The Spade Ranch legacy began more than 120 years ago, in 1889, when DeKalb, Illinois, natives Colonel Isaac Ellwood and his son, W.L. Ellwood, made a simple business trip to West Texas.
In 1874 Ellwood became one of the original patent holders of barbed wire when he and his neighbor developed an economical way to keep livestock out of the area’s many farms. The invention quickly changed the Midwest farmland, but the Ellwoods saw a burgeoning market in the vast expanses of the West Texas plains.
They went as far as the rails would take them to Colorado City, the “cowman’s capital”, where landowners, ranchers and cowboys gathered to network. While sales were the primary purpose of the trip, Ellwood also saw investment opportunity in the local real estate. Among the ranchers the Ellwoods met were the Snyder brothers. The brothers must have been shrewd businessmen themselves because not only did they resist Ellwood’s sales pitch, they convinced him to buy their 130,000-acre ranch.
The ranch was headquartered at Renderbrook Springs. Renderbrook took its name, in a rather distorted form, from Captain Rendlebrock of Fort Concho, Texas, who camped at the spring and had a small skirmish with the Comanche in 1872.
The elder Ellwood quickly put his son, W.L. to work purchasing a herd to stock the new ranch. He bought 800 head of cows from J.F. “Spade” Evans – branded with the distinctive spade. Along with the cows he bought the brand and the ranch took on the name.
By the 1960’s the Spade Ranches began a planned crossbreeding program in the cow-calf operation that continues today-although adjusting with changing market demand. Today, the ranches use composite bulls (Simm/Angus and Balancer) crossing the heifers from one mating to the other composite. This maintains a high level of heterosis while producing a uniform calf crop, a stable breed composition and eliminating the need to buy replacement heifers from other sources.
Today’s horse breeding program crosses the daughters of their own son of Peptoboonsmal with their son of High Brow Cat and vice versa. The objective is to use unrelated bloodlines to produce functional ranch horses with lots of cow sense and bottom.
The Spade ranches today consist of six outfits: the original Renderbrook Spade in Mitchell, Sterling and Coke counties; Borden Spade in Borden County; Wagon Creek Spade in Throckmorton County; North Spade in Briscoe and Motley counties; Panhandle Spade in Roberts County and Alpine Spade in Brewster and Presidio counties, totaling about 275,000 acres.
Wesley Welch is the President and C.E.O. of Spade Ranches and the board of directors include six great-great grandchildren of Isaac Ellwood along with outside directors.