In 1881, a Chicago-based businessman secured interest in a sprawling ranch in the heart of Texas’ great Panhandle. The celebrated Frying Pan Ranch spread across two counties and bordered what later became Amarillo, a raw frontier settlement. The land’s unlikely new owner from the North, William Henry Bush – clothing wholesaler, real estate developer, philanthropist, and fledgling cattleman – represented a new figure at the beginning of the boom era in the Western cattle industry. An outsider, he brought his business savvy and vision of civic growth to bear on America’s last frontier.
In an age of unrestricted capitalism and flamboyant displays of wealth by big industry’s leaders, Bush operated quietly and unassumingly. A major real estate owner in the burned-over district of post-1871 Chicago, Bush cast his eye on opportunity in the Texas Panhandle, risking his future and his fortune on a region that had been left largely untouched by commerce. By the late 1880s, he had taken greater control over the operations at the Frying Pan Ranch and had assumed a role as an important business and civic leader in the region, pioneering in agricultural and economic diversification. Bush’s philanthropic efforts focused on the vitalization of Amarillo – helping to create a community that would come to dominate the Panhandle by the 1930s.