The bar 88 was originally registered as a livestock brand by Eli Clapp at the courthouse in Columbus in March 1854. It has been continuous use ever since, a period of over a 150 years and so we call our ranch the 88 Ranch. The land is even older. Robert Cunningham was granted a league of land March 1833 as part of Stephen F. Austin’s second wave of colonists when Texas was still part of Mexico. Over 1,000 acres of the original league (4,428 acres) has passed down unbroken by inheritance ever since. Cunningham died at the Alamo, the only man from the district to do so. He left a widow and young daughter who are buried at the ranch cemetery, which is known as the Ijams Cemetery.
Although the land has passed down by inheritance, the Kearney family are not direct descendants of Robert Cunningham. Three old maids, Ninon and Leona Welch, and Jennie Clapp, were in a direct line with Cunningham but had no descendants; a dead end. They bequeathed by stages, beginning in 1932, the land to my father, who had spent many weeks in his youth working in the cattle camps that had been set up during the days of the Texas Tick Fever when all cattle in Texas had to be dipped every 21 days. My father also owned another tract of land several miles to the north that he had purchased in 1933 after he moved back to Columbus. We call this ranch the “Home Place,” because that is where my brother and I grew up. The old house is still in the family. The two tracts of land plus leased acreage make up the 88 Ranch as a ranching enterprise.
With its connection to Robert Cunningham, the 88 Ranch is a very historic piece of land. In addition to Cunningham, who, as mentioned, perished at the Alamo, our cemetery also has two veterans of the Battle of San Jacinto, Basil Ijams and Captain Hunt. The Old Gonzales Road, the road along which Santa Anna marched on his way to San Jacinto passes through the back side of the ranch.
My father ranched and my mother taught English during my whole childhood and adolescence. In addition to family land, my father also managed several large ranches for a wealthy Houston family and leased additional acreage for pasturage. When my brother and I were kids it was all mixed and was the same to us, but the net effect was that we had thousands of acres, much of it along the Colorado River and Skull Creek bottoms, over which to roam and make our fun. Hunting, fishing, horses, dogs, jeeps–It was a boy’s paradise and the memories are powerful. Years later, when I was at a crossroads in my life, the call of the land and a life close to the outdoors and to the fascinating characters who inhabited this world proved irresistible, and I chose the land over an academic career.
My wife and I made the decision to move and raise our young and growing family on the land where I spent my youth in 1976. We have never regretted the decision. My father and mother both believed very strongly that they had a duty to be good stewards of the land. They believed and practiced sustainability before the word and concept had gained currency. These ideas have guided my wife and I as well. Now we are ready to turn the reins over to another generation and we are gratified that all our children have bonded with the land and will continue to steward the land for another generation. It is a real advantage and blessing to have a sense of place in this rapidly changing world. We were very happy when son Will and wife Laura decided to move back and help with the day to day operation of the ranch.