The Swamp--O'Brien Ranch

After getting up one morning at four to work cattle when home from college, Swamp owner Jane told her dad on the way home, "When I get up in the morning I ask myself why and when I am coming home, I ask myself why I would do anything else."

A.C. Kandler

    In 1985, Panhandle cattleman Jay O'Brien and his daughters started purchasing land in Donley County between McLean and Clarendon.   The ranch was a large part of the RO Ranch, founded by Alfred Rowe of England.   Mr. Rowe was one of the very few English investors who actually managed the ranch and was successful.  

Indian Blanket and Lazy Daisy color up the hills.  More wildflowers

                              Coming east to Whitefish.Crossing Skillet Creek

The RO was later purchased by William Lewis after Mr. Rowe died on the Titanic.   William and his son Will were both known as astute cattlemen and they built large land holdings in the eastern Panhandle.   Both men died in the 1950's.  The Lewis Family continued operations under the capable management of Frank Derrick and Vera Lewis, Will's widow.  Part of the original RO Ranch was owned by the Lewis family until 2014.  The O'Brien family purchased the eastern part of the RO Ranch from three different owners in several different purchases.


Gathering Peavine

          The O'Brien girls operate Hag Farm which is south of the Swamp.    The Swamp is blessed with good looking women on good looking horses.

Ranch owner, Jane O'Brien on a gather.

Lawrence Gruet, an intern from France, on Houdini.

          Dry summers during his youth in the 1950's are the main reason O'Brien was attracted to the Donley County ranch.   After summering on a New Mexico ranch watered only by tanks (and not many of them), a ranch with eleven miles of the Salt Fork of the Red River, fourteen miles of Whitefish Creek, the wooded Lake Creek, Eagle Arroyo and numerous other small creeks and springs looked like an ideal home.  Because of the sub irrigated pastures, the ranch earned the nickname The Swamp.  The first time he took Lucy O'Brien to the ranch, they were stuck for hours and she said, "You are the only idiot stupid enough to buy swamp land in the Panhandle of Texas," and the ranch became The Swamp.

Penning at Locust Grove

          The ranch also supports good turf and O'Brien is proud of the opportunity to be steward of the ranch.   He won the Society of Range Management's Excellence in Grazing Management award in 1995--the presentation emphasized the turf in riparian areas on the Swamp.   In 1997, the ranch received over 22 inches of rain in a 48 hour period with 12 inches in a few hours.   Whitefish, Skillet and the Salt Fork ran higher than anyone had ever imagined.   All of the creek beds became beaches as did nearby land that had been stirrup high in bluestem.   O'Brien said, "It was as if the Lord had said, "Grazing Manager, ha, let me show you something."   We are not in control."

The Texas Chapter of the Wildlife Society's Land Stewardship Award.  O'Brien works to enhance the ranch for wildlife.   The ranch abounds in game and hunting is terrific.

Pushing yearlings down the Salt Fork River

    The ranch is run as a cow-calf and yearling operation and cattle care has equal importance with care of the land.   The hands who work on the ranch are proud to follow in the footsteps of the great RO cowboys of the past.  They are headed by Sam Hermsmeyer, who lives at the Whitefish Camp south of McLean.   Joining him are Gary Lewis who lives at the old RO Headquarters north of Clarendon and Damon Shipp who lives north of Hedley.  Gary Lewis is Billy Lewis's son.   He previously worked for O'Brien at the Exell ranch and Sam ran the Circle Ranch and the Seewald Ranch before moving to the Swamp. 

Sam Hermsmeyer, Damon Shipp and Gary Lewis

    Charles Goodnight helped Alfred Rowe get started in Donley County after Rowe worked on the JA for a short period.   Many of the great cowboys worked at both the JA and the RO.    The connection between the two ranches remains as O'Brien is the managing partner of the JA.   The connection has now been expanded to include the Circle, XL and Turkey Track ranches.   Josh Hawkins was brought up on the JA, worked on the XL and now is foreman of the Turkey Track.   His brother Jeremy also was brought up on the JA and now works at the XL.    Trenton Williams was brought up on the Circle and now works at the XL.

Early morning cowboys ride along the Salt Fork.


The pens filled to capacity at Locust Grove.


Exie Manahan at the Ranch

One of the joys of a family ranch is that as the old folks are retired, new owners take over.   In 2016, owner Exie Manahan went on her first gather.   She still let the old timer weigh the cattle.


Spring Branding, Paleontology at the Swamp, Map of Ranch; Fog in No Name, wildlife, hunting, Billy Lewis, Rio Grande Turkey project, Barbed Wire Museum, Shoe Bar Ranch, Wildflowers The reckless cloud seeding experiment in the Panhandle.

Hunting: Colorado wildlife, Spring Turkey HuntQuail huntingmule deer & aoudad huntingelk in Colorado, Texas Wildlife; Swamp hunting, White-tailed deer.

Jim Kingston and Damon Shipp ride up.

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