By Gerald E. McLeod
US 84 stretches diagonally across the middle of the Llano Estacado like a long rope of blacktop pulled tight from horizon to horizon. Today, cotton fields line long stretches of the four-lane highway, but when settlers began arriving in the area a little more than a century ago, the countryside was a treeless prairie as far as the eye could see. Even now, the small towns that occasionally rise from the plains seem like oases of trees and houses.
One such oasis is Muleshoe, at the intersection of US 84 and US 70, in northern Bailey County. While the town of 4,900 might not seem like a tourist destination, it offers a surprising mix of history and whimsy. Once part of the famed XIT Ranch, Muleshoe grew up where the cattle trails met the iron rails. Here you can tour remnants of area ranches, have your picture taken under the “World’s Largest Mule Shoe,” and eat some of the best Mexican food around. A 15-minute drive takes you to a 6,449-acre wildlife refuge that attracts as many as 250,000 migratory sandhill cranes each winter.
Muleshoe lies in what was the southern section of the XIT, which originated in the early 1880s and stretched 220 miles down the western edge of the Panhandle. By the early 1900s, the ranching syndicate was selling off its vast holdings, and two Michigan buyers, Edward K. Warren and his son Charles, who had made their fortune manufacturing corset stays and buggy whips, established the Muleshoe Ranch—originally some 40,000 acres—in present-day Bailey County. The ranch ultimately reached into four counties and encompassed 150,000 acres; at one time, it boasted some 10,000 head of cattle. The town of Muleshoe, named for the ranch, sprang up at the livestock-loading pens east of the ranch headquarters in 1913, when the Pecos and Northern Texas Railway cut across the plains from Lubbock to Clovis, New Mexico. Muleshoe became the county seat when Bailey County was organized in 1917.
From the March 2008 issue.