” Burnett passed away on June 27, 1922. His will provided for the appointment of two trustees to manage his holdings. They, along with their successors, ran the Four Sixes Ranch until 1980, when Burk Burnett’s great-granddaughter Anne W. Marion, took the reins into her capable hands.
Anne Burnett Windfohr Marion
For generations, ranching has played an important role in the family of Anne W. Marion (known during childhood as “Little Anne”), current president of Burnett Ranches, LLC which includes the Four Sixes Ranch. Her great-grandfather was rancher/oilman Captain Samuel “Burk” Burnett, who founded what would become the Four Sixes Ranch and other Burnett holdings. Her great-great grandfather was Captain Martin B. Loyd, who established the First National Bank of Fort Worth.
Following the death in 1922 of Captain Burnett, ownership of the ranch was left to Anne Marion, his great-granddaughter, (in fact, yet to be born), with a life estate to Burnett’s daughter-in-law, Ollie Lake, and his granddaughter, Anne Valliant Burnett Tandy (“Miss Anne”). The property was held in trust until the death of Miss Anne in 1980 and then passed directly to her daughter, Anne Marion.
At a young age, Little Anne spent summers on the Four Sixes, earning the respect of the cowboys as she learned to ride horses and do the things they did. Ollie Lake, who maintained a lovely home in Fort Worth, provided her granddaughter with the emotional support she needed and further established in the young girl a love for ranching and its traditions. “She’s the one that told me the old stories,” Anne Marion said. “She had the background of the Depression, and she kept telling me that I was lucky to have all that I do and not to waste it.”
In 1988, Anne married John Louis Marion, honorary chair of Sotheby’s Inc. She has one daughter, Anne “Windi” Phillips Grimes, who also has one daughter, Anne “Hallie” Grimes. Mrs. Marion assumed management of the Four Sixes in 1980. Not since Captain Burnett founded and built the Four Sixes more than a century ago has any family member taken as much interest in the ranches as she, according to her former, long-time ranch manager, the late J.J. Gibson. “She always respected my judgment, but she had her own ideas, too.” Gibson had said. “She is a real hands-on type. The love of the land is in her blood.”
“The most important thing that ever happened to me was growing up on that ranch,” Mrs. Marion said. “It kept my feet on the ground more than anything else.”
Four Sixes Empire
Land and oil
The Burnett family has long been dedicated to the responsible stewardship of the land and water resources of their ranch holdings. At one time, the Burnett ranches included more than a third of a million acres. After 1980, however, various parcels, such as the Triangle Ranch, were sold. Today, the two main ranches—the 6666 Ranch near Guthrie and the Dixon Creek Ranch near Panhandle—total 275,000 acres.
While cattle and ranching were the cornerstones upon which the Burnett Family fortunes were founded, it was the discovery of oil that allowed the business grow and led to the establishment of the Burnett Foundation which today benefits so many worthy causes.
Actual drilling of Gulf No. 2 Burnett, 16 miles north of Panhandle, Texas, began in November, 1920 and was completed in April, 1921. It was 3,052 feet deep, and 175 barrels were produced during the first 24 hours of pumping. The well produced constantly for more than 50 years. This was the first oil well brought in on the Texas Panhandle Field, relatively small compared to future wells, one of which produced 10,000 barrels a day.
Captain Burnett, who died in June 1922, did not live long enough to enjoy this increasing wealth. Not a problem: he was rich without it. He foresaw and wrote to his friend, Sid Williams, a couple years before he died, “This puts four of the best outfits in Texas drilling in there (Dixon Creek Ranch), and they should get something by spring if there is any oil field up there. Of course, this would put the ranch out of business as far as cattle are concerned. But there is more money in oil than cattle, don’t you think?”
Oil continued to be an important part of the Burnett Legacy, as over the years more wells were brought in. In 1969, another large field was struck, this one at the Four Sixes Ranch in Guthrie. Author F. Stanley wrote: “When it comes to the history of oil in Texas, the name Burnett is definitely one to be reckoned with. In all probability, oil would have been discovered in the Panhandle whether Burnett leased the 6666 pasture or not. But the fact remains that he did, and oil as a big business in this section of Texas began with this ranch because of the Discovery Well.”
The legacy began when future cattleman Captain Samuel “Burk” Burnett gathered wild longhorn cattle in South Texas and drove them north to sell. Later, in 1868, he purchased a herd of 100 cattle from Frank Crowley in Denton, Texas. The cattle carried the 6666 brand. Realizing it would be a hard brand to alter, Burnett bought the rights to the brand, along with the cattle.
Purebred herds of Hereford cattle were maintained to supply the ranches with herd bulls and heifers. Prize cattle were the result of this cross breeding. George Humphreys maintained the same program of breeding for the entire time he was manager of the ranch, from 1932 to 1970.
When J.J. Gibson became ranch manager, he realized in order to take full advantage of the rougher terrain of the ranch, a crossbred female was needed. The initial cross was with a Brangus bull. These bulls were maintained until about 1996, when they were replaced by Angus bulls.
During Mike Gibson’s tenure as ranch manager, the ranch’s base of Hereford cows was phased out and replaced with a Black Angus program, which is better suited to today’s markets. Currently, under Ranch Manager Joe Leathers, this program continues to expand and excel.
As a cow/calf operation, the ranch now maintains a breeding herd of some 7,000 mother cows. The high quality of Four Sixes cattle is well known, and that reputation continues today making the ranch a frontrunner in the cattle industry.
Captain Burnett had loved paint horses, and in the early years of the Four Sixes, he kept many of the paints on the ranch. He often said every spot on a paint horse was worth a dollar. The Indians he often visited and traded with agreed. However, in 1923, following Burnett’s death, all the stock horses were sold.
By the time George Humphreys took over as ranch manager in 1932, only a few horses remained on the ranch, and he assessed them as mostly old or worn out. Humphreys had a desire to some day have the best horses in the country on the ranch, and therefore, he started building a herd by purchasing 20 good broodmares. The first stud horse was a grey named Scooter, a gift from Tom Burnett, Captain Burnett’s only surviving son.
Humphreys’s favorite stud, however, was Hollywood Gold; a yearling foaled on the Burnett Ranch in Iowa Park, Texas, in 1940. Hollywood Gold was used as a stud horse for many years. His offspring won cutting contests across the United States and brought top prices for breeding purposes. Hollywood Gold is valued, even today, in pedigrees of modern day ranch and competitive cutting horses.
In the 38 years Humphreys managed the Four Sixes, he bought only one stud horse, Cee Bars, a race stud, for $6,500. The first three years, Humphreys used only Four Sixes mares with Cee Bars. The stud’s offspring set many records for both racing and cattle work.
Other than the discovery of oil on the Four Sixes Ranch, the most important change was the formal addition of an equine breeding program in the 1960s. Since then the ranch has become known for its world-class American Quarter Horses used for ranch work, arena competition and on the racetrack.
Later, the Four Sixes’ horse operation included the famous racing stallion Dash For Cash, one of the greatest sires in the history of racing Quarter Horses. His offspring have earned more than $40 million. Today, the Sixes stands from 15 to 20 of the top racing, performance and ranch Quarter Horse stallions found anywhere in the world.
Four Sixes horses wear the L brand in honor of Burk Burnett’s father-in-law, Captain M.B. Loyd. In 1994, the Four Sixes outfit of the Burnett Ranches was honored with the American Quarter Horse Association’s Best Remuda Award in recognition of its outstanding band of working cow horses that tend thousands of the ranch’s cattle.
Horses with a history, brands with a background
Legendary Quarter Horses and superior Black Angus cattle are hallmarks of “The Four Sixes,” a historic Texas ranch that is part of Burnett Ranches LLC, owned by Mrs. Anne W. Marion, the great-granddaughter of the ranch’s founder: Captain Samuel “Burk” Burnett. The ranch stands some of the most well-respected Quarter Horse stallions in the industry, with elite brood mares that produce some of the best race, ranch and sale horses available anywhere.
The Burnett holdings cover 275,000 acres on two Texas ranches: the 6666 Ranch (headquarters), near Guthrie, and the Dixon Creek Ranch, between Panhandle and Borger – both located in the western half of the state. The ranch is dedicated to superior water and range management practices, working as much as possible to reclaim land for native grasses and restore or improve natural water resources. The ranch is wildlife friendly, carefully maintaining a moderate stocking rate of about 30 acres per cow/calf pair. This ensures survival in drought conditions and keeps horses and cattle at their healthy best.
With more than 48 windmills, 100 pipeline tubs and 100 dirt tanks just at the Guthrie site, a full time person is devoted to this equipment. Employees in general range from 50 to 100, as seasonal needs fluctuate. Of those, nearly 20 are full-time cowboys in the traditional sense of the term. Often, employees are the second or third generation in their family to work at The Sixes, where they are considered more than team members; they are family.
Sorry, this ranch ain’t for sale.