Over the course of ranching history, a few individuals have been considered legends, disrupting the norm and reaching across society. Fewer have been accorded legendary status in their own time. Those who were privileged to know Albert Mitchell personally (this writer included), knew one.
Albert Knell Mitchell was born in 1894, the son of Thomas E. Mitchell, a cattleman who began his cowboy career when he was 14. Tom managed the Bar T Cross ranch in northeastern New Mexico and, over time, acquired much of it and established his own outfit. In 1917, after graduating from Cornell University, Albert joined his father in a new partnership, TE Mitchell & Son, and Albert became general manager of the Tequesquite Ranch. So began a sweeping story of progress, accomplishment, and an enviable life well lived.
From his beginnings, Albert was tied inextricably to the land and grass of New Mexico’s ranch country. His first language was Spanish, and he had to be taught English to enter the first grade. His early life was the kind that molded good cowboys, defining his character whether in the branding corral, the boardroom, or the halls of power.
In 1933, he took over as general manager of the 1/2 million-acre Bell Ranch, successfully guiding both it and the Tequesquite through some of the most brutal drought and economic conditions in history. Even in that adversity, he significantly improved the quality of the land, cattle, and horses under his charge.
Albert Mitchell also greatly impacted the livestock industry through his commitment to leadership, of record: president, New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association; NMCGA Cattleman of the Year; president, American National Cattlemens’ Association; ANCA Cattleman of the Century; founding member and president, American Quarter Horse Association; founding member and president, National Cowboy Hall of Fame; chairman, American Hereford Association; chairman, National Livestock and Meat Board; inductee, Hall of Great Westerners; recipient, National Golden Spur Award; inductee, Saddle & Sirloin Club; inductee, New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Hall of Fame. He was a legislator, candidate for governor, candidate for U.S. Senate, National Republican Committeeman, and national party convention chairman. Through it all, he never lost the common touch of the American cowboy.
Albert could clearly analyze conditions and bring unprecedented solutions. Needing to be more places faster, he was one of the first cattlemen to use a private airplane in his business. He was a risk taker, unafraid to make decisions and take action, like the temporary relocation in 1934 of the drought-stricken 5,000-cow Bell herd to Mexico—a strategy that saved the ranch’s economic base.
Albert K. Mitchell, a legacy to his family and example to all, loved ranching and met its challenges with legendary energy. His reach was broad, and as one cattleman remarked, “Everyone knew Albert Mitchell, or at least felt they did.” He was tremendously influential, but never an aristocrat, although he knew many. More importantly, they knew him.
Even today, his “hundred-dollar Stetson,” wire-rimmed glasses, and optimistic countenance are the image of an iconic cattleman.