H-Bar History

By Ruth Burns: Freedom New Mexico correspondent

Editor’s note: This is the first of several articles about the H-Bar Ranch.

In the early days before the coming of the railroad, the ranch located closest to Clovis and Portales was the H-Bar.

The H-Bar, located where the Portales Country Club now stands, was established by some unlikely cowmen, and associated with some wild characters in its early days.

It was 1884, just 16 years since the end of the Civil War and three years since the death of Billy the Kid, that a group of Missourians traveled south to become cattle ranchers on the Llano Estacado.

These compadres from Cass County, Missouri, were W. G. and W. C. Urton, J. D. Cooley, and Lee Easley. They formed the Cass Land and Cattle Company and set up their operation on the Pecos River at Cedar Canyon, 60 miles northeast of the present site of Roswell.

With them came a close acquaintance, Dr. Hadley Winfrey. Winfrey had been sent to Pecos County by his brother, Dr. Caleb Winfrey, who had decided to move to the Southwest in search of a more healthy climate.

So in 1884, Hadley went ahead with his fellow Missourians to gather up a herd.

Col. Jack Potter, noted cowboy, author and historian, knew the Winfreys well. He worked on the roundup spring and summer with Hadley Winfrey throughout the Pecos roundups, when Hadley was gathering the cattle to move to the plains.

According to Potter, Dr. Caleb Winfrey was a peculiar man, “kind of a curiosity — not like western men.”

He was highly educated and once told Potter that, “the country starting from the Tu-les (near Melrose) on to Tierra Blanca, Portales Lake and on south was once a river, now covered up.” This area was later recognized as Black Water Draw and the old Brazos River.

Not typical cowmen, Winfrey and his bachelor brother Hadley had both been medical doctors in Kansas City, Missouri. Dr. Caleb had been a surgeon during the Civil War and was recognized for heroic action in the battle of Lone Jack Hill and other encounters.

Hadley acquired about 2,000 heifers at Fort Griffin, Texas, and ranged them with the Cass Company herd.

According to Potter, “In 1885 Winfrey and his family showed up at Fort Sumner and they prowled the whole country looking for a location so they could keep their herd intact.”

They decided on a spot with a living spring about one and one-half miles west of the present site of Portales and there they established the H-Bar Ranch.

Winfrey did not settle for the usual dugout or simple sod house as was customary for the rough and tough cowmen from Texas.

He built a spacious four-room adobe structure with a fireplace in each room. A pump was installed in the kitchen to bring up water from the well, and barns, store houses and corrals were erected, also of adobe.

He brought cottonwood switches from Fort Sumner and when the first ones died, he dug post holes to water and set the trees in these holes. For many years these were the only trees in the whole valley.

He also differed from the usual cowman by planting a garden and peach trees.

Their brand, “H with a Bar” under it, was taken from Hadley’s name, and at first was “H Bar W,” but later the “W” was dropped.

Sometimes the top section of the “H” was extended so that it reached across the back of a steer, thus the brand was visible on both sides of the animal.

The Winfreys’ sister, Mary Josie Easley, by then a widow with a little daughter, Leta, also came to live at the H-Bar. Their elderly mother and father often came from Missouri to spend the summer at the ranch.

In 1890, Mary received a patent on a parcel of land at the home site and was probably the first duly registered land owner in the Portales Valley.