The San Simon Ranch
Lea County Families and History, Then and Now, Vol II
The San Simon Ranch
Lea County, New Mexico
By: Billie Pearson
The original establishment of this New Mexico Ranch was made by Francis (Frank) Divers. In the fall of 1884, Divers, a native of Missouri, who ranched in Mexico, drove 1200 head of longhorn cattle out of West Texas, past the site of Hobbs and then to Monument Springs, to water, graze and rest several days before moving southwest. Mr. Divers had hired Bill Oden at San Angelo, Texas and he became top hand and an indispensable man. Their destination was Dug Springs, apparently carved from the sand by Indians. These springs had been discovered and named by Col. William Rufus Shafter in 1875. It was located twenty miles south of Monument Springs in a small salt grass valley. There were three springs a few feet apart.. Indians had long camped there and there and had dug wells six feet deep and four feet across. Water stood three or four feet deep in these wells. Col. Shafter estimated that they would water a thousand or more horses. His 300 head depleted the pools, but they were refilled within two hours.
Divers and Oden arrived at the springs with the heard and found the location already claimed by two buffalo hunters, Louis and Guyat Faulkner. Divers offered them $250.00 in gold for their claim which they accepted and Dug Springs Ranch was born.
During most of 1885 Divers and his cowboys, as they had time, built a permanent house for the rancher and his bride. The walls, constructed of mud compacted and dried in wood molds or forms, rested on foundations of rock and mud. (This foundation is the only thing visible today). The only limber used was brought in from Midland, Texas by wagon for adding a roof. It was only two rooms. Oden and the other ranch hands lived in wagons and dugouts.
Soon Dug Springs Ranch became the T A X Ranch, assuming it’s name from the Divers cattle brand. Shortly thereafter, Oden and another TAX cowboy, Henry Cummins, bought one sixth interest in the ranch.
Until 1889 TAX Ranch was located in the political unit of Lincoln County, which took in almost all of southeastern New Mexico. Some Llano ranchers were as far as 200 miles from the county seat at the village of Lincoln. The 1889 legislature in Santa Fe brought local government closer to the plains ranchers by organizing Eddy and Chaves counties out of Lincoln County’s southeastern territory.
Cummins sold his interest in 1893 back to Divers.
Col. C.W. Merchant and Col. J.H. Parramore bought the TAX Ranch from Divers in 1897. The sale contract gave Merchant and Parramore grazing rights to all the land, between the Pecos River on the west, to the 84 Ranch on the east. The land was not sold as it was owned by the Federal Government in Territorial New Mexico. Divers sold his improvements: the ranch house and four watering places know as Headquarters Well, West Well, North Well and East Well. These waterings were scattered about six miles apart.
To stock this ranch, Parramore and Merchant, as the cattle company was called, brought from their Arizona ranch on the San Simon River near the little town of the same name a total of 4,016 head of cattle over a period of three years.
Mack and Will Merchant, the two youngest sons of C.W. Merchant were sent from their home in Abilene to look after the New Mexico ranch, neither being married.
In 1902 Parramore and Merchant dissolved partnership. Parramore took the Arizona ranch and Merchant the New Mexico ranch, which he called C.W. Merchant & Sons. This same year C.W. Merchant sent John Doithit and his family and Lige Emberson and his family, his two oldest sons, to Carlsbad by train to look after the San Simon Ranch, as it was now called. C.W. Merchant had bought the large nine bedroom McMillan home for them there.
The large frame two-story house at the ranch headquarters was built in 1903 by a carpenter supervisor and six or eight cowboys. The two families lived at the ranch in the summer and in Carlsbad for the children to so to school.
The ranch headquarters house burned July 9, 1936 with nothing salvaged. The men came in that night from the pastures and found that even the yard fence had burned.
A Mexican man named Pearl was hired to make adobe bricks to use in building the new house. The outside walls were adobe, 20 inches thick. The upstairs had two “L” shaped rooms and was used as a bunk house. The plasterer was an expert as there is not a single crack and the paint never peeled.
C.W. Merchant & Sons was incorporated in 1911 and renamed the Merchant Livestock Company.
Although deeply indebted to Billie Pearson for this excellent family ranch history; your present chronicler would like to point out these additional facts and/or observations:
The ranch, a cow–calf operation, lies mostly in “The San Simon Swale” as it is designated on maps of today. This “swale”, a depression of roughly 18 miles in diameter, gives protection from much of the winter’s cold, making it possible to calve year around more successfully.
Out in a low spot in the sand hills, huge wooden windmills (some 25 feet in diameter) seemed to stand guard over the operation. (of course, these :wooden sentinels” have since been replaced by steel ones, but when first sighted by a “flat lander” they caused one to look for a glimpse of Don Quixote!)
Ranch records prove that a good profit was made except in 1933-34, when a combination of severe drought, an economic depression and no market for cattle made it an impossibility a good profit could be shown.
Finally the government took a hand, paying $18.00 a head per cattle but requiring that they be killed. A rather stringent and perhaps wasteful method of decreasing production.
The ranch composed of 300,000 acres, ran 5,000 head of cattle, and branded “Seven, Lazy H, H” later to become the “Hash Knife”.
Because all eligible members of the Merchant family “homesteaded” and although various sons “ran” the New Mexico operation, “Big Clabe” always had “veto power” , this ranch was able to remain fairly intact through the onslaught of settlers. However, Lawrence Merchant, son of Lige, who inherited the southern end of the ranch, sold his part in 1969. Thus leaving, John and Tom Pearson and their families to carry on the traditions of a great ranch and even greater men whose “cow sense” and pioneer courage coupled with much hard work made, and continues to make, the San Simon possible.