America’s Top 100 Land Owners
The who’s who of modern American land moguls
Each year The Land Report publishes a list nation’s top property owners ranked by the number of acres they own in the United States. The list comes with a thank you from sponsor Gregory W. Fay, owner of real estate brokerage Fay Ranches, to the top 100 for “helping to produce the food we eat, and providing so much of the habitat for our fish and wildlife.” It’s a nice pat on the back if your portfolio just crossed the 100,000 acre mark.
Some want that land for cattle, others for farming, others to test their reusable space craft (those hobby store model rockets just weren’t enough, were they Mr. Bezos?). Below are the nuts and bolts of the list along with some extra insights. For a basic sense of how the world of ultra-massive real estate has changed, here’s one fact: Between 2012 and 2013, the top 100 added 700,000 acres to their collective portfolios, bringing their total to two percent of the U.S. land mass.
In other words, stitching together all the land listed here gets you something about the size of Connecticut.
#1 John Malone
Loves land and his wife loves horses, which explains #1’s 2013 acquisitions. The cable billionaire from Denver added two properties in Wellington, the epicenter of South Florida’s equestrian community, and an Irish castle with a solid set of stables.
#2 Ted Turner
Doesn’t just own CNN — he is the largest landowner in New Mexico. His purchase of the Sierra Grande Lodge and Spa brings tourists closer to two of his landmark properties and, ya know, space. Richard Branson’s spaceport is just a quick drive away.
#3 Emmerson Family
The family behind logging company Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI) with land holdings twice the size of Rhode Island. Still, that’s not as it much as it once was. The Emmersons have transferred 6% of that chunk to the public since Curly Emerson founded the company in 1949.
#4 Brad Kelley
This businessman has ranch holdings in Texas, Florida, and New Mexico. He also knows his way around the rest of the world. His NC2 Media Company recently bought Lonely Planet guidebooks.
#5 Irving Family
A logging family with a state-of-the-art $30 million softwood sawmill in Ashland, Maine. Because if you’re going to go softwood sawmill, you want to make it state-of-the-art.
6. Singleton Family
This ranching family owns some of the oldest operating ranch land in the country. Their holdings outside New Mexico include the Peachtree and Top ranches in John Steinbeck’s Salinas Valley.
#7 King Ranch Heirs
While true to their legendary ranching roots, the heirs of King Ranch Inc. have diversified their portfolio to include land for pecans, citrus, turf grass and vegetables.
#8 Stan Kroenke
No longer #10 with the acquisition of Montana’s Broken O Ranch, an inspiring combination of irrigated farming and cattle land envisioned by paint mogul, Benjamin Moore. Kroenke adds Broken O to Q Creek Ranch, the largest contiguous ranch in the Rocky Mountains at 540,000 acres.
#9 Pingree Heirs
All these logging guys love to tote the sustainability of their operations. What David Pingree purchased from 100 different Maine townships in 1840 is now an ecologically managed forest supplying hardwood floors to the world.
#10 Reed Family
The family’s Green Diamond Resource Company and Simpson Investment Company owns forests in California and Washington, all of which have an independent stamp of approval from the Forest Stewardship Council.
#11 Ford Family
Another logging family with the heart of a tree hugger. Second-generation president, Allyn Ford (degrees from Stanford, Yale), keeps reforestation and recycling science at the core of his management of Rosenberg Forestry Products.
#12 Lykes Heirs
In 1870, Dr. Howell Tyson Lykes gave up the practice of medicine to take over his family’s 500 acres in Florida. Today, the family’s private holdings in Texas and Florida make up one of the largest cattle operations in the country.
#13 Briscoe Family
Don’t mess with Texas, and never, ever mess with a Texas ranching family. The Briscoe’s operation spreads over nine Texas counties and three Briscoe generations. To date, the clan has produced one governor: Dolph Briscoe Jr, who served two terms for the Lone Star State.
#14 W.T. Waggoner Estate
Not that we’re keeping score, but the W.T. Waggoner Estate claims to be the largest Texas ranch under one fence.
#15 D.M. O’Connor Heirs
Thomas O’Connor started digging artesian wells for his cattle during the drought of the 1880s, but hit oil as often as water. The rest is history.
#16 Philip Anschutz
Among the soccer teams, railroads, movie theaters and newspaper, the Denver billionaire has enough land for what will be one of the largest wind farms in the country. 1,000 turbines are currently under construction on a combination of his private land and public land in Wyoming.
#17 Drummond Family
They’ve been ranching Oklahoma for over a century, but you may know Ree Dummond best, who joined the family when she married Lee Drummond. She runs the popular Pioneer Woman blog under the slogan, “Plowing through life in the country one calf nut at a time.” Which probably does not make her blog, like, particularly popular with calves.
#18 Simplot Family
The J.R. Simplot Company is one of the largest agribusinesses in the country, but per their website and despite that profit margin, their company is “as small as a single farmer.” With holdings as far as New Zealand, the Idaho-based company is a little larger than a single farm.
#19 Holding Family
Before he passed away last year, an employee gave Robert Earl Holding a plaque that echoed his credo: “All I want is the land next to mine.” That land includes ski resorts in Utah and a whole lot of real estate in Salt Lake City, all of which he built from a small stake in a Wyoming truck stop.
#20 Malone Mitchell the III
Oil and drilling profits helped him buy a sportsman’s paradise in the Big Bend area of Far West Texas.
#21 Hughes Family
After his family made a killing in the oil and gas business, Dan Allen Hughes Jr. has attempted to make his name with the purchase Texas hunting land. “With such a distinguished pedigree, no one can doubt that he will,” comments San Antonio Man Magazine.
#22 Patrick Broe
His ranch is a refuge for a herd of big horn sheep, trophy elk, antelope, mountain lions and stone writings from early Spanish explorers, asking “Donde esta la carne?” or “Where’s the beef?” Ya, that’s a joke. We have no idea what those Spanish writings say.
#23 Collins Family
A forest products firm with Forest Stewardship Council-certified forests in California, Oregon and West Virginia California, Oregon, West Virginia, and one of the largest private holdings in Pennsylvania.
#24 Nunley Family
The Nunleys are a ranching family particularly proud of their genetics program around Santa Gertrudis Cattle and the size of the deer on their Texas ranches.
#25 Jeff Bezos
Owns Amazon and The Washington Post, but few know Silicon Valley’s leading mind spent summers on his grandfather’s ranch. His purchase of the enormous Corn Ranch in West Texas was part nostalgia and part business. He uses the land to test reusable space vehicles.
#26 Collier Family
Florida land developers who were key in the creation of Big Cyprus National Preserve, Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, and numerous country clubs built around nature preserves.
#27 H.L. Kokernot Heirs
Owned the 06 Ranch nearly a century after its founding. Texas Monthly calls their Alpine Cowboys baseball team, “the best little semi-pro baseball team in Texas.”
#28 Wilks Brothers
Other than Montana Ranches, the Wilks have a firm called Frac Tech. According the company, it “turns out that Frac Tech’s specialty-hydraulic fracturing is one of the two drivers powering the U.S. energy renaissance. (The other? Horizontal drilling.)”
#29 Anne Marion
Ancestor Captain Samuel “Burnett negotiated a 300,000 acre lease with famed Comanche leader Quanah Parker.” He relied on friend Teddy Roosevelt when he needed a two-year extension of the lease.
#30 Babbitt Heirs
Sandwiched between Flagstaff Arizona and the Grand Canyon, the Babbitt Ranches have a reputation for breeding trophy quarter horses.
#31 Mike Smith
Climbed the rankings this year by adding land between Dallas and Waco to his Texas panhandle holdings.
#32 Lyda Family
The family used the sale of New Mexico’s Ladder Ranch to Ted Turner to purchase La Escalera ranch in Texas. (Translation for La Escalera: The Ladder.) Still, the family hasn’t climbed in this year’s rankings.
#33 (tie) Jones Family
Originating from the land grant days of Coastal Texas, the Jones have multiple ranches surrounding Corpus Cristi, Texas.
#33 (tie) Killam Family
The oil, real estate, and ranching family bought 60,000-acre Dana Ranch in Montana earlier this year. Lay folks like to hear land measured in acres or square miles, but the Killiam prefer animal units — the measure of how many cows an area can graze. Chalk up 3,000 animal units to the Dana Ranch.
#33 (tie) True Family
Claims their ranch holdings are just as impressive as their highly-productive oil fields. That includes seven productive cattle operations and two farms.
#36 Reynolds Family
Starting with ranches along northeast of Abilene, Texas, the Reynolds now own ranches in West Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Montana, and North Dakota.
#37 Paul Fireman
It is a wonderful life. The former Reebok CEO now owns James Stewarts old ranch in Nevada and has grazing rights to another three-quarter of a million acres.
#38 D.K. Boyd
The West Texas rancher and oilman keeps close track of his portfolio. He made sure the Land 100 knew he managed to add three acres to his tally this year.
#39 Koch Family
Ah the Koch Brothers. Greenpeace calls them “the king pins of climate denial” and Mitt Romney can thank them for holding a $50,000-dollar-a-plate fundraiser during the election. Whatever your politics, you can’t deny their love for cattle. Koch Ranches Inc. specializes in high-quality grass-fed beef.
#40 (tie) McCoy & Remme Families.
A large extended family looking to drop in the rankings. Their historic 55,709-acre Rockpile Ranch in Far West Texas is listed for $54.8 million.
#40 (tie) Llano Partners, Ltd
The Austin-based family partnership climbed the rankings with “a couple of add-ons” to their New Mexico and Texas ranches.
#42 Scott Heirs
The family runs 10,000 cattle on 475,000 acres along the Montana-Wyoming state line. They welcome guests to hunt, fish, or go on “photography safaris.”
#43 Louis Moore Bacon:
This hedge fund manager wears his Audubon Medal with pride. His land holdings have helped knit together 800,000 acres of publicly and privately protected land from Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes National Park to Northern New Mexico.
#44 East Wildlife Foundation
Maybe deer and the antelope can play with Angus steers. Robert East, great-grandson of Richard King (see #7), funded the foundation to build ranches compatible for livestock and wildlife in South Texas.
#45 Gage Heirs
A.S. Gage’s headquarters is now a high end hotel in Marathon, Texas, but it once centered more than half a million acres of grazing lands. Ol’ A.S. bequeathed the private land to his daughters.
#46 Cassidy Heirs
May take the cake in the category of multigenerational landholdings. John Cassidy began amassing his 200,000 acre logging empire in Maine before the Civil War.
#47 (tie) Bidegain Family
Phil Bidegain keeps the business model for the T4 Ranch as simple as possible. “We’re basically just marketing grass,” he told Western Horseman, “and the cows are a way to market the grass.”
#47 (tie) Langdale Family
They were sustainable before sustainable was cool, man. The Langdale Company, which started with a crop of turpentine timber, claims to have planted more trees than they’ve cut since the 1930s.
#47 (tie) Eugene Gabrych
Where is the best hunting ranch in California? Eugene Gabrych has no idea. (Just kidding. It’s his 18,000-acre Rock Springs Ranch at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains).
#50 Bogle Family
They love tradition. Cowboys on horseback still work these New Mexico ranches.
#51 Hunt Family
Don’t worry, the Hunts don’t just own land to raise cattle, breed horses and grow hay, corn, citrus, grains and sugar. They are holding all that land for future development or mineral exploration.
#52 Tim Blixseth
Billionaire, lumber entrepreneur, real estate developer, and song writer. “Heart of America,” a song he co-wrote with his wife, became the anthem of the Today show’s campaign to help victims of Hurricane Katrina.
#53 Williams Family
Don’t over look the kitchen at the family’s Pitchfork Ranch. The cowboy favorite is buttermilk pie–sugar, eggs and rich dairy products loaded into a couple of pie pans. Mmmm-mm!
#54 Robert Funk
Funk deals in bull semen — lots of bull semen. His Oklahoma ranch’s production sale draws so many of the nation’s top cattlemen he just calls it the “Big Event.” Pun intended?
#55 Russell Gordy
The oil and gas business man developed a love for land on his grandparents’ farm. He now owns and manages spreads in Texas, Montana and Wyoming.
#56 (tie) Broadbent Family
Starting with royal-looking Ramboulient sheep, the Broadbents have diversified their ranches to include cattle, horses, timber, hunting and wind turbines.
#56 (tie) Irwin Heirs
John Irwin II bought the historic O RO Ranch in the late 70s for its fidelity to the past. After over 100 years in operation, it’s still run by tough men on horses.
#58 Sugg Family
What luck. When the Suggs relocated their cattle from Texas to Oklahoma, they found buckets of oil under their new land.
#59 Fasken Family
David Fasken, a Canadian lawyer, bought the massive C Ranch from the Texas General Land Office in 1913. The family still owns most of that property.
#60 Mike Mechenbier
Few can claim the title of “cowboy philanthropist.” Other than running significant cattle farms, Mechenbier and his wife help finance orphanages in New Mexico.
#61 Benjy Griffith the III
The founder of Southern Pine Plantations diversified from timberland in the U.S. South with the purchase of 20,000 acres of mineral rights in East Texas.
#62 Cogdell Family
Their breeding efforts earned them a place in the Cutting Horse Hall of Fame. And apparently yes: there is a hall of fame just for horses that cut cows from the herd.
#63 JA Ranch Heirs
Owners of the oldest continuously operated cattle ranch in the Texas Panhandle.
#64 Fanjul Family
Forget accusations of slave labor practices at the Fanjul’s sugar plantations in the Dominican Republic. Their Florida rice and sugar empire built the largest biomass power plant in the country.
#65 Hearst Family
We think of William Randolph Hearst as the newspaper mogul whispering “Rosebud” to an empty room, but the family fortune started with land. Father George Hearst hit silver after coming to California as a ‘49er and expanded into minerals and ranching.
#66 Ellison Family
Manages ranches only fit for the best cowboys. Ira Wines, who works the family’s prized Spanish Ranch, doesn’t have times for greenhorns. “A guy that came to work here once asked me what we wear in the winter,” he told Western Horseman. “I said, ‘Sometimes I’ll wear everything I own.’ ”
#67 (tie) Bass Family
Some love the land so much they end up inside it. Family patriarch Sid Richardson once owned oil fields from Texas to Louisiana, but St. Joseph’s Island of the Gulf Coast of Texas was his prize. He is now buried somewhere on the premises.
#67 (tie) Emily Garvey Bonavia
Doesn’t run nearly the profile of her father, Wilard Garvey, who bought the ranch. In one letter to Ronald Reagan, he explained how, “Privatization … dates back at least to Adam Smith, Plato, Aristotle and Jesus.”
#67 (tie) Boswell Family
Thank them for the shirt on your back. J.G. Boswell Co. is the nation’s leading cotton grower.
#67 (tie) Eddy Family
In 2014, the family-owned Port Blakely Mill Company will celebrate its sesquicentennial. (Say that ten times fast).
#67 (tie) William Henry Green Heirs
Billy Green still oversees the ranch from Albany, Texas, which won the 2002 American Quarter Horse Association Best Remuda Award.
#67 (tie) King Brothers
Luther and Frank King independently run their cattle operations in the heart of Texas. ‘Nuf said.
#73 David Murdock
The 90-year-old CEO of Dole Food Company plans to live to 125 on what the The New York Times calls a diet of “messianic correctness that can, and will, ward off major disease…” in a 2011 magazine piece. A recent deal to take Dole private makes Murdock the sole owner of 25,000 acres in Hawaii.
#74 Wells Family
A good old picture of the American heartland. The mammoth ranch spans eight Nebraska counties and yields plenty of alfalfa and millet for the herd.
#75 L-A-D Foundation
St. Louis businessman Leo Drey began making sizable donations of Missouri forest land to the non-profit in the 1960s. The foundation now protects land all across the Ozarks.
#76 Gerald J. Ford
The Texas businessman, not the president. Other than buying and selling financial institutions at huge markups, Ford has a deep love of the land. He owns ranches in Texas, New Mexico and Kentucky.
#77 Stefan Soloviev
His Crossroads Ag grows corn, canola, sunflowers, sorghum, wheat and cotton, but he recently expanded into New Mexican grasslands for large-scale cow-calf operations.
#78 Harrison Family
The Land 100 is great, but Forbes list of billionaires gets way more personal. They list Daniel Harrison, III as the “very private” heir of his grandfather’s oil and ranching empire. By the way, what is it about land that makes people want to number their children?
#79 Lane Family
Thomas Lane Jr. makes the ranching business sound simple: “We’re just continuing a tradition and we’ll expand if we can.”
#80 (tie) Crosby Family
Trees aren’t just good for wood anymore. Crosby Land and Trust — which was once a chemicals company — is hoping to turn the forests of the American South into biofuels as well as lumber.
#80 (tie) Ellwood Heirs
Do fence them in. Isaac Ellwood invented barbed wire in the 1870s. The family still operates two ranches in Texas, but no word on what kind of fencing they use.
#81 Monahan Family
A third generation now “steers” the Monahan Cattle Co. in Nebraska. (If you’ve made it to #81, that joke is especially for you.)
#83 Davis Heirs
The family’s CS Ranch in Northern New Mexico specializes in breeding prime quarter horses, like stallion Roosters Shorty, who is up for stud on the website. Of the many fowls he has sired, the family says, “we haven’t found anything we don’t like about them.”
#84 (tie) Booth Family
The enormous cattle operation near Yellowstone National Park seems not to mind when elk or antelope walk by. The family-run business has earned high praise from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
#84 (tie) Brite Heirs
Luke Brite made a name breeding some of the toughest cattle in Texas around the turn of the century. He also liked alliteration. A 1910 advertisement for his bulls ran, “Big-Bones, Broad-Backed, Bald-Faced Beauties-Buy Bar-Cross Bulls- Brite’s Best.” Not bad.
#86 Reese Family
The Reese Family started with a 320 acre homestead and just kept adding to it including an extra 5,200 acres this year. Rockin’ 7 Ranch is now one of the biggest in Wyoming.
#87 Milliken Family
Roger Milliken takes his relationship with his family’s land pretty seriously. His book, A Forest for the Trees, documents the history of Maine’s Baskahegan Watershed from resettlement to 1982.
#88 Roxanne Quimby
The founder of Burt’s Bees hopes she isn’t on the list for long. Since earning a $350 million dollar payday from Clorox, Quimby has been buying land she hopes will become Maine Woods National Park. But she’s upset local interests. For now, here’s the compromise: 70,000 acres of parkland, 30,000 for hunting, snowmobiling, and logging.
#89 Moursund Family
Will Moursund runs the ranches now, but father A.W. Moursund III must have been one hell of a judge. In 1963, Vice President Lyndon Johnson granted him irrevocable power of attorney.
#90 Scharbauer Family
Forbes Magazine once called Clarence Scharbauer Jr., “probably the most powerful man in Midland [Texas].” That was before the First Nation Bank of Midland failed and left Scharbauer with plenty of land, but little of his old wealth. The Scharbauer family has focused on breeding Thoroughbreds while others pay to explore their land for oil and natural gas.
#91 Richard Evans
The drought that has gripped the Southwest since 2011 has been tough on many ranchers, but that hasn’t excused Evans from animal cruelty charges. New Mexico officials found 1000 emaciated cows on his ranch last May. 25 had died from starvation. Evans turned himself in this June.
#92 Clayton and Modesta Williams Jr.
Clayton was set to bring his cowboy image to the Texas governorship until a set of gaffs derailed the campaign in 1990. Williams made the mistake of likening rape to bad weather (“If it’s inevitable, just relax and enjoy it”) and faced accusations of going to a Mexican brothel called the Chicken Ranch while in college.
#93 Stan Harper
Doesn’t hold back on the adjectives when describing his prize herd of Hereford-Angus cattle. His cows are “big, thick, good traveling, sound, fertile, hardy” Herefords.
#94 Frank VanderSloot
Loves oil investment, ranching and Mitt Romney; not a fan of gay reporters knocking the Boy Scouts of America. An advertisement VanderSloott took out in Idaho Falls’ Post Register accused a reporter of bringing personal politics to a report on child molestation in a local Boy Scout troop when the reporter had not made his sexuality public. The move earned a serious wag of the finger from MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow.
#95 Linnebur Family
The Coloradoans focus on buffalo ranching, cattle ranching and farming.
#96 Arthur Nicholas
According to his company bio, investor Arthur Nicholas made his fortune by systematizing, “the process of using dynamic quantitative models to find value-added performance.” He may or may not be talking about his cow and horse breeding efforts in Wyoming…
#97 Robinson Family
Of all the grandpa-bought-some-land stories in this list, this is the best. In 1864, great-great-grandmother Elizabeth Sinclair bought Ni’ihau, the “Forbidden Island” of Hawaii, for $10,000 in gold from King Kamehameha V. Since, the family has honored the island’s traditional culture, but not always to commercial success. The island’s ranch closed in 1999, leaving animals to roam freely and almost all residents to leave for other parts of the state.
#98 Riggs Family
John Riggs has a modern utopia in mind for his great-grandfather’s old ranch. His Mare Pasture development will integrate high-end commercial and residential development with vineyards, orchards, gardens, greenhouses and plenty of land for grass-fed beef. Sounds like the perfect setting for a combination of Gunsmoke and Beverly Hills: 90210.
#99 Butler Heirs
When your ranch surrounds a For Union National Monument in Northern New Mexico, you have to think slightly beyond raising cattle. The Butler Heirs have partnered with government and nonprofits to help ensure their land is healthy, productive, and beautiful far into the future.
#100(tie) Beggs Family
The Beggs can thank W.D. and J.E. “Crowbar” Beggs for getting them to the list. The brothers started buying up Texas ranch land in 1923 and the modern day Beggs still manage much of it. Can’t say we expected any less from someone named Crowbar Beggs.
#100 (tie) Powell Family
Just as there’s a language around buying a car, there’s a dialect for selling bull semen. At their production sale, the Powell Family promises cows with, “a heavily muscled quarter with a thick loin designed for maximum performance. Our stock have an uncommonly high rate of gain with heavy yearling weights.” No word on the 0-60 time.
#100 (tie) Walter Umphrey
You’d think that growing tobacco would be a surefire way to earn a place on the Land 100, but Umphrey made his fortune suing tobacco companies. He has used portions of those settlement to buy three ranches where he hunts, raises cattle, and one might hope, doesn’t smoke.