The area that is now Upton County was traversed during the early nineteenth century by Comanches and Apaches, who competed for hunting grounds in the area. Both tribes were superior horsemen, capable hunters of buffalo and other game, and relentless raiders of their neighbors. This area is known by some as the Llano Estacado (Staked Plains) and was considered totally hostile and barren except to those who knew where the isolated and often hidden water sources and springs could be found. The discovery of large underground rivers, now known as aquifers, and the development of the windmill to lift the water signaled the advancing tide of white settlers in the 1870s and 1880s. In the 1860s the Chihuahua Trail from Mexico to Indianola, Texas, a significant trading route, crossed the region, as did the route of the Butterfield Overland Mail (1858-61), and the Goodnight-Loving Trail.
One of the early settlers to the area was Zachary Taylor Brown, a sheep rancher and mercantile businessman in Midland. In partnership with H.M. Garrett, he built some of the original brick buildings in Midland. There is a city park named Garrett-Brown to honor their foresight and patronage. In 1906, Brown purchased some of the sections of land that would later be called the Barr Ranch from the State of Texas as a school land grant. After establishing a homestead as required by the rules governing a land grant sale, he transferred ownership to his son and new wife as a wedding present.
In the 1940s the stewardship of the land went to Wilson Barr and his wife. They lived in the house for the next 25 years. Their daughters recall driving cross country on ranch roads the 25 miles to Crane to attend school. Eventually the Barr family moved to Crane although Wilson continued to manage the Barr Ranch into the 1990s.
Graduating from Texas A&M University in 1976, Stan Smith moved back to West Texas to live on and manage the Railway Ranch. He married Ann Rutherford in 1984 and they were blessed with two children. Samuel Augustus Smith was born in 1990 and Daniel Woodrow Smith was born in 1995. In 1990, the Smith family purchased the Buffalo Basin Ranch. In 1997, they added the first of the Barr Ranch sections. In the spring of 2002, they purchased the final four sections on the Barr Ranch from the direct descendents of Zachary Taylor Brown. As a family, the Smiths lived at the Barr House for many months while their home on the Railway Ranch was extensively remodeled. The family acknowledges that the best Christmas they ever had was the one they spent at the Barr. During this time the idea was born to fully remodel the Barr House and open it to the public. Today, the three ranches are combined and encompass 72 contiguous square miles of rangeland. The Smith family continues to work toward the goal of restoring the natural beauty of the land through comprehensive land and wildlife management.