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In December 1930, Dr. Z.T. Scott completed a well-prepared history spanning the life and business experiences of Mr. Robert Benjamin Masterson.
Mr. Masterson's life was lived in a manner that follows the Horatio Alger books to a great extent. His ancestors included four Masterson brothers from Ireland, and his mother, Elizabeth Ann Gotcher Masterson, was a young lady of Welsh descent.
His father was a farmer and slave owner who settled in the eastern part of Travis County near the town of Manor. In addition to farming, he operated a freight wagon train of ten ox teams to Port Lavaca, Brownsville, and Houston. He also commenced the raising of horses and cattle on free open range, that introduced Mr. Masterson to the ranching business which he followed as his principal business.
His first schooling was in the Gentry Subscription School located near Webberville, Texas. He later attended Greenwood Masonic Institute. Although he participated in the hard work of helping his father and family, he became a teacher of Cloud School in Williamson County at the age of 18. However, his love for ranching overcame the monotony of teaching with its confinement and his teaching career was abandoned after the first six months to devote his full time to farming and ranching. With the money he earned teaching school, he purchased ox teams and began the cultivation or breaking (first plowing of sod acreage). As time would permit from his own operations, he was employed by members of the Pfluger family to break land for which he received $5.00 per acre or a heifer yearling, which he preferred. At the end of the year he had earned possession of a herd of 65 cattle and the satisfaction of acquiring real property.
In 1872 he decided to devote his talents to ranching and traded his ox teams for a small herd of 150 cattle. He purchased in Llano county an additional 350 head (with funds borrowed from his father) which gave him ownership of a herd of some 500 or 600. The average price of beef, at the time, was $8.00. He closed out the herd at a profit of $1,100, repaid the loan to his father and bought additional cattle.
The ownership of his first cow was a gift from his sister for his bravery shown during some required lip surgery, and he immediately named his brand the R6.
On Mr. Masterson's 25th birthday, he left Travis County with a herd of 800 cattle and headed for the Clear Fork of the Brazos. During the travel he encountered a heavy snowstorm and it took 2 weeks of hard work to cross the Colorado River near the San Saba peak. He sold the herd of 800 to parties in Nebraska and made the delivery at Fort Elliott in Wheeler County, Texas. This was his first trip up the trail and his first experience in the Panhandle. The Panhandle country was sparsely settled, and after returning to his ranch in Lampasas County, plans were begun to move westward. By this time Mr. Masterson considered his holdings worth $10,000 which was his goal set earlier in life before he would entertain the idea of matrimony. He lost no time in seeking the hand of Miss Sallie Lee Exum, of Lampasas, and in October 1880 they were married.
In 1882 he delivered 2,500 head of cattle to Bates and Beale in Potter County where these operators had staked off a range of free grass twenty miles square on the Canadian River. This ranch was later sold to the American Pastoral Company, branding LX, and, by coincidence, these lands were 30 years later to become the property of Mr. Masterson.
Mr. Masterson and his first wife had two sons, Robert Benjamin, Jr. and Thomas Bennett. His first wife died at her home in Round Rock in 1884 and was buried there.
In 1886 Mr. Masterson married Miss Anna Eliza Ezum, a sister of his first wife, whose home was in Lampasas. Ranching conditions became so bad shortly thereafter that Mr. Masterson was forced to make an election of either giving up the Lampasas home or his ranching operations in the Lampasas area. This led to the decision to invest in land. He used his profits from earlier cattle deals to purchase ranch lands that would become the JY Ranch.
The family ranch lands were acquired during the rapid settling of the Texas Panhandle country by Robert Benjamin (1853-1931). This rapid settling, the passing of free grass and the rising rental on state-owned lands caused Mr. Masterson to conclude that the only manner to meet the changing conditions was to invest in land. The profits which he made in 1886 in the amount of $110,000 on the sale of cattle in Kansas City provided necessary funds for the financing and purchase of 40,000 acres and 1,700 cattle in King County, Texas, with the brand JY. After a great deal of time and energy spent in improving this tract, he bought additional acreage which eventually reached 155,000 acres, pasturing 12,000 cattle. The headquarters for the ranch was established 20 miles east of Guthrie and 30 miles west of Benjamin. Mr. Masterson considered that he was in possession of one of the finest breeding ranches in Texas. Mr. Masterson remained in active management of his ranches until 1910 at which time he sold 72,675 acres of his pasture and left the remaining 82,325 acres in charge of his sons and moved to Amarillo. This young city had a population of 9,957 at that time.
It was his plan to engage in the banking business with Mr. John M. Shelton, his brother-in-law, and others. However he was released by Mr. Shelton from any obligation and decided he would invest in lands and cattle in that area. Mr. Masterson said, "You can hire a man for $50 a month to out-think a cow, but it will cost $500 to hire one who can out-think a crook."
Following up his plans to invest in lands, he purchased 91,000 acres along the north bank of the Canadian River from the American Pastoral Company. He purchased the holdings of smaller ranchmen within the limits of the 91,000 acres, bringing the total acres of the ranch to 122,000. When full stocked it carried 8,000 cattle. He later reduced his Moore and Potter counties ranch acreage to approximately 100,000 acres.
For the next seven or so years, he followed the plan of growing calves in King county then maturing them in Potter county since the climates of the Panhandle was considered unfavorable for young calves.
During World War I the price of cattle was extremely high. Due to the foresight of Mr. Masterson, he sold all of his cattle in Potter and Moore counties and leased his ranch, receiving inflated prices for both. The collapse of the market following the Armistice crippled everyone in the business of handling cattle, and many men rated as millionaires during the war went broke.
In 1917, he had the opportunity of repurchasing cattle at $25 per head which he had sold for $100. In 1917 he had reached the age of 64 and desired to be relieved of the details of ranch management. With the Panhandle pasture lands under lease, he gave his two sons his herd of cattle in King and Knox counties and rented them his pasture. This removed him from the field as an active cattle operator after a span of 40 years in the saddle. During this period he had witnessed his herd of heifer yearlings, earned by the plow, grow into a herd of thousands of cattle which were born, bred, and raised on land which he held in debt free ownership.