The Burnett family has long been dedicated to the responsible stewardship of the land and water resources of their ranch holdings. Over time, this has even included land they leased in the Indian territory of Oklahoma around the turn of the 20th century. This gained them the respect of Commanche chief Quanah Parker, who became a family friend.
At one time, the Burnett ranches included more than a third of a million acres. After 1980, however, various parcels, such as the Triangle Ranch, were sold. Today, the two main ranches – the 6666 Ranch near Guthrie and the Dixon Creek Ranch near Panhandle – total 275,000 acres.
While cattle and ranching were the cornerstones upon which the Burnett Family fortunes were founded, it was the discovery of oil that allowed the business grow and led to the establishment of the Burnett Foundation which today benefits so many worthy causes.
Actual drilling of Gulf No. 2 Burnett, 16 miles north of Panhandle, Texas, began in November, 1920 and was completed in April, 1921. It was 3,052 feet deep, and 175 barrels were produced during the first 24 hours of pumping. The well produced constantly for more than 50 years. This was the first oil well brought in on the Texas Panhandle Field, relatively small compared to future wells, one of which produced 10,000 barrels a day.
Following this first discovery, hundreds of people flooded the town of Panhandle. Oil field workers, lawyers, firefighters and lumbermen literally changed the city in a very short time. So busy was the Panhandle Oil Field from 1919 to 1957, that it was considered too dangerous to smoke where the drilling was taking place, so the men took up chewing tobacco like the old favorite brands Mail Pouch and Beech Nut.
Captain Burnett, who died in June 1922, did not live long enough to enjoy this increasing wealth. Not a problem: he was rich without it. He foresaw and wrote to his friend, Sid Williams, a couple years before he died, “This puts four of the best outfits in Texas drilling in there [Dixon Creek Ranch], and they should get something by spring if there is any oil field up there. Of course, this would put the ranch out of business as far as cattle are concerned. But there is more money in oil than cattle, don’t you think?”
Oil continued to be an important part of the Burnett Legacy, as over the years more wells were brought in. In 1969, another large field was struck, this one at the Four Sixes Ranch in Guthrie.
Author F. Stanley wrote: “When it comes to the history of oil in Texas, the name Burnett is definitely one to be reckoned with. In all probability, oil would have been discovered in the Panhandle whether Burnett leased the 6666 pasture or not. But the fact remains that he did, and oil as a big business in this section of Texas began with this ranch because of the Discovery Well.”
The Four Sixes is a place of continuity and tradition. Through the years, there have been just six managers at the ranch headquarters in Guthrie, Texas: J.W. “Bud” Arnett, Horace Bryant, George Humphreys, J.J. Gibson, Jr., his son Mike Gibson, and Joe Leathers.
Today, the Four Sixes Ranch in Texas represents both the present and the past. This is largely due to the foresight of Captain Samuel “Burk” Burnett and the management and support of his descendants, who value their heritage and the prominent ranch’s place in the history of Texas and the American West.
(For more information on the history of the Four Sixes and the Burnett family, as well as photographs of the ranch, please refer to the beautiful book “6666: Portrait of a Texas Ranch”, by photographer Wyman Meinzer and author Henry Chappell, available for sale through the Four Sixes Supply House.)