Quick—Where’s The Largest US Cattle Ranch?

RanchIf anything, cattlemen are a breed apart. Ornery. Contrarian. Hard workers. Astute business folks. Such was the case of John Palmer Parker of Newton, MA.

He married a king’s daughter and grew the largest cattle ranch ever. In Hawaii. So, where’s this large cattle ranch?

Hawaii, of course.

This is a story about John Palmer Parker. And the Waimea area of the Big Island of Hawaii. It’s called the big island for a few reasons, not the least of which are all the huge cone-shaped volcanoes— and the Parker Ranch; at one time the largest cattle ranch in the US.

Parker came to Hawaii way back in 1809 at the tender age of 19. He was hired by King Kamehameha to round up the wild cattle on the Big Island. I’m not sure how the cattle got there or what made them so wild. But they were there, Parker was there, the King wanted the cattle rounded up, and Parker got the job.

Maybe Parker was a cattleman, and maybe not. After all, he came from Newton, Massachusetts. Maybe they had cattle way back then.

Regardless, John Palmer Parker was an astute young man. He talked his way in to the round up job and along the way noticed just how beautiful the King’s daughter was. Everyone knows that Kings, particularly the kind that hand you a job, don’t have ugly daughters, so we’re assuming this daughter was beautiful.

So Parker married the beautiful daughter of King Kamehameha, Kipikane. Because he was the King’s cattleman, he received a small land grant. Kipikane had a grant of her own—640 acres, to be exact. That was the start of cattle production in Hawaii.

Since then, Parker Ranch grew to over 225,000 acres and the largest cattle ranch in the US. Larger even than Texas cattle ranches.

The Parker Ranch sits atop an area known as Waimea (between Hamakua on the Windward side). It’s nearly 3,000 feet up, cool, dry in some areas, lush and rainy in other areas.

Waimea town has the Parker Ranch Visitor Center, which is something you get to do if you’ve been herding cattle for nearly 200 years, as the Parker family has.  There’s a museum of early cowboy life in Hawaii. Cowboys are known as “Paniolo” to the local folks.

The original Parker home is also there. It was built entirely of Koa wood back in 1847. The newer ranch house, Puuopelu, was built in 1862 by John Parker’s son, John Palmer Parker II.

Hawaii. Home to cowboys and heroes.


  1. Unfortunately, Hawaii used to be the site of the largest cattle ranch but now, the Deseret Cattle ranch in Florida takes those honors. It is estimated that the Parker ranch has between 30,000 to 35,000 head of cattle but the Florida ranch (run by the Mormons) averages over 40,000 head.