WT Alum Represents ‘Yellowstone’ Creator in 6666 Ranch Sale

Don Bell has been in the ranching real estate game for six years. During that time, he helped negotiate the sale of several ranches over 5,000 acres, but none like 6666 Ranch.

“There just aren’t many plots of land available like this,” Bell said.

Bell graduated from West Texas A&M University in 1998 with a degree in Equine Industry and Commerce and has since been recognized as a Distinguished Alumnus of the Department of Agricultural Science. After leaving WT, he quickly trained world champion quarter horses, while finding time for his other passions of western drawing, sculpting and writing/performing music.

Later, Bell moved into the world of horse cutting while keeping his artistic bent. But a career change and a friendship with film producer and screenwriter Taylor Sheridan put Bell at the forefront of a historic ranch deal.

“Don is very driven and truly seeks excellence in everything he does,” said Dr. John Pipkin, Regents Professor of Animal Science and Equine Program Director at WT, who also served as Bell’s advisor. “He’s a near-perfectionist, or at least he strives for excellence.”

Now head of Don Bell Properties in Weatherford, west of Fort Worth, his group represents United Country Ranch Properties in Texas and Oklahoma. Much of Bell’s business was in this area west of Fort Worth, where he represented a number of cutting horse farms and sold numerous parcels of land of at least a 640-acre section.

Timing and a friendship led to a historic transaction. Sheridan moved to the Weatherford area about five years ago. Their mutual interest in horses and the Western lifestyle along with Bell’s artistic flair forged a bond with the two.

Sheridan’s many credits in the film industry include acting, writing, directing and producing. He was one of the stars of FX’s “Sons of Anarchy” about 15 years ago. He first wrote the screenplay for “Sicario” in 2015 which was nominated by the Writers Guild of America for Best Original Screenplay. Sheridan then followed that up with an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay for “Hell or High Water” in 2016.

Currently, he is the co-creator, producer and director of Paramount Network’s mega hit “Yellowstone” and the creator of its prequel, “1883”.

In 2020, two years after “Yellowstone” debuted, Anne Marion, great-granddaughter of 6666 Ranch founder Samuel Burk Burnett, died. Although there are other descendants, she was the last directly related to the iconic ranch. The terms of his will after his death on February 11, 2020 stated that all 6,666 cattle farms would be sold.

Don Bell takes in the scenery of the famous 6666 ranch on horseback.

“It takes a special person to buy it”

Upon hearing the news, Bell’s heart started beating a little faster at the possibilities. Although he grew up in Tennessee, he moved to Texas shortly after graduating from high school. He knew the culture and history of the Four Six. When he traveled to WT, he sometimes went out of his way to go through the southern part of the ranch near Guthrie in King County.

“All the world champion racehorses, cow horses, cutters that come from there are awesome,” Bell said. “I would intentionally drive in the Guthrie area to see the Fork and the Six. It’s a fairly well-known brand.

At the time of Marion’s death, Sheridan was filming part of “Yellowstone” Season 4 on 6666. For a few months in 2020, the ranch’s future was under wraps. Then it began to leak that Marion’s will had put the ranch on the market with a firm and swift stipulation: The buyer would continue the ranch’s legacy that began 150 years ago.

6666 Ranch is the ninth largest in Texas. Operational since 1870, the complex covers approximately 266,000 acres. More than 100,000 acres of the Dixon Creek section are in the Texas Panhandle in Carson and Hutchinson counties.

The ranch was established by Samuel Burk Burnett in 1900 after purchasing the land from the Louisville Land and Cattle Company. Legend has it that he won the ranch at a game of cards, where he scored four sixes. It’s a great story, but the Burnett family denied the folklore. Instead, the name comes from the first herd he raised on the ranch, which was branded “6666.”

Long before “Yellowstone”, 6666 gained some notoriety in national pop culture in the 1960s and 1970s when the ranch’s red barn was used in national advertising for Marlboro, the national brand of cigarettes.

It just wasn’t just any old ranch on the market.

“I had several people in the horse industry buying big ranches that I thought might be suitable and I pitched it to them,” Bell said. “After several months of back and forth, it was clear to me that this was not going to suit any of them. There were a lot of people watching the ranch. There were four to five serious parties. There takes a special person to buy it.

Bell and Milt Bradford, his close friend and business partner, had considered Sheridan as a possible buyer for logical reasons, but thought he had too many other irons in the fire.

“Taylor said, ‘I want to know all the details,’ which was a surprise to us,” Bell said. “Taylor has so much to do and we weren’t sure if it was going to add any more to his schedule, but he’s so passionate about the western lifestyle and the horse business.”

Sheridan needed to put together an investment group, and it took time. Together with Bell and Bradford, Sheridan was registered as a potential ranch buyer in February 2021. Sam Middleton of Chas. S. Middleton and Son LLC in Lubbock represented the ranch.

“It’s always complicated when you’re dealing with multiple personalities and multiple investors for an entity like this,” Bell said. “It caused us the most speed bumps due to varying personalities and opinions.”

Don Bell rounding up some of the award winning horses from Ranch 6666 in Guthrie.

Continuing the tradition 6666

As important as negotiating a sale was convincing ranch managers that a new owner would continue 6666’s tradition of operation and stewardship.

“Taylor is the perfect person to carry on the tradition of the Four Sixes,” Bell said. “All of this is important to him. He is very determined to preserve the authenticity of the ranch. It can create new cash flow opportunities while keeping the operation as it was.

“Taylor did a really good job of representing himself that way. He convinced them wholeheartedly to carry on the tradition of what Ms Marion would have wanted.

Bradford died two days before the signing of the purchase/sale agreement in 2021. The final purchase price for the ranches was not disclosed, but the ranches were listed for sale at $341 million for the only real estate.

“It will be very similar to how it has been used for the past 150 years,” Bell said. “They also have other projects. In the next few months, people will see the 6666 brand everywhere.

In addition to portions of “Yellowstone” seasons 4 and 5 filmed on 6666, the “1883” prequel filmed at the ranch, and stars Sam Elliott, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill were spotted in Amarillo. In the future, according to TV Guide, it will be “6666,” which will take Yellowstone’s story from Montana to Texas.

That Bell has thrived in real estate comes as no surprise to Pipkin, who has been at WT since 1993. Bell first came to Texas to attend Abilene Christian University, but transferred to WT because of Pipkin and team of horse judges.

At WT he was part of the horse judging team and helped with the equestrian team. It was at school that his writing and guitar music began to flourish. He engraved an album during his studies and continued to work as an artist, in particular with charcoal.

“Don has always worked very hard. He has an exceptional work ethic and makes good use of the opportunities he’s had,” Pipkin said. “I’m not surprised he’s had a lot of success in the real estate business. He’s pretty much succeeded in everything he touches.

Regarding Sheridan’s portrayal in the sale of the famed ranch, Bell called it “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

“And even that’s an understatement,” Bell said. “It’s very humbling to be part of it. It is a legendary torch-passing in the state of Texas and in the American West. I could sell ranches for another 50 years and never be part of something like this. It’s very humbling, that’s about all I can say.

Do you know a student, faculty member, project, alumnus, or other story idea for “WT: The Heart and Soul of the Texas Panhandle?” If so, email Jon Mark Beilue at jbeilue@wtamu.edu .

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