Thomas Loyd Burnett (1871 - 1938)

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About Thomas Loyd Burnett

Profile photo: Thomas Loyd Burnett with Comanche Chief Quanah Parker

Thomas Loyd Burnett blazed his own trail. Born December 10, 1871, he was one of three children of Samuel “Burk” Burnett and Ruth Loyd, daughter of M.B. Loyd, the Fort Worth banker. At the time of his father’s death in 1922, Tom was the famous old cowman’s only living child.


Starting as a ranch hand, Tom learned the cattle business in the 1880s and 1890s in the Indian country between the Wichita Mountains. After school in Fort Worth, St. Louis and at the Virginia Military Institute, the 16-year-old began moving cattle on the Burk Burnett Ranch. When autumn came, he worked as a wagon hand in the Comanche-Kiowa Reservation, drawing the same wages as other cowboys.


For five years, he worked as a line rider on his father’s ranch, which spread over more than 50,000 acres on the Red River. As he approached the age of 21, Tom was made wagon boss of the Nation (Indian Territory) wagon. That same year, on Oct. 8, 1891, he married Olive “Ollie” Lake of Fort Worth, and the couple lived at the Burnett Ranch House while Tom ran the Indian Territory unit of the Four Sixes Ranch. They had one daughter, Anne Valliant, born in 1900.


Tom had good instincts about horses and cattle, and he was respected among cowmen and ranch hands following several incidents. In 1898, during a bitter-cold March wind, Tom had the task of moving 5,000 steers across the Red River from the Indian Territory to shipping pens on the Texas side. He got the herd across in weather few cattlemen would have faced. Another time, In 1902, with a chuck wagon and a few hands, he drove 90 horses owned by his grandfather, M.B. Loyd, through the open country from Palo Pinto County to the Four Sixes Ranch in Guthrie.


In 1905, the Burnett’s hosted a wolf hunt in the Big Pasture, land leased from Comanche and Kiowa Indians, and invited President Theodore Roosevelt and others, including Chief Quanah Parker, as guests. Tom took a chuck wagon, horses and a group of cowboys to a site near present day Frederick, Okla., where he set up camp for the President’s 10-day stay. In a letter dated April 20, 1905, Roosevelt wrote to his son, Ted: “I do wish you could have been along on this trip.” The hunters, he explained, had “17 wolves, three coons and any number of rattlesnakes.” The President also wrote, “You would have loved Tom Burnett, son of the big cattleman. He is a splendid fellow, about 30 years old and just the ideal of what a young cattleman should be.” One of Tom’s proudest possessions was the saddle Roosevelt used on that hunt. The President’s assessments were accurate: at age 30, Tom had already established himself as a respected cowboy and was on his way to becoming a cattle baron. He had his own cattle, leased the old ranch in Wichita County and established his home and headquarters eight miles east of Electra. In 1910, he acquired the 26,000 acre Triangle Ranch at Iowa Park.


When M.B. Loyd died in 1912, Tom inherited one-fourth of his grandfather’s Wichita County properties and a large sum of money. Oil discoveries in the county further enlarged his fortune.


In 1918 or 1919, variously recorded, Tom and Ollie divorced. This did not please Captain Burnett, who had very high regard for his daughter-in-law Ollie and her thoughtful and sensible ways. Tom’s subsequent marriages were short-lived.


Tom continued to expand his Triangle holdings, buying five ranches in the next 15 years. These were consolidated into one vast range of more than 100,000 acres. As an independently wealthy cattleman, Tom became a rodeo impresario, financing and promoting some of the biggest rodeos in the Southwest. He also developed a passion for good cow horses and later bred Palominos that he featured in fairs, parades and rodeos.


Following in the footsteps of his grandfather M.B. Loyd and father Burk Burnett, Tom grew interested in banking and civic development and became a major stockholder in the Iowa Park State Bank. In the Depression of the 1930s, he often helped people in need, one example being a sizeable donation to the town of Wichita Falls to buy lunches for school children.


Tom Burnett died on December 26, 1938, leaving his estate to his only child, Anne Valliant Burnett. His death came in the midst of a long-range campaign to build a fortune equal to that of his father. He fell short of that objective, but he was known in the cattle world as one of the pacesetters of his time. Tom was described by friends as a man who represented the Old West and stood for its traditional ideals of generosity and rugged fair play.