The 40 Largest Private Landowners in New Mexico

NAMES ON THIS PAGE

   1. Henry Singleton
   2. R.E. (Ted) Turner
   3. Lee family
   4. Lane family
   5. Bidegain family
   6. King family   

From CROSSWINDS, New Mexico's largest alternative newspaper
June 1997

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1. HENRY SINGLETON, Beverly Hills CA
     Bar Y Ranch, Bigbee Ranch (now Lobo Ranch), Bojax Ranch, Canon de Agua Ranch, Conchas Ranch, Dan Trigg Ranch, Dunlap Ranch, Hollywood River Ranch, Latigo Ranch, Lloyd Ranch, Marley Ranch I, Marley Ranch II, Moon Ranch, 9-Bar Ranch, Payne Ranch, Pino Springs Ranch, San Cristobal Ranch, SEA Ranch, Shepherd Ranch, V.K. Jones Estate Ranch, Worley Ranch, other holdings
     1.2 million acres in Chaves, DeBaca, Guadalupe, Lincoln, Quay, San Miguel, Santa Fe and Torrance Counties
HAMMERING HANK

     Since the mid-1980s, Henry Singleton, about 80, a famous business executive and the founder of corporate comglomerate Teledyne Inc., has bought more than 20 ranches in New Mexico. Most fall along the U.S. Route 285 corridor from Santa Fe to Roswell with excursions into San Miguel and Quay Counties.
     One of the first purchase -- the historic, 81,000-acre San Cristobal Ranch south of Santa Fe -- came while Singleton was co-trustee of the blind trust of then-President Ronald Reagan's. It prompted speculation, apparently unfounded in fact, that Reagan had a secret chunk of the Land of Enchantment.
     Singleton's New Mexico buying continues. His latest purchase, in April: the 30,000-acre Shepherd Rranch in Guadalupe County. Singleton now owns more than 1.5% of New Mexico plus a 45,000-acre ranch in California.
     He is also notoriously closed-mouthed, and we couldn't get him to talk with us. But here's what he told the
Albuquerque Journal in 1987 after he had bought the first several of his many ranches: ``We hope to put any profits back into the improvement of the ranches ... What I'm interested in is improving the property as much as possible. I'm dedicated to the improvement of the land. I think everybody who owns property has the same feeling.'' Singleton is said to be a frequent visitor to New Mexico, where he says on the San Cristobal Ranch.

2. R.E. (TED) TURNER, Roswell GA
Vermejo Park Ranch, Pedro Armendaris Ranch, Ladder Ranch
1.15 million acres in Colfax, Sierra and Socorro Counties
TIME FOR LAND

     As of December, acccording to Worth magazine, media magnate Ted Turner was the nation's largest individual landowner, with 1.3 million acres. All but 150,000 acres of that lie in New Mexico. His holdings here consist of three big stakes: the 578,000-acre Vermejo Park Ranch near Raton, the 360,000-acre Pedro Armendaris Ranch near Elephant Butte, and the 210,000-acre Ladder Ranch near Truth or Consequences.
     His average price for his New Mexico land -- some of it among the country's most beautiful scenery -- probably works out to less than $100 an acre. He's acquired all of his New Mexico land since the mid-1980s. Despite the vast acreage it's still less than 6% of Turner's entire net worth.
     Turner has gotten much publicity for efforts to populate some of his spreads with buffalo and other native species. He recently got into hot water with some New Mexico ranchers when he told a New Mexico State University audience in Las Cruces that cattle ranching essentially makes no sense.
     Turner's Atlanta office confirmed the New mexivco acreage but said he was unavailable for an interview. We wondered why he wanted so much land. Here's what he told
Worth: ``Back when I was single, I had a lot of different girlfriends, and I went to the same place every weekend. But now that I'm happily married (to Jane Fonda), I take the same wife to different places every weekend. So there's a li'l variety.''

3. LEE FAMILY, San Mateo
Floyd Lee Ranch
300,000 acres in Cibola and McKinley Counties
TOUGH BUT CHEAP

     Returning from World War I, Floyd W. Lee signed up in 1919 as a $30-a-month bronc rider for Fernandez Co. The outfit held much of a spread continually operated since 1756 when Don Bartolome Fernandez won a grant from the King of Spain over the north face of towering Mount Taylor, one of the Navajo Tribe's sacred mountains. Eighty miles west of Albuquerque and 30 miles north of Grants, the ranch comes within 1,000 feet of the 11,301-foot-high mountain's peak. So this is some of New Mexico toughest range country--but  also some of the cheapest.
     Lee became ranch manager in 1939, and, using borrowed money, eventually bought out the owners. Then he got very lucky. In the early 1950s uranium was discovered in the vicinity, prompting the same boom that for a time made Grants one of the state's most prosperous cities. In 1955 two uranium prospecting firms filed a lawsuit alleging, among other things, that Lee had threatened to fire at agents using a public county road. ``I did tell them they might get shot,'' Lee told the
Albuquerque Journal, ``but I was referring to the fact that we have a lot of cyanide guns planted to kill coyotes. People who don't know where these guns are could get hurt easily.''
     Besides raising cattle and horses, the Lees also profited by leasing coal-bearing lands to what became Santa Fe Pacific Gold. An extremely conservative Republican, Floyd served 12 years in the state Senate. His wife, Frances, was a Republican national committeewoman.
     In July 1977 Floyd's son, Harry, 48, a ranch official, was flying back from Grants with the family doctor, Paul Eicher of Albuquerque, when the two-seat, single-engine plane Lee was piloting disappeared behind a hill in view of his relatives, including his twin sister, Harriet. They jumped into pickup trucks and discovered to their horror that the plane had crashed two miles away into Mount Taylor, killing both men.
     Perhaps the state's preeminent rancher, Floyd W. died in 1987 at age 91, his widow, three years later at age 89, and daughter Harriet, in 1991 at age 62. The ranch today is owned by Harry's widow, Iona, and her three children. Says one of them, Floyd, ``Ranching is our job.''

4. LANE FAMILY, Solano, Carbondale CO, Kremmling CO,
Lake Forest IL and elsewhere
Bell Ranch
290,000 acres in Harding and San Miguel Counties
RINGING THE BELL

     Here's a spread with a lot of history; it's even been the subject of several books. In 1824 Don Pablo Montoya, a former captain in the Spanish army with excellent political connections, petitioned the Mexican government for a grant of land. In the remarkably short period of 12 days, the authorities gave him the first of what would be two land grants totaling a gigantic 800,000-plus acres in eastern New Mexico northwest of present-day Tucumcari. The Bell Ranch--named for a similarly shaped and named mountain in the middle of the ranch--has been a working cattle spread for more than 170 years. The Conchas Lake Dam covers a portion of the old ranch with waters from the Canadian River.
     Over the decades it was the usual New Mexico story -- good years and bad times, financial bounty and economic distress. By 1867 the Montoya ownership was completely extinguished: Montoya's lawyer had taken it over! The ranch went through several reorganizations and in 1947 was divided up into six large parcels and sold to the highest bidder.
     In 1970 ownership of the largest-single chunk--so large it has its  own Zip Code, 88441--was acquired by William N. Lane II of Chicago, chairman and CEO of publicly traded General Binding Corp., a maker of office supplies and equipment. Further purchases have fleshed out the holding to its present size. Lane himself died in a 1978 car accident on the ranch.
     The ranch is now owned by a trust for Bill Lane's five children. A non-family member manages the ranch, although one son, Jeff, raises his family on the Bell. ``You can't beat the lifestyle,'' he says.

5. BIDEGAIN FAMILY, Tucumcari
T-4 Cattle Co.
180,000 acres in Guadalupe, Quay and San Miguel Counties
LOVE AND LAND

     In 1902 widow Yetta Kohn arrived with four children in Montoya, a whistlestop west of Tucumcari on what is now the Southern Pacific Railroad to take up a homestead and operate a mercantile store. The up-and-down nature of New Mexico weather and ranching caused many customers to suffer financially, affording opportunities for the canny land buyer. Through shrewd dealings and tradings, the oldest child, Howard, came to control considerable acreage around Montoya, which he called the Kohn Ranch.
     In 1923 he married his bookkeeper, Clara McGowan. A decade later she became a widow when Howard died after fighting a grass fire on the ranch. Clara assumed management control, weathering droughts and the Depression, and in 1938 marrying a Texas doctor who moved to the area. Then came the business deal of her life. In 1947 she found the scratch to more than double the size of the spread by acquiring the 115,000-acre southwestern corner of the whacked-up Bell Ranch called Mesa Rica Country (see Lane family, above).
     Nearly a century after the Kohn arrival in Montoya, the expanded T-4 Cattle Co., as it is now called, is still firmly in family hands. Clara's daughter, Yetta, married Phil Bidegain, a fellow student at the University of Arizona, and they returned to New Mexico in the late 1940s to assume management and ownership. Their son, Phil H., now manages the property, which is held for estate tax reasons by a family limited partnership.
     ``Father and mother had a great deal of love for the land,'' says Yetta Bidegain. Keenly aware of New Mexico's ranching heritage, she has been a registered lobbyist in Santa Fe pushing for construction of a farm and ranch museum in Las Cruces, which was dedicated two months ago.

6. KING FAMILY, Stanley
King Brothers Ranch, Alamo Ranch, Pine Canyon Ranch
170,000 acres in Sandoval, Santa Fe and Torrance Counties
THE LAND KINGS

     In 1917 William S. King and his wife Molly moved from southwestern Texas and swapped their truck for 160 acres of land around the southern Santa Fe County town of Stanley in the Estancia Valley. Over the years they gradually bought out their neighbors, often using proceeds from King's day job as a highway foreman.
     Bill King died in 1949, the year after the King spread was first irrigated. His three sons, Sam, Don and Bruce, continued the family ranching and farming business. Bruce, of course, went out to be a three-term governor of New Mexico before Gary Johnson sent him packing back to Stanley after the 1994 election.
     Over the years King family landholdings have been the subject of considerable debate and controversy. This is due to apparent financial problems by the Kings, governmental land swaps and return of land to lenders. Then there is disinformation put out by political rivals and perhaps even by Bruce King. He seems perfectly content to let everyone think he's hurting financially, since otherwise, as he told
Crosswinds last year, ``all your creditors would just be hunting ya.''
     In January 1993 the
Albuquerque Journal quoted King's office at the Roundhouse in Santa Fe as saying the family owned 275,000 acres of New Mexico. Based on our research, we think the extended King family owns about 170,000 acres, mostly the Alamo Ranch in Sandoval County northwest of Rio Rancho, acquired in 1961. The bulk of the value, however, might lie in an 800-acre parcel with development potential near Santa Fe the family got from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in the early 1990s for trading Cibola County land.
     While it's still hard to pin down Bruce on numbers, it's easy to get the 72-year-old politician talking about the joys of the outdoor life. ``The most rewarding thing is to see crops grow, to see what you can do with the land to make it productive," he said recently. ``It's very rewarding to make a clean, wholesome product the consumer can afford to buy. I enjoy the open air, Mother Nature and being outside with wild animals."

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