The 40 Largest Private Landowners in New Mexico


    14. Butler heirs

    15. J.A. Whittenburg III

    16. Corn family

    17. R.A. (Hap) Canning

    18. Brittingham family

    19. Doherty family

    20. Jay Taylor family

    21. Baeza family

From CROSSWINDS, New Mexico’s largest alternative newspaper

June 1997

14. BUTLER HEIRS, Massachusetts and elsewhere

Fort Union Ranch

95,000 acres in Mora County


     Descendants of Benjamin Franklin Butler, a controversial Civil War general and Massachusetts politician, own the Fort Union Ranch, located northeast of Watrous. The ranch surrounds the historic Fort Union National Monument. An estimated 18 Butler heirs own the ranch through their aptly named Union Land and Grazing Co. of Colorado Springs, CO. Family members apparently have never lived on the land.

     In his half-century in politics, Butler was a piece of work. As a Northern Democrat favoring suppression of the South, he earned Abraham Lincoln's gratitude and appointment as a major general. Incompetent as a field commander, he drew the nickname ``Beast Butler'' during his stint governing occupied New Orleans for ordering that any local woman showing disrespect to Union soldiers be treated as a hooker. After the war, Butler was elected to Congress, served one term as Massachusetts governor, ran for President on the Greenback Party ticket and wrote an autobiography that one commentator called ``remarkable for its abuse of his long list of enemies.'' He died in 1893 at age 74.

     Somehow, Butler found time to buy land in the Southwest. He is said to have acquired the Fort Union Ranch through business dealings with people in Santa Fe. Built in 1851, Fort Union was for a time the largest military post in the Southwest. Besides serving as a supply depot, it guarded the Santa Fe Trail, two prongs of which intersect six miles away, and soldiers from there battled Indian tribes in the 1880s. The arrival of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway prompted the Federal Government to abandon the outpost in 1891.

     In 1954, the Butler family, which had gotten it back, donated the fort and 720 acres around it to the feds, according to Union Land treasurer Daniel Kipp. The fort is a tourist attraction. The surrounding ranch is used to raise cattle. The property contains a number of notable features, including craters, lakes and the Turkey Mountains.


15. J.A. WHITTENBURG III, Dallas TX and Amarillo TX

T-O Ranch

85,000 acres in Colfax County


     In the Texas Panhandle the Whittenburg family has been a very big name since 1926 when extremely serious oil was found under the cattle lands of J.A. Whittenburg in Hutchinson County, northeast of Amarillo. The extended clan once owned the daily newspapers in Amarillo and Lubbock and still hold a number of ranches.

     Sometime in the 1970s great-grandson James A. Whittenburg III bought the T-O Ranch east of Raton. This Whittenburg--once described in print as ``tall and handsome''--has excellent credentials, with long experience in ranching. He has gained attention for efforts to work on a cross-breeding program intended to increase efficiency of commercial grade cattle.

     Whittenburg is only the fourth owner of the T-O, which was put together in the 1880s. It's quite a spread. In addition to 12,000 acres of leased state land, the sprawling property sports 62 pastures, a 5,500-square foot territorial-style residence, lots of outbuildings for cowboys, big-game hunting, plenty of nice views and a 5,000-foot-long runway with hanger.

     However, tragedy struck in July 1995 when a helicopter Wittenburg was piloting crashed on another family ranch near Borger TX. His wife was killed, and he was severely injured. Recently, say associates, Wittenburg married again, to a long-time friend, and moved to Dallas.

     The T-O was just listed for sale. Asking price: $22 million, which works out to a pricey $250 per deeded acre. But hey, annual property taxes are only $8,000. Whittenburg, 64, did not respond to telephone calls.


16. CORN FAMILY, Roswell

Eden Valley Farm, Salt Creek Farm, Corn Ranch, Jones Ranch, other holdings

85,000 acres in Chaves and Lincoln Counties


     In 1879 Martin Van Buren Corn--born a few months after the country's eighth president left office in 1841 following his defeat for re-election--brought his wife and seven children from Texas to New Mexico in a covered wagon caravan. Through homestead and open-market purchases, he established a 384-acre spread five miles south of Roswell, developing a thriving farm and livestock operation. One of the horses that Corn raised, in fact, was sold to noted lawman Pat Garrett. Billy The Kid--New Mexico's best-known historical figure--stole the animal during his now-legendary, murderous breakout from the Lincoln County Jail in 1880.

     In 1893 Corn sold the farm for a tidy profit and the following year established Eden Valley Farm, 20 miles north of Roswell. He was buried there following his death in 1915 at age 76.

     But more than a century after Martin moved north of town, the Corn family still holds sway on both sides of U.S. Route 285. We figure the extended Corn family operates on about 185,000 acres of land, most of which is leased from the state and the rest owned by Corn heirs. Present-day operations are livestock and the growing of alfalfa. Over the years the family has tried to raise its namesake product, but the cornstalks didn't work out.

     By far the most famous Corn is great-grandson Miller (Hub) Corn, who grew up on Eden Valley Farm. In 1976 he bought some land on the west side of Route 285. In 1994 a pair of UFO researchers identified a spot on the land as yet another impact site of the Roswell Incident, the supposed 1947 crash of an alien flying saucer. Quickly realizing the commercial potential, Hub opened a tourist attraction, charges visitors $15 and gets thousands of takers. Hub himself has been on many television shows and even movies.

     Next month is the 50th anniversary of the Roswell Incident. Says Hub, ``We're looking for a big summer.''


17. R.A. (HAP) CANNING, Capitan

Block Ranch

65,000 acres in Lincoln County


     Just north of the Capitan Mountains between Socorro and Roswell sits the Block Ranch, one of the state's older spreads. It had been a cattle ranch for years when Billy The Kid shot up nearby Lincoln in the 1870s. One early owner was lawyer William C. McDonald, who in 1912 became New Mexico's first governor as one of the United States.

     But since 1964 the Block has been the property of veteran rancher R.A. (Hap) Canning. He bought it from a fellow named Brutton, who, Canning recalls, ``was getting kind of old and thought he was going to kick off.'' The implication here is that Canning got a good deal. The 69-year-old Canning, who has bought and sold other ranches in New Mexico, won't say, except to declare the Block is now worth three times what he paid for it.

     This is one spread not likely to stay in the family. Canning, who lives on the property, has five children but, as he puts it, ``they're not involved much in the ranch.'' He's thought about selling it but won't--at least not yet. ``Uncle Sam and the taxes would take about half of it away if I sold it,'' he says. ``So, you see, all that ranching is not all fun and games."



Park Springs Ranch

60,000 acres in San Miguel County


     Located halfway between Las Vegas and Santa Rosa, the Park Springs Ranch has been owned since 1984 by John Brittingham and his family. It's a homecoming of sorts. ``An uncle with a partner owned it from around 1927 to 1937," Brittingham says. ``People say, 'I bet you were glad to get it back in the family.' That was just an accident. There was no intention of doing anything like that."

     But Brittingham, who owned a ranch in Colorado, knew all about the Park Springs and wanted it. "I've been ranching since the 50's, and I've been in all 50 states, he says. The Park Springs ``is not only a good cattle ranch, it is also very scenic. There's mesas and springs and canyons.''

     There was also a problem: ``It was way larger than I could trade for myself,'' he says. But family members were willing to sell their interest in a Texas ranch. The result: the Park Springs is two-fifths owned by Brittingham himself and three-fifths owned by a trust benefiting siblings and himself. ``I lease that (the trust part) from them and operate the cattle operation on the whole thing as one piece.''

     Besides the scenery, there's a fair amount of history. The ruins of Fort Hatch, a satellite fort of the famous Fort Union, are on the properly along with the remains of about 200 old stone houses.



Doherty Ranch, Doherty Investment Co., other holdings

60,000 acres in Union County


     "My grandfather came to Folsom in about 1900," says Dan Doherty Jr. "We've been ranching in northeastern New Mexico and southeastern Colorado ever since." There was no Spanish grant land left when Grandpa--Joe Doherty--  arrived in Folsom, 40 miles east of Raton along the Cimmaron River, to open a mercantile and run cattle on the side. So he assembled his holding by buying from other ranchers.

     Joe died in 1944, and the store and ranches eventually fell to Dan Doherty Sr. He died in 1963. The store also closed during the 1960s.

     Today, about 10 to 15 family members -- everyone from grandchildren to cousins -- have ranches in the region. The family's land ownership is spread among individuals, partnerships and corporations.


20. JAY TAYLOR FAMILY, Albuquerque and Amarillo TX

Jay Taylor Ranch

60,000 acres in Socorro County


     It was economics -- plus a love of land -- that prompted Jay Taylor to begin buying gobs of parched sheep land west of Socorro in the 1930s atop the grandly named Plains of San Agustin. Acreage prices around his hometown of Amarillo TX had simply become too steep for his wallet. Taylor figured he could get a lot more bang for the buck a day's drive to the west.

     With further acquisitions, Taylor over time developed a model cattle ranch. There were other developments, too. Some UFO buffs claim the 1947 Roswell Incident flying saucer crash occurred near the ranch. In the 1970s the federal government took a slice of the ranch to build the Very Large Array project, the world's largest concentration of spaceward-facing radio telescopes.

     Taylor died in 1980. (The obituary in his hometown paper dubbed him ``Mr. Beef.'') But the ranch, plus some Texas acreage, remains in the family. Says one of his children, Penny Taylor Rembe, an Albuquerque businesswoman and University of New Mexico regent, "If you want a big, flat place, it's gorgeous."


21. BAEZA FAMILY, Chihuahua, Chihuahua, Mexico

Baeza and Baeza Ranch, B&B Cattle Co.

55,000 acres in Guadalupe and Lincoln Counties


     Throughout the Mexican province of Chihuahua, just south of New Mexico, the Baeza family is a well-known name. Fernando Baeza was once governor, and members of the extended Baeza family are prominent in the cattle business, particularly on the export side. In the past decade or so the Baeza clan has acquired several ranches in New Mexico to go with a big spread it owns near Van Horn TX and acreage in Mexico.

     What is now the Baeza and Baeza Ranch, located near Santa Rosa, was purchased about 10 years ago from Dorothy Johnson for $60 an acre. It was a classic case of a motivated seller and a canny buyer. ``My brother-in-law borrowed money from the bank to buy cattle,'' says Johnson, whose grandfather started working the land in the 1800s. ``The market went bad and we never could get out of debt. There was nothing left on the ranch.'' But, she adds laughing, she lives ``right across the road from the property. I get to see it every day.''

     The spread in Lincoln County is located about 23 miles south of Corona. It was purchased from another rancher in debt and renamed B&B Cattle Co. Inc.

     We managed to get Nestor Baeza, the man who runs the cattle operation, at his office in Chihuahua. He confirmed the ranch ownerships but said he wouldn't discuss details on the telephone.

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