Swenson Family Flat Top Ranch
This property has been recently reduced from $1200 per acre to $985.
The Flat Top Division of the legendary Swenson Ranch was established in 1853 – 1854 and the ranch contains 41,000 ± acres.
Elevations on the ranch range from approximately 1,600’ feet to around 1,750’. The terrain over the eastern portion of the Flat Top Ranch is described as nearly level to gently rolling and sloping towards several noticeable drainages, all draining to the northeast. A very prominent elevated mesa, known as Flat Top Mountain, is located on the west-half of the ranch. The elevation change from the country below the mesa top to the country on the upper edge of the mesa is approximately 100 feet. The east face of the mesa is steep and rocky, but much of the mesa top is level and gently sloping. Views from the mesa edge are very impressive. To the west of the large mesa top, the level country transitions to header draws, becoming deeper canyon drainages, all flowing to the northwest to the Double Mountain Fork of the Brazos River.
Native grass cover is considered to be good to excellent over much of the property. Principal native grasses include several varieties of bluestem, side oats grama, Texas winter grass, Arizona cottontop, blue grama, buffalo grass, tobosa, vine-mesquite, western wheat grass and sand drop seed. With favorable winter moisture, wildrye and filaree are abundant over major portions of the ranch.
Approximately 6,300 acres are in cultivation, scattered over about a dozen fields throughout the ranch. All of the cultivated land is farmed on a dryland basis, principally farmed in wheat for seasonal grazing of livestock. With large areas of the ranch having very productive soils, it is estimated that an additional 10,000 acres could be broken out and farmed, if desired. With normal precipitation, this area of Texas is considered desirable wheat pasture country.
The ranch is generally located immediately west of Stamford, Texas, but two small non-contiguous tracts are located north and east of Stamford. Access to all major portions of the ranch are by paved highways and county roads. The ranch has an extensive network of well-maintained private ranch roads, making the property very accessible overall.
Abilene, Texas is approximately 40 miles south of the ranch, with Fort Worth being approximately 180 miles to the east and Lubbock being approximately 140 miles to the northwest. The ranch is located on the Texas Rolling Plains, which is an area widely recognized for ranching, farming, mineral production, and in more recent years, outstanding hunting.
The historic Swenson Ranches trace their origin to Svante Magnus Swenson, the first Swedish immigrant to arrive in Texas, landing near what is now Galveston in 1838. The famous SMS brand, with two backward S’s was one of the first registered in Texas and was derived from Swenson’s initials. Swenson, a close ally of Sam Houston, played an active role in the state’s early history. He served as Travis County Commissioner in the 1850’s and as the first Treasurer of the State Agriculture Society. Swenson opened one of the first stores in Austin, introduced the Colt revolver to the frontier, and established the Swedish Pipeline which brought thousands of Swedish families to settle in Texas after the Civil War. A cabin from Swenson’s farm east of Austin, called Govalle, is enshrined today at Zilker Botanical Gardens in Austin as part of the Swedish Pioneer Village.
By 1850 Svante had established himself in the general merchandise business in Austin. His large frontier trading post traded saddles, boots, blankets and many other supplies. Through his trading, Swenson began acquiring substantial amounts of land. Swenson also invested in railroad bonds and school bonds which entitled him to even more acreage. By 1860 Swenson had accumulated over 680,000 acres in Texas, much of it the unsettled territories on North Texas, north of Abilene. It was from these lands that the Flat Top Ranch was organized and is still owned by S.M. Swenson’s direct descendants.
Because he was an ally of Houston’s and a vocal opponent of secession from the Union, Swenson was nearly assassinated at the beginning of the Civil War. With continuing threats on his life, he fled to Mexico in 1863 hidden under straw in a covered wagon. After the Civil War he settled in New York City where his wife and children joined him. He sold off his holdings around Austin, but maintained ownership of the land in the northern parts of Texas.
In 1882 these lands were fenced and organized by Swenson’s sons, Eric and Swen Albin, and the vast ranching operations began. Initially the sons leased the ranches from their father and when Svante died in 1896, they inherited the properties. At this time there were three ranches: Ericsdahl, Eleonora and Mount Albin.
The Ericsdahl Ranch which was located 7 miles east of Stamford was split up and sold to Swedish immigrants in the early 1900’s. Eleonora became known as the Throckmorton Ranch because it was in that county. The Mount Albin Ranch became known as the Flat Top Ranch because of a prominent mesa on the property. This is the ranch that Chas. S. Middleton and Son, LLC, has for sale today.
The Swenson brothers hired one of S.M. Swenson’s nephews as the first manager of the overall operations. He was responsible for stocking the ranches and overseeing the construction of the headquarters, barns, and corrals, as well as the drilling of water wells. The first herds were comprised of 1,800 high-grade Durham Shorthorns and 180 Hereford-Shorthorn crosses along with registered Hereford bulls. The original remuda was driven up the Chisolm Trail from Round Rock, Texas where many Swedes had settled. The horses were a mix of Spanish and Arabian stock. The first ranch hands were mostly Swedish immigrants who had settled first in towns around Austin, like Round Rock, New Sweden and Elgin and many others came directly from Sweden.
The ranches continued to grow as the family purchased the Scab 8 Ranch in 1900, adding another 79,000 acres of land to their holdings and renamed it the Tongue River Ranch. In 1906 they purchased the Espuela Ranch with other partners which gave them access to over 200,000 acres more. This ranch became the Spur Ranch and while much of it was sold off in the 1920’s, the family still owned 65,000 acres of it until the 1970’s.
In order to make it easier to get their cattle to market, the Swenson brothers convinced the Texas Central Railroad to extend its rail line from Albany, Texas, 38 miles to the east, to the place that is now Stamford, Texas. The family donated the initial 640 acres from the Flat Top Ranch for the town and helped lay it out. The present headquarters for the Swenson Land & Cattle Co, was built in the town, on Swenson Street, in the 1920’s. Some of the property that is part of the Flat Top Ranch remains inside or adjacent to the town limits, including a recent purchase of about 132 acres that contains substantial cattle pens for feeding, weaning, etc. The Texas Cowboy Reunion Rodeo grounds, still the largest working cowboy rodeo in the US, was founded in Stamford by the Swenson heirs in 1930 on land that they also donated from their Flat Top holdings.
In 1902 the Swenson brothers hired Frank S. Hastings as manager of their far-flung ranches and over the next two decades committed to the breeding and improvement of the SMS cattle. Under Hastings’ supervision, SMS became among the first ranches to participate in the “mail order” calf business. The cattle won many awards and developed a reputation for quality that remains today.
Eric Swenson, Svante’s oldest son, remained as president of the ranches until his death in 1945. He was succeeded by one of his sons, Swen R. Swenson. In 1978 the holdings totaling over 250,000 acres were divided among four family groups. Three of the groups have since sold their ranches. The remaining group, whose land includes the Flat Top Ranch, was headed by Bruce B Swenson, one of Swen R. Swenson’s sons, and included Bruce’s brothers, Rod and Perry Swenson. The three brothers have passed away and the company that owns the Flat Top Ranch is now the Swenson Land & Cattle Co. and is chaired by Steve Swenson, one of Bruce’s sons. All the board of directors and shareholders are descendants of Svante Magnus Swenson.
In recent years Swenson Land & Cattle has continued as a strong cow/calf operator and almost always gets the highest price for its class of cattle at Superior Livestock Auctions and other venues. Cattle buyers for Whole Foods have purchased the ranch’s cattle over the last 5-6 years. As a result, the Global Animal Partnership (GAP), Whole Food’s third party certification partner, has made on-site inspections of the ranch’s operations twice in the last 5 years. The ranch received a GAP 4 rating indicating it uses best practices for humane treatment of its cattle for an operation of this size. The ranch hands, now headed by Mark Voss, have won several ranch rodeo competitions over the past several years in places like Wichita Falls and Abilene. Wildlife is abundant at Flat Top and hunting leases have contributed substantial revenue in the past 10 years or so. The company sells a small amount of cattle to Svante’s Ranch Direct, a company owned by several S.M. Swenson descendants. They sell grass finished beef through farmers markets, a web site and food truck in the Austin area.
As the years have gone by and the family tree continues to grow, shareholders have become more and more dispersed throughout the US and their interests have become more diverse. With many shareholders now in their mid-to late 60’s, the board reluctantly voted to sell Flat Top in order to provide some liquidity to those who wanted some. Selling Flat Top was not an easy decision for the family especially knowing that this heritage that traces directly to S.M. Swenson would pass from his great great-grandchildren and future descendants. However, the family has concluded that this the right time in their lives to do this.
Sources: Clark, Mary Whatley - The Swenson Saga and the SMS Ranches (Austin, Texas: Jenkins Book Publishing Co. 1976); Baize, Wayne – Swenson Land & Cattle Company (2014); Anderson, H. Allen - SMS Ranches (Texas State Historical Association)
The Double Mountain Fork of the Brazos River flows in a northeasterly direction through the ranch for approximately seven miles. Large tree cover is common along the river bottom with cedar found along the ridgelines and canyon side slopes. This area of the ranch is considered very scenic and offers great recreational appeal. Additionally, there are a number of smaller seasonal creeks throughout the property.
The ranch is well watered by over 40 water wells, being a combination of windmills and electric submersible wells. These water sources distribute water to an extensive network of approximately 25 miles of waterlines and over 100 drinking troughs.
Other water sources include approximately 140 earthen ponds, some of which are seasonal, with others being very large and considered to be a desirable year-round source of livestock water.
Overall, the ranch is considered to be well watered.
Historically, the Flat Top Division of the Swenson Ranch has been operated as a cow/calf operation. Depending on weather conditions, the ranch is typically stocked with 850 – 1,000 mother cows, plus bulls and replacements. The ranch maintains a quality cow herd and while the cattle are not included in the sale, they are available to be purchased at market price. Current livestock inventory is approximately 855 bred cows, 90 bred heifers and 70 bulls.
HUNTING, WILDLIFE AND RECREATION
The Flat Top Division offers great hunting opportunities, including white tail deer, quail, dove, feral hogs and seasonal water fowl. Fishing is available in the river and several of the larger ponds.
The ranch owns a small grow yard located just west of Stamford. The pens are of pipe construction with complete working facilities, scales and some covered pens. This tract has some adjoining pasture and farmland, which compliments the grow yard.
The property is adequately improved for the day to day ranching operation. In addition to the grow yard, other structural improvements include the main headquarters, the Taylor Camp, the Farm Center, and approximately 17 sets of livestock shipping/working/branding pens. The headquarter improvements consist of the ranch manager’s home, several employee houses, barns, horse stalls and a large set of livestock shipping pens, which are equipped with scales. The Taylor Camp is improved with a camp manager’s home, bunk house and shipping pens equipped with scales. The Farm Center improvements include a metal barn/shop with a fenced area for housing farm equipment and fuel.
The Flat Top Division of the Swenson Ranch is fenced and cross fenced into many multiple pastures, and most all of the fences are considered to be in average to above average condition. Totally, there are approximately 166 miles of fencing on the ranch.
There is scattered oil production on the ranch. The original oil production was first discovered in the early 1950’s and some of this original production is still producing.
In 1978, as briefly mentioned in the History of the Swenson Ranches, the four Swenson Families agreed to partition all of the ranches into four separate family divisions. After the ranches were partitioned, the three other families began selling off their divisions. At the time of this partition, each division of the Swenson Ranches had all or most all of the minerals intact. Each of the four families received one-quarter of the minerals under each of the four divisions. That being the case, the Swenson Family members owning the Flat Top Division have approximately 25% of the minerals under this ranch.
Current royalty income is fairly substantial. New drilling is now underway, and recent development would suggest the possibility of a substantial new income source from oil. Since it is very difficult to determine the present value and future potential of the minerals, the family has elected to negotiate on the mineral conveyance based on the final offering price for the property.
Based on the family owning approximately 25% of the minerals under the Flat Top Division, current royalty income is approximately $200,000 per year on the original production and approximately $600,000 per year on the newly discovered production.
In addition to the income derived from the cattle operation and farming income, other sources of income include hunting lease revenue, periodic surface damage income and income derived from oil and gas leases and oil and gas royalty production. The hunting is leased on a year to year basis and can be extended if a buyer is not interested in hunting, or terminated, if the buyer wants possession of the hunting.
The ranch just negotiated a gas pipeline easement crossing approximately 7 miles of the ranch. This pipeline has just been installed and the utility company has re-seeded this easement with grass. The ranch collected $1,300,000 for this easement.
While there are no major electric transmission lines currently located on the ranch, many large wind farm developments and transmission lines are located throughout this region of Texas. With this in mind, the owners of the Flat Top Division propose to reserve 25% of any future wind energy royalty income, but the purchaser of the ranch will have full control of negotiating any future wind energy leases.
PRICE AND REMARKS
The Flat Top Division of the Swenson Ranch is very reasonably priced at $985 per acre. It is very seldom that a ranch of this magnitude and history becomes available in this area of Texas.
The owners of the ranch are currently in the process of surveying the entire property in order to establish the exact acres of the ranch. This survey is being paid for by the owners.
Property taxes are approximately $63,000 per year or about $1.50 per acre.
The ranch is generally operated with approximately eight full-time employees. In addition to the very knowledgeable ranch manager, there is clerical help at the office in Stamford along with additional farm/ranch employees, including the Taylor Camp manager. All together this efficient staff keeps the books, pays bills, manages the day to day farming and ranching operation, maintains the property and meets with the family on a regular basis. As the broker selected to market this property, it is apparent the current employees are a valuable asset to the ranch and a buyer of this property should strongly consider keeping everyone on board. All employees are anxious to remain with the ranch.
This long-term ownership ranch has not been offered for sale throughout the 165-year history of the property. This first time offering of the Swenson Flat Top Ranch is an historic opportunity to own a quality working cattle ranch, which includes an extensive farming operation that can be expanded, if desired. In addition to farming and ranching, the property offers excellent hunting opportunities, potential future wind farm development, periodic surface damage income, and the potential to share in some portion of the mineral income.