Many of the great Texas ranches established during the cattle boom of the 1880s became immediate business successes, but as time passed, many of them failed. Oil, Taxes, and Cats is the story of one of the survivors and of the family that kept it alive.
David Mantz DeVitt, a young New York newspaperman, came to Texas in 1880 and became co-owner of the Mallet Ranch in 1895. Although he lacked practical experience in the livestock business, DeVitt managed to parlay his small investment into a 100,000-acre cattle operation that continues to operate today.
DeVitt's two sons were killed in separate accidents, and when he died in 1934, his daughters Christine (age forty-nine) and Helen (age thirty-four) inherited controlling interest in the ranch along with Florence, DeVitt's sixty-seven- year-old widow. The women found themselves thrust into the middle of a man's world during the worst of the Great Depression.
Set on assuming her father's active interest in the ranch, Christine DeVitt struggled to achieve and maintain controlling management, throwing the Mallet partners into a costly and protracted receivership battle. Despite her stubbornness and eccentricity, she ultimately gained the respect she sought, not only preserving the ranch but also gaining great fortune for the partnership.
The story of the ranch is a powerful saga of legal battles, oil leases, range disputes, and generous philanthropy that endures to this day.
David J. Murrah, as a historian of the American Southwest, has written two other West Texas ranching histories, the Pitchfork Land and Cattle Company: The First Century and C.C. Slaughter: Rancher, Banker, Baptist. During his seventeen years as director of Texas Tech University's Southwest Collection, he has seen the repository double in size to nearly twenty million items. In addition to directing the archive, he serves as associate director of libraries for special collections at Texas Tech University. He and his wife, Ann, are currently at work on a children's collection of tales from the Llano Estacado.