At the young age of fourteen, Eli Pentecost Davis left his Missouri home to join the Confederate cause as a drummer boy. By the War's end, Mr. Davis was discharged in Galveston and began scrounging for work on farms before taking post as a tanner for 18 months. As remuneration for his work, the young E.P. accepted tanned hides which he eventually traded for fifty steers starting his career in the cattle business. For the next several years, he became a full-fledged cowboy, driving cattle north on drives through Indian Territory to Kansas. He eventually settled in Throckmorton County, Texas and began purchasing land and even more cattle. Upon his death in 1902, his estate was divided amongst his wife and six surviving children including Alice Elizabeth "Allie" McKnight. This land became the foundation of the McKnight Ranch.
Mrs. McKnight's two sons, Jim and Jack, eventually inherited the ranch and oversaw a cultural shift in the business. When oil was discovered on the ranch in the 1940s by Humble and Petrofina, the dynamic of the age-old cattle industry was forever changed. Texas Tea now bubbled from the ground and agriculture became more profitable than ever. As the King Ranch has often stated, "A cow prospers better in the shadow of an oil well than anywhere else."
The credit for much of today's growth and progress on the McKnight Ranch belongs to Jim's son, Ross McKnight. In the late 1970s, he began purchasing land adjacent to the 2,300 acres (500 deeded and 1800 life estate) he inherited and implemented an aggressive range management strategy to remove all mesquites and prickly-pear cacti. This practice has returned the range back to its original, prairie state allowing for a more intensive, cow-calf stocking ratio. The greatest opportunity for progress, though, came when the major oil companies began leaving the region in the 70s and 80s. This allowed Ross to form his own exploration and operating company, RoMac Oil & Gas, which today operates over 150 wells across the ranch and throughout Throckmorton and adjacent counties.
Today, the McKnight Ranch totals 56,000 acres and includes much of the original E.P. Davis Estate and part of the historic Swenson Ranch that once encompassed over 100,000 contiguous acres in Throckmorton and Haskell Counties. Ross and his son Trent raise a herd of 2,500 commercial Brangus cows and farm 3,000 acres of wheat and hay. In 2005, Trent began a wildlife management program to improve the genetic quality and habitat for the numerous deer, quail, wild hogs, turkeys, coyotes and other vermin that reside on the ranch.
Like most businesses, a ranch must continue to progress with the times if it will sustain itself through the generations. Over the past 125 years, the McKnight Ranch has incorporated new management practices, enhanced its genetics, and diversified its operations to include cultivation, oil and gas production, and wildlife management. The times required these adaptations but it is still the same ranch, still the same land, and still the same soil. Men will come and men will go, but the land is forever.