ames Buchanan “Buck” Winn, Jr. was one of Texas’ most well-known regionalist artists of the mid 1900s. Also an accomplished sculptor, inventor, architect, professor, and pilot, Winn’s art can, to this day, be found in a multitude of cultural sites throughout Texas and beyond—most notably “The History of Ranching”, a record-setting 280-foot mural originally at the Pearl Brewery and now displayed, in part, at numerous locations including Wimberley Community Center, and Texas State University, among others. Other notable contributions to our state’s cultural history include the murals located in the Texas’ Hall of State which were commissioned for the 1936 Texas Centennial in Dallas, as well as the renowned “Morning Glories”, a character-defining feature at Aquarena Springs.
Winn resided on a 1,164-acre piece of wild Hill Country land just outside of Wimberley, Texas that he purchased as a place to raise his family, and to gain inspiration for the creation of his art. Today, that property, known as Four Winns Ranch, is owned by Buck Winn’s descendants who recently chose to forever protect its history, culture and beauty with a conservation easement on 165 acres of the original parcel of land. The easement is held by Hill Country Conservancy, in partnership with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
Although Buck Winn was the property’s most famous resident, the land is steeped in history with probable human activity dating back to historic and prehistoric times. Before the area was colonized, nomadic indigenous people roamed that area as game and water allowed. The 1600s and 1700s brought Spanish presence to the area, and after Texas gained independence from Mexico in 1836 anglo settlers moved into the region. Rock fences dating from 1850 span long distances on the Four Winns Ranch property along the north bank of Pierce Creek suggesting German settlers homesteaded on the property around that time. It was in 1937 that Buck Winn purchased this parcel of land previously known as the Pierce Ranch.
Today, the property retains the same hardscrabble pastures, rolling hills, cedar thickets, and occasional oak groves through which indigenous peoples roamed and found their sustenance. Its unique plant life and ecological features, once abundant throughout the region, are now somewhat rare in an area of Texas often characterized by overgrazing, excess deer and hogs, and fragmentation. Numerous species of birds and wildlife take refuge and thrive on this land which teems with plentiful habitat, food, and water sources. A wildlife survey of Four Winns ranch revealed nine avian species currently listed as Species of Greatest Conservation Need including Summer Tanager, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Red-shouldered Hawk, and the federally protected Golden-cheeked Warbler.
Four Winns Ranch fronts the Blanco River and boasts two miles of Pierce Creek, one of its major tributaries. The Blanco River pulses through the heart of Texas recharging the Edwards and Middle Trinity Aquifers as it flows. Thus, keeping the Blanco and its tributaries pristine through land conservation is critical to safeguarding clean drinking water for hundreds of thousands of Central Texans. Recharge of surface water into the Blanco River downstream of Four Winns Ranch contributes to the region’s many beloved swimming holes, including San Marcos Springs and the iconic Barton Springs. In fact, the Blanco River provides up to 6% of the recharge on average to Barton Springs but during drought conditions is the only source of natural surface recharge. San Marcos Springs and Barton Springs collectively provide habitat for a variety of aquatic endangered species such as the fountain darter, the Texas blind salamander, the San Marcos Salamander, the Austin blind salamander, the Barton Springs Salamander, and others.
Thanks to the Winn family’s decision to protect Four Winns Ranch and the critical support of NRCS’ Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, the conserved land will continue to provide immense public benefit to all Central Texans by protecting the water quality and unique cultural history of the ranch. The protection of the property will also support the biological diversity of the many plant and animal species dependent on its plentiful nesting habitat and food sources. In addition to preserving these special resources, the conservation easement preserves the economic vitality of the property and allows for ongoing agricultural and ecotourism enterprises, including a zipline which races thousands of visitors per year across the hills and creeks on the property.
For those who would like to immerse themselves in the beautiful Hill Country landscape at Four Winns Ranch, you can see it firsthand by booking a zipline tour with Wimberley Zipline Adventures.