John George Adair

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John George Adair
Revised John George Adair thVHV7GP97.jpg
Born(1823-03-03)March 3, 1823
DiedMay 4, 1885(1885-05-04) (aged 62)
St. Louis, Missouri,
United States
ResidenceGlenveagh Castle, County Donegal, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland; New York City;
Other namesJack Adair
OccupationBusinessman; landowner
Spouse(s)Cornelia Wadsworth Ritchie Adair
ChildrenStepsons:Arthur Ritchie & Montgomery Harrison “Jack” Ritchie (1861–1924)
(1) Adair visited his JA Ranch named in his honor only three times before his unexpected death.

(2) Adair was in the brokerage business in England, Ireland and the United States, but realized a large return from the JA Ranch investment.

(3) Adair was trained in the British diplomatic service, but his temperament was too volatile for him to become a professional diplomat.

(4) Anger at townspeople in Derryveah in County Donegal, Ireland, in 1861 prompted Adair to evict forty-seven families from their dwellings to beautify the land surrounding his Glenveagh Castle.

John George Adair (March 3, 1823 – May 4, 1885), also known as Jack Adair, was an Irish businessman and landowner, who provided the seed capital for the large JA Ranch in the Palo Duro Canyon of the Texas Panhandle, a region of Texas. In its peak year in 1883, the ranch encompassed 1,335,000 acres (5,400 square kilometres) in portions of six Texas counties and boasted 100,000 head of cattle.[1]

An undiplomatic temperament[edit]

Adair was born in Queen's County (since 1922 known as County Laois), Ireland, he attended Trinity College, Dublin, where he was trained for the British diplomatic service. He had the military rank of captain. However, he seemed to lack the patient, smooth temperament required for diplomacy, he owned considerable real estate in Ireland, including the large Glenveagh Castle. In 1860, Adair went hunting on land he had rented to tenants in violation of the rental agreements; when the tenants objected, an irate Adair threatened them. A year later, in April 1861, with the force of the law behind him, he removed forty-seven families from forty-six houses in Derryveagh in County Donegal, Ireland. More than 150 screaming children and their parents were ordered off the property. Adair cleared twelve thousand acres. Many of the evicted had no idea where they might find shelter; some relocated to Australia; the incident is recorded by the Donegal band, "Goats Don't Shave," in the song "The Evictions" on their "Rusty Razor" album.[2]

Adair also established far-flung brokerage firms with offices in Ireland; New York City, New York; and then Denver, Colorado, because of his interest in buffalo hunts and the burgeoning American West.[3]


At age 44, Adair married the former Cornelia Wadsworth Ritchie (1837–1921), a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania native who was reared in Geneseo, the seat of Livingston County in western New York State, she was the widow of Montgomery Harrison Ritchie (1826–1864), a Boston, Massachusetts, native descended from the Federalist Party spokesman Harrison Gray Otis (1765–1848). They were married for seven years. Ritchie died of illness contracted during the American Civil War. Cornelia was left with two young sons, Arthur Ritchie (died in childhood) and Montgomery "Jack" Ritchie (1861–1924), whom she took to Europe for their schooling.[3] While there, she met Adair and the couple married in 1867, splitting their time between Ireland, England, and New York. Cornelia became a naturalized British citizen. One of her nephews was Republican U.S. Senator James Wolcott Wadsworth, Jr., of New York.[4]

The Colorado sojourn[edit]

Adair was known for his fiery temper, a stereotype of the hard-drinking Irishman of the 19th century (although the name is Scots in origin and attendance at Trinity marks Adair as part of the Anglo-Irish ascendancy), he disliked life in New York City, and the couple and the two sons headed west to Denver, where Adair would temporarily move his brokerage office. In eastern Colorado, near Pueblo, they met Texas cattleman Charles Goodnight (1836–1929), an Illinois native, in 1874 on a guided buffalo hunt; the personable Goodnight told the couple about the Palo Duro country southeast of Amarillo, Texas, and how the land was particularly suited to grazing cattle on the open range. The cattle had excellent grass during summers and could winter comfortably in the protection afforded by the canyon walls; the canyon country also had sufficient water as well as natural physical beauty, he explained. The hunt had a sad ending, however, for Adair was injured when his horse tripped and fell, and his gun accidentally discharged, killing the horse.[4]

Financing the JA Ranch[edit]

Soon, the Adairs came to the Palo Duro to see what Goodnight had accurately described; the two entered into the first of two five-year partnership contracts. Adair would finance the building of what would become a massive ranch in the canyon, and Goodnight would be the daily manager of the ranch and supply the starting cattle. Adair would finance two thirds of the cost, and Goodnight would borrow his one-third share at 10 percent interest from Adair. Goodnight would also draw a $2,500 annual salary, it was Goodnight’s suggestion that the ranch be named the “JA” for the initials of his financial partner, John Adair.[5]

Goodnight had a free hand in managing the ranch and speedily increased the acreage through shrewd, skilful purchasing of the best plots of land. Adair visited the ranch only three times before his death in 1885; the ranch was profitable, and though Adair had wanted Goodnight to expand more cautiously, he could hardly complain. The undertaking made a profit of $510,000 at the end of the first contract. Goodnight benefited from the arrangement but personally found Adair’s disposition irritating.[4]

Mrs. Adair as ranch manager[edit]

Cornelia Adair took over her husband’s share of the cattle operation and maintained a hands-on interest for the rest of her life. At times, she disagreed with Goodnight on business matters and persisted with her point of view. Goodnight continued to be the manager until 1888, when he left the partnership.[4] Goodnight felt that, with the building of the Fort Worth and Denver City Railway, falling beef prices, the influx of settlers, and attempts by politicians to curb large-scale ranching, the time had come to shift his focus. In the dissolution of the partnership, Goodnight acquired the 140,000-acre (570 km2) Quitaque Ranch with 20,000 head of cattle.[5]

Mrs. Adair lived on an irregular basis in England, Ireland, and the Palo Duro. From 1888 until her death, she was the sole owner of the ranch, her son Jack worked on the ranch in his early adulthood but ran afoul of Goodnight’s strict work ethic. Goodnight demoted Jack after he caught him shooting craps and drinking liquor with the cowboys. Jack's older son, Montgomery Harrison Wadsworth “Montie” Ritchie (1910–1999), worked at the ranch and was the manager from 1935 until his retirement in 1993, having followed Timothy Dwight Hobart, a Vermont native and the former mayor of Pampa, Texas. Ritchie was credited with getting the ranch on a sound footing after, firstly, the death of Cornelia and her related debts and liens and, then, the impact of the Great Depression.[3]

Adair’s death[edit]

In 1885, after his last trip to the Palo Duro, accompanied by his valet, Adair began the return trip to Ireland, he died of natural causes, age 62, while in St. Louis, Missouri.[3]

Adair, who had no heirs other than Cornelia, is interred in The Lea Church (Church of Ireland), Killenard, Co Laois, Ireland, near Belgrove house, Belgrove, Ballybrittas, another one of his residences, near where he was born; the night before he was buried a dead dog was thrown into his open grave by disgruntled locals. In Glenveagh, his wife had the face of a large rock inscribed with his name and the inscription "Brave, Just and Generous". However, lightning in a thunderstorm broke the rock into many pieces which fell into a nearby lake[citation needed]. Two years after his death, Adair's Belgrove House, also a very large, country mansion was reduced to ruins in a fire, and remains in that state, called locally the burnt house.[6]

Cornelia Adair did not remarry after John's death, she built a Protestant church in honour of Adair near Belgrove prior to the destruction of the house. She lived part of the time at Glenveagh Castle, and, unlike Adair, was popular, improved the beauty of the castle grounds and was considerate of the townspeople, she too is interred in Killenard, County Laois, Ireland.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ William Edward Vaughan (1983). Sin, Sheep and Scotsmen: John George Adair and His Derryveagh Evictions 1861. Appletree Press and The Ulster Society for Irish Historical Studies. ISBN 9780862811082.
  2. ^ a b Castle Owners & Derryveagh Evictions
  3. ^ a b c d JA Ranch exhibit, Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, Canyon, Texas
  4. ^ a b c d "JA Ranch". Home on the Ranches.
  5. ^ a b Anderson, H. Allen. "The JA Ranch". Texas State Historical Association.
  6. ^ "Culture, carnality and cash: the Florentine adventures of John George Adair". History Ireland. November 6, 2014.