SMS Ranch History
SWENSON, SWANTE MAGNUS (1816–1896). Swante (Svante, Sven, Swen) Magnus Swenson (Svenson), entrepreneur, founder of the SMS Ranch, and first Swedish immigrant to Texas, was born at Lättarp, Barkeryds Parish, Jönköping, Sweden, on February 24, 1816, the son of Margreta and Anders (Andrew) Swenson. After clerking in a store for a time, he migrated to America in 1836. Most accounts of his life say his ship burned upon his arrival in New York harbor, thus he came ashore with nothing more than the clothes on his back. He stayed briefly in the city, working as a store clerk and learning English, then worked as a railroad bookkeeper in Baltimore, Maryland, before arriving in Texas in 1838. There he was employed by John Adriance, of Columbia, who operated a large mercantile business. Adriance supplied goods which Swenson peddled from a ambulance-type carriage bearing the sign Columbus Supply House. While making his rounds Swenson became friends with Dr. George Long, who owned a plantation near Richmond. Long was in poor health and convinced Swenson to become his overseer. After the doctor's death in 1842, the widowed Jeanette Long returned to Tennessee to visit relatives, and Swenson took charge of the plantation. In 1843 Swenson bought a neighboring plantation, and on December 12, 1843, he married Jeanette Long. Although Swenson used slave labor on the Louisiana plantations, he was basically opposed to the system and foresaw its imminent downfall. His views on the matter may have been one of the reasons behind his efforts to encourage Swedish immigration to Texas, which he began in 1847 on a trip to Sweden during which he offered to pay the fares of several immigrants in exchange for a year of their labor on his plantations. He continued this work throughout his life; after the Civil War he, his uncle Swante Palm (Swen Jaenssonqv), and a brother in Sweden began running an informal Swedish immigration service often referred to as the "Swedish pipeline".
By 1850 Swenson had moved to Austin and established a mercantile business with Palm. Shortly after the move, Swenson's wife died of tuberculosis in Tennessee; the couple had had no children. While running the store Swenson continued to buy land; he submitted newspaper ads announcing that he would pay top dollar for headright certificates. In 1854 he invested in the Buffalo Bayou, Brazos and Colorado Railway, which gained him 100,000 acres of land in northwestern and western Texas. He eventually became one of the largest landowners in Texas. In 1851 Swenson married Susan McReady; they had four children, including two sons, Eric Pierson and Swen Albin, who ran the SMS Ranch on the West Texas lands Swenson had acquired. While in Austin Swenson served two terms (in 1852 and 1856) as a county commissioner, and in 1853 he became the first treasurer of the State Agricultural Society. He also expanded his mercantile business beyond the city limits, using his string of freight wagons to sell supplies to outlying forts.
During the secession crisis, Swenson, who opposed both northern and southern radicalism, agreed to help Governor Sam Houston in an attempt to prevent Texas secession; Swenson was to raise supplies for an independent Texas army and in 1861 was promised a commission as quartermaster-general on Houston's staff, a position with the rank of colonel. When the effort failed, Swenson, who by this time had sold all his slaves, remained in Texas but vowed that he would not aid the South and that he would never take up arms against the United States. Despite his Unionism, Swenson was allowed for a time to continue his business in Austin, and, acting as an agent for the Swedish government, he arranged for the exportation of Texas cotton abroad. Though Governor Francis R. Lubbock allowed Swenson to leave the state several times, his travel caused a great outcry among politically powerful secessionists. In the fall of 1863 Swenson, in fear for his life, transferred ownership of his Austin store to relatives and fled to Monterrey, Mexico, where he stayed until late in the summer of 1864, when he went to Sweden to visit his mother. According to some accounts, upon his return he met briefly with President Abraham Lincoln and spoke with him about Texas and the Union.
By 1865 Swenson had gone to New Orleans and set up a large mercantile business in partnership with William Perkins; he also purchased a sugar plantation. Later that year he took his family to live in New York City, where he established the financial house of Swenson Perkins Company. After dissolving the Perkins partnership, Swenson established the banking house of S. M. Swenson and Sons. When this business was discontinued, he became a large depositor in the National City Bank, later the First National City Bank of New York. Though he lived the last thirty years of his life in New York, he maintained his ties to Texas, operating a clearinghouse for Texas products, continuing his work as a cotton agent, and regularly visiting his extensive land holdings. In 1891 he presented his large collection of ancient coins to the University of Texas, where they were displayed at the Texas Memorial Museum. Swenson died on June 13, 1896, in Brooklyn, New York, and was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.
In 1836, Swante Magnus Swenson arrived from Sweden and bought over 100,000 acres of the buffalo bayou, Brazos and Colorado Railway land. In 1882 when the government started imposing taxes, Swante enlisted his two sons Eric P. and Swen A. to find a way for the land to pay for itself. Fencing in 50,000 acres in Jones and Shackelford counties and adding cattle, the SMS brand was born. The SMS continued to build their land holdings and by 1898 had acquired 400,000 acres in parts of King, Motley, and Dickens counties that they called the Spur Ranch. The brothers also acquired 78,000 acres in Cottle County, which is now known as the Tongue River Ranch.
The Swenson Ranch has changed and evolved since its start, however one thing has remained the same: a long standing rich heritage. Swenson Land and Cattle is owned by Bruce and Perry Swenson and their children. All direct descendants of Swante Magnus Swenson.
The Swenson family is committed to a long-term future in the cattle industry. Their major challenge today is the responsibility to be profit-driven, while keeping alive their 152 year heritage.
Keeping a tradition of excellence, profitability and SMS culture is the families primary goal. They have taken a very proactive approach to making cowboy heritage a big part of the day-to-day operations. The SMS has Reinstated traditional practices such as the use of the horse-drawn chuck wagon during branding and weaning.
Today, the SMS takes pride in producing quality Hereford cross and black baldy cattle and horses that are bred for ranch work. Today’s ownership is headed by Stephen T. Swenson, President of Swenson Land & cattle Co. and a family board which includes sons and daughters of both Bruce B. Swenson and R.P. Swenson.
An Indelible Brand
This historic livestock brand was fashioned from the initials of Swante Magnus Swenson, a Swedish immigrant who came to the United States the year the Alamo fell and in time became a wealthy merchant, cotton agent, entrepreneur and one of the largest landowners in Texas. In 1882 the Rolling Plains ranches he had acquired in the 1850s were incorporated as the Swenson Land & Cattle Company.
One hundred and twenty-nine years later, the famous SMS brand remains in proud use by his heirs.
In 1920, in A Ranchman's Recollections, longtime manager Frank Hastings tallied 1,100 horses on the ranch, including 500 for cattle work; 100 for farm, freighting or team work, and 275 broodmares. "The cow horse contingent takes care of 400,000 acres, conservatively stocked with cattle," he wrote.
Today, after a century of land sales, the Swenson Ranch comprises about 60,000 acres in Jones, Haskell, Stonewall and Throckmorton Counties, with leased operations in Kent County Texas, Wyoming, and Nebraska. The company is still headquartered in the 1924 Swenson Building just off the square in Stamford, the town north of Abilene created from 640 acres donated by the family.
2000 thousand black cows graze the SMS pastures. The horse operation includes a band of broodmares and 50 saddle horses for the five full-time cowboys. Almost 7,000 acres of grain sorghum and winter wheat keep two farmers busy year-round.
The ranch has a long history of innovation. Early in the last century, Hastings pioneered mail order sales of its trophy-winning registered Herefords to Midwest farmers. The SMS was among the first to dehorn young cattle for easier feedlot handling, to price animals by the pound for market, to engage in large-scale brush clearing, and until recently, to retail its own ranch-raised beef. For decades, part of its Throckmorton acreage was operated as a Texas A&M experimental station.
In the last four years, Swenson Ranch general manager Dennis Braden has introduced Angus bulls to the cow herd to produce "black baldie" englesh calves with hybrid vigor.
Income from hunting - quail, dove, deer, ducks, feral hogs, and wild turkey - is an important source of ranch income. the assistant manager, Mark Voss, have been instramental in rejuvenated the horse breeding program.
The SMS breeding band, according to Hastings, was started in 1882 with 50 "Spanish" mares purchased from a trader. "They were "small, mean, tough, quick as a cat and had the 'cow instinct.'"
The ranch acquired a pure white Arabian stallion, nicknamed Old Arab. "For years," wrote Hastings, "the SMS Ranch remuda could be identified at a great distance by the predominance of white horses in it."
Experiments followed with Thoroughbred, Standardbred, Morgan, Missouri saddle stock, and draft-horse blood, "mixed beyond all hope of accurate classification." The fools and outlaws - "the scalawag bunch" - were cut out and sold, leaving a remuda of solid cow ponies and farm horses.
Long ago the SMS converted to Quarter Horses. In the 1990s the ranch used a Three Bars son named Fly Cee Two and currently stands Smart Salute (2008 Sorrel Stallion by Smart Little Lena out of Starlight Salute by Grays Starlight) and Peptos Dancer LEna (2007 Red Roan Stallion by Peptoboonsmal out of Cancan Kitty by High Brow Cat)
"Our goal," says Dennis, "is to produce horses that make good tools for our men, and then sell some of them at mid-age as gentle, experienced, mature ranch geldings.
Every spring, the cowboys pick through the crop of two-year-olds to add to their individual saddle strings. The Swenson horses are branded with a single backward S on the left shoulder. To put the miles on those green mounts - and to save on fuel bills - pastures are prowled and cattle are checked on horseback rather than from pickups. At the two-week spring working, calves are roped and dragged to the fire for branding, instead of using a calf table. The herds are gathered again in the fall for weaning.
A Lubbock native and a graduate of the TCU Ranch Management School, Dennis has managed outfits in Wyoming, Montana, Colorado and New Mexico before picking up the reins at the Swenson in 2005.
Mark Voss, who has worked for numerous West Texas and New Mexico “big outfits” grew up in Santa Rosa New Mexico, he is now the assistant manager at the SMS.
They are assisted by Carroll Jack Lewis, Alan Rabel, Brad Good and Wes Bennett, who's worked for the SMS for 23 years, Edward Harris who grew up on the ranch and has been employed by the SMS for 26 years. Anselmo and Servando Martinez have been farming the SMS wheat pastures for 25 years.
For recreation, the SMS cowboys compete as a team in ranch rodeos across West Texas including Abilene’s Western Heritage, Wichita Falls Ranch Rodeo, Red Steagall’s Cowboy Gathering, the Fort Worth Stock show’s Ranch Rodeo, the Haskell Wild Horse Prairie Days, and the Roaring Springs Old Settlers Rodeo.