Mariposa Ranch Collection

Identity elements

Reference code

TxAM-CRS C000029

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Mariposa Ranch Collection


  • 1890-1962 (Creation)


87 Boxes

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Administrative history

Hacienda de la Mariposa was situated in the state of Coahuila, District of Monclova, 27 miles north of Musquiz, 50 miles northwest of Sabinas, and 90 miles from Eagle Pass, Texas.

With capital backing from the Learmonth family, a Scottish entrepreneur in Australia, Mr. David Harkness McKellar, an emigrant from Australia and New Zealand in the late 1880s, purchased over 250,000 acres in Coahuila and founded La Hacienda de la Mariposa in 1890.

The ranch sat in an open valley formed by a fork of the Santa Rosa Mountains which marked the western and northern boundaries and protected it from the cold north winds in winter. These mountains yielded from its canyons an almost inexhaustible supply of cedar and oak timber for fencing and building purposes. The eastern boundary faced the open plains country.

The southern boundary was originally marked by the Sabinas River, a beautifully clear mountain river, ever-flowing and fringed by large cypress trees. Well stocked with fish, it was not only a place of recreation, but also provided a pleasant change of diet. In later years, after the appropriation of 10,000 acres of land by the government, the boundary was moved further north.

Pastures were traversed by creek beds, called arroyos, which provided additional watering areas for the cattle There were ten natural springs, nine being ordinary water and the other a mineral water spring. Soil on the southern half was a good red chocolate and the northern half a combination of sandy loam and a black, friable earth.

Grasses and forage plants thrived exceptionally well in this region, growing much taller than in Colorado or southern Texas. The stony soil helped preserve the moisture at the root of the plants. The nutritious Gramma grass, well known among ranchers, was abundant in the area. Bermuda, mesquite, sotol, palmetto and guajillo grew wild in the area and were much sought after by the stock. The nopal, or prickly pear cactus, grew abundantly in the canyons.

At an altitude of 1800 to 2500 feet, the ranch enjoyed a semi-tropical climate with 23 inches average annual rainfall. Thus it was a pleasant residence both winter and summer.

The ranch was sold in the early 1960s by Alden Scott McKellar, a grandson of its founder, David Harkness McKellar.

Content and structure elements

Scope and content

This collection chronicles the day-to-day history of the Mariposa Ranch of Coahuila, Mexico which was owned by Australian brothers and managed by several generations of family friends originally from New Zealand.

The collection spans the years 1880-1955 and consists of three basic parts, personal correspondence, business correspondence, and miscellaneous business papers. Included are letters, diaries, minutes, proceedings, printed material, financial documents, legal documents, photographic and audio material, maps, charts, graphs, and lists that chronicle the history of La Hacienda de la Mariposa and document the hard work and political savvy of the McKellars as they tried to balance the economic and business necessities of running a ranch, with the political realities of the Mexican Revolution and land reform.

System of arrangement

This collection is organized into 3 series and primarily arranged chronologically, with some materials arranged alphabetically.

Series 1, Personal Correspondence, 1902-1955
Consists of over 900 letters written between the Learmonth brothers, Stanley Learmonth and James Allen Learmonth, and Ernest F. Black, and between the Learmonth brothers and David Skene McKellar. These letters detail earnings, business analyses, ranch operations, and expenses, and literate expositions on local as well as national Mexican politics. There is also a handwritten bound volume of letters from Ernest Black to the Learmonth brothers in Australia dated December 29, 1902, to September 30, 1907. Other significant correspondents include Sara Scott McKellar and Jesus M. Palacios.

Series 2, Business Correspondence, 1882-1955 (bulk: 1902-1955)
Consists of approximately 15,000 letters documenting the activities relating to every facet of ranch operations such as ordering supplies and cattle sales. Much of this correspondence is with factors in Texas, Missouri, and New Mexico in addition to local factors in Musquiz, Coahuila, as well as with the Camara Ganadera de Coahuila and Mexican National Land Mortgage and Investment Company. In this series, there are also 11 handwritten bound volumes of outgoing correspondence (1890-1918) from the Mariposa Ranch by Stanley Learmonth, James Allen Learmonth, and Earnest F. Black.

Series 3, Miscellaneous Business Papers, 1921-1962
Consists of a total of 22 bound volumes of diaries and cattle records that recount the daily activities of the Mariposa Ranch, including a very complete daily rehearsal of weather conditions, rainfall, ranch and family activities, as well as ranch visitors, (including Sterling C. Evans in the 1920s and Charles Lindbergh). Each volume is handwritten and carefully dated.

In addition, there are numerous maps, plats, organizational documents, contracts, Mexican political tracts as well as the organizational charter handwritten on vellum. An interview with Alden Scott Mckellar and photographic materials fill in some of the gaps in the papers and the family history not reflected in the papers.

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These materials are stored offsite and require additional time for retrieval.

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Copyright is retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.

Languages of the material

  • English

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Archivist's note

© Copyright 2019 Cushing Library. All rights reserved.

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