Richards, of Ships Wheel Ranch, expands his cattle holdings
by Ed Cook, Contributing Writer
Bartlett Richards, who owns the Ships Wheel Ranch on the Belle Fourche is getting into ranching in a big way. Even though he is only 20, he has combined his ranch and the neighboring Rocky Mountain Cattle Company's 85 Ranch on the Powder River. In addition to this he has recently purchased 6,000 cattle from Edgar Bronson in northwestern Nebraska, and is now the new manager of the 33 ranches.
Edgar Bronson was the manager of the Lakota Cattle Company who brands the 33 brand. The brand actually consisted of three 3's or "three crows flying" usually placed horizontally above each other on the animal's side. This herd was probably the first one ranged north of the North Platte River in eastern Wyoming Territory. They established winter quarters for 716 cows and calves on Cottonwood Creek northwest of Fort Laramie in 1877 just a few months after Chief Crazy Horse had surrendered.
The next January and February (1878) Bronson, with one other man, scouted for 60 days in the former heartland of the Sioux Indians between Fort Laramie and Fort Robinson. He finally picked two locations, one with 20 miles of the Niobrara River and the other just north of it with 20 miles of the White River.
Bronson located the home ranch and corrals of the 33 ranch on Deadman Creek six miles south of Fort Robinson. At this time there was no other ranch to contest his range within 60 miles.
In 1879, the Lakota Cattle Company was formed with Bronson as manager, other partners included Abram Hewitt, Edward Cooper, Clarence King and James Gardner. Using Texas and Oregon cattle, Bronson thereupon enlarged his herds to about 8,000 head.
Last winter (1881-82) was a hard one for many western cattlemen, and due to the extraordinary profits of the last few years, ranges south of the North Platte River are becoming overstocked. Grangers (homesteaders) are coming west by the thousands and the railroads keep coming closer.
Cattle prices this spring were up at least 25 percent from last year but there are signs that the cattle boom may break. There has been several easy winters but Bronson figures that the law of averages will soon come up with a cattle killer season of a hot dry summer and a frigid winter.
Taking all these things into consideration, after this golden season of 82, Bronson and all of the partners of the Lakota Cattle Company, except Hewitt, were anxious to sell after the fall roundup. Hewitt, confident that good profits would continue, bought out his partners and put young Richards in charge of the company.
Consequently at an age when he could be entering his junior year at Williams College, Bartlett, instead, finds himself managing three open range ranches with more than 10,000 head of cattle ranging over an area almost as large as his native state of Vermont.
(Information source: "Bartlett Richards-Nebraska Sandhills Cattleman," by Bartlett Richards Jr. and Ruth Van Ackeren.)