Commonly referred to as the "Four Sixes" Ranch (after its brand, which is, unsurprisingly, "6666"), this is one of the largest and most famous cattle ranches in American history.

Legend has it that the ranch's brand originated when Samuel "Burk" Burnett won the ranch in a poker game with a winning hand of four sixes. However, the truth is that Burnett purchased a herd of cattle with the "6666" brand when he was starting his ranching empire. No one knows how the original owners came up with the brand...

Burnett was born in Bates County, Missouri on January 1, 1849. His father was a farmer until the family home was destroyed in the Ruffian and Jayhawker raids in the 1850s. The family moved south and settled in the area of Denton, Texas when Burk was just ten years old. His father started ranching, and Burk followed in his daddy's footsteps when he was about 19 years old. He purchased his first 100 head of cattle in 1867, and by 1873, was driving 1,100 steers to market in Wichita, Kansas.

Burk began buying land and established his headquarters near what would later become Wichita Falls, Texas. When a drought began to dry up the streams, he and several other ranchers convinced the local Kiowa and Comanche tribes to lease them nearly a million acres of land on their reservations. Burk also established a friendship with Comanche chief Quanah Parker. By all accounts, Burk genuinely respected the Indians and wanted to do right by them. The Comanches were especially fond of him, naming him Mas-Sa-Suta, or "Big Boss".

Later, Burk became friends with President Theodore Roosevelt, who helped the ranchers get extended leases on their lands. When Roosevelt visited them in 1905, Burk and some other ranchers took the president on an unusual bare-handed coyote hunt.

As the West developed and the open range shrunk, cattlemen needed to own a lot of land to stay in business, so Burk set about buying other ranches--including the 8 Ranch, the Dixon Creek Ranch, the Gradbury Ranch, the Triangle Ranch, and others--and soon, the 6666 stood on over a third of a million acres over a good portion of North and West Texas.

Burk died in 1922; his will required that two trustees be appointed to run the ranch. They and their successors managed the ranch and its holdings until 1980, when Burk's great-granddaughter took over ranch operations.

The 6666 Ranch is still in existence today. It isn't as large or as influential as it used to be, but it's still there, and it still produces several thousand cattle every year. Tourism is now a big part of ranch business, with the grand ranchhouse and supply house attracting visitors hungry for some of the history of the Old West.

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