Mary Jane Alexander

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Mary Jane Mathes Alexander​​

(First woman rancher in
the Texas Panhandle;
pictured front row, center)​

Mary Jane Alexander of TX.jpg

Born September 3, 1840​
Washington County, Tennessee

Lived in Iowa and Sherman, Mobeetie, and Canadian, Texas

Died April 12, 1929 (aged 89)​
Canadian, Texas

Resting place:
​ Edith Ford Memorial Cemeteries in Canadian

Spouse The Reverend Clifton Wrenshaw "C. W." Alexander (married 1868-1886, his death)

​ The Reverend Hugh Payson Alexander
Robert Theodore "R. T." Alexander
Dr. Erastus Randall Alexander
Nona Agnes Alexander Snyder
Lucy Mathes Alexander Romig
The Reverend and Mrs. Archibald Alexander Mathes

Mary Jane Mathes Alexander (September 3, 1839 – April 12, 1929)[1] was the first woman cattle rancher in the Texas Panhandle.


Alexander was born in Washington County, Tennessee, the daughter of a Presbyterian minister, Archibald Alexander Mathes. Mary Jane's education at Linderwood College in St. Charles, Missouri, promptly ended with the advent of the American Civil War, during which the school closed.The family lived in several locations in Iowa [1][2]

Mary Jane married a Presbyterian pastor and educator, Clifton Wrenshaw "C. W." Alexander (1838-1886), a native of the capital city of Jefferson City, Missouri, who was educated at Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey, at which he was on the wrestling team. In 1880, the Alexanders were living in Cape Girardeau in southestern Missouri.[3]

Ranching in the Texas Panhandle

In 1885, with their five children, the Alexanders resided in Sherman, the county seat of Grayson County, Texas, where the Reverend Alexander taught at Austin College. The Alexanders moved to "Old" Mobeetie, then a bustling Wheeler County settlement, where lived for a time the famous lawyer Temple Lea Houston (1860-1905), son of the Texas founder Sam Houston. (In 2010, the population of "New" Mobeetie was just 101.) C. W. established a Presbyterian church in Mobeetie, which was destroyed in a storm in 1898 and never rebuilt.[3]

In their journey west, the Alexanders were caught in a flood, and Mary Jane and C. W. were thrown from their wagon into the Pease River. Both were miraculously rescued. C. W. managed to reach the harnesses of his horses to pull himself from the river. Even while holding on to a baby, Mary Jane grabbed onto the wagon and managed to keep both above water.[4]

The Alexanders occupied a small house in Mobeetie and C. W. began his ministry in the eastern Panhandle. Shortly afterwards in March 1886, tragedy struck again. C. W. died of pneumonia in a freezing rain exacerbated by the water still in his lungs from the Pease River flood. Widowed at the age of forty-six, Mary Jane proceeded to file for homestead on one section of land, 640 acres, and purchased an adjoining section on the Washita Creek near the border with what was then Indian Territory. From the actions, the R. T. Alexander Ranch was created.[4]

To survive in the early years, the Alexanders sold plums and wild grasses to soldiers stationed at nearby Fort Elliott. Her sons gathered bones left by bison hunters and sold them in Dodge City, Kansas. The family also rounded up unbranded cattle, which they claimed as their own. The cowboys often visited the Alexander Ranch, at which they enjoyed Mary Jane's cooking.[4]

Mary Jane sent all five of her children to Polk College in Missouri, which apparently no longer exists. The oldest son, Hugh Payson Alexander, followed his father's lead into the ministry and settled in Kansas. Second son Robert Theodore, known as R. T. Alexander (1873-1968), studied animal husbandry and bred stray cattle into a herd of Herefords. The third son, Erastus Randall Alexander, became a physician in Buffalo, New York. Mary Jane's two college-educated daughters, Nona Agnes Snyder (1878-1975) and Lucy Mathes Alexander Romig (1875-1964), became, respectively, a teacher and a missionary to China with her Presbyterian minister-husband, Harry Gutelius Romig (1874-1948).[4]Two other Alexander children, Alice Maude and John C., died in infancy.[1]

Death and legacy

When Nona married and moved with her husband, Edward Henry Snyder (1876-1967), to Canadian, the seat of government for Hemphill County, Mary Jane joined them. It was in Canadian that her second son formed the R. T. Alexander Ranch. There she was widely respected for her piety, kindness, and charity. When she was near death, many came from across the Panhandle to express appreciation for her life. She died at the age of eighty-nine in the spring of 1929,[4] not long before the stock market crash that fall.

In 1961, Mary Jane was posthumously honored as the first woman rancher in the Panhandle. In 1991, a gallery of the R. T. Alexander Ranch was established in the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum in Canyon in Randall County south of Amarillo. The Alexander Ranch​ was cited by the land heritage section of the Texas Department of Agriculture for being the longest continually operating, family-owned ranch in Hemphill County.[4]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Mary Jane Mathes Alexander. Retrieved on December 12, 2019.
  2. The Canadian (Texas) Record, April 18, 1929.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Rev. Clifton Wrenshaw Alexander. Retrieved on December 12, 2019.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 Jean Stuntz (November 30, 2019). The Caprock Chronicles: The First Woman Rancher on the Panhandle: Mary Jane Alexander. The Lubbock Avalanche Journal. Retrieved on December 12, 2019.