Bartlett Richards' associations in area are now revealed
by Jim Stratton
As an advanced student of military history with somehwat of a flair for frontier history and cowboy legacy, I always enjoy Dateline Hat Creek. Twice recently I have noted references to Bartlett Richards and question how many Niobrara and Converse County residents really know his association and ties to this area. Henceforth I will try to bring a little enlightenment.
Much to his mother's disappointment, young Bartlett was forced to cut his education short in early college years, due to poor health, and seek a different climate. His father, a preacher, had died previously and with abundant insurance, had left his mother very comfortably situated. Thus when he stepped from the train at Cheyenne to become a cowboy, young Bart wasn't forced to seek the beaneries and flop houses of the ordinary cowhand and was soon a member of the elite Cheyenne Cattleman's Club. He was fortunate to be able to continue his education under the tutorship of some of the better educated cattlemen.
But a working cowhand he became and was quick to learn cows and cow country ways. He decided he would prefer to be a cattleman than a cowhand and with some finances from his brother and what he could promote from friends he was able to put together a very nice herd of cattle.
He established a ranch on the Belle Fourche River with the object(ive) of supplying beef for the fast growing miner camps in the Black Hills. Those were in the days when "your fellow man was scattered some."
There were roving bands of desperados and a gathering of young Sioux braves off the reservation wasn't unusual. The young braves would be out to steal horses, run off cattle and weren't adverse to lifting a white scalp when out so far from habitation. These were the days when Judge Colt and Oliver Winchester were welcome bed fellows. Bartlett stuck and took care of his cattle alone.
He later came down on the Niobrara to establish a ranch on Duck Creek and his brother came to visit. He liked the area so well he decided to stay and established a bank in Douglas. Then came the big equalizer blizzard. (I'm a poor historian because I can't remember dates, just happenings. My dad joined the 11th Infantry in 1911 and was stationed at Ft. D.A. Russell at Cheyenne during the blizzard but was on the Mexican Border during the Pancho Villa ruckus in 1913.)
The reason it was called the equalizer was that when it was over all stockmen were equal, no one had anything. Banker Richards started purchasing large bands of sheep in Oregon and having them trailed to Wyoming. He then loaned the land owners money to purchase them. This may account for a large number of sheep yet in the Douglas area today. If my memory is correct, sometimes it sure needs corrected, he later became governor of Wyoming.
Back to Bartlett. While operating the Duck Creek Ranch, stockmen had little desire for setting up in the Nebraska sandhill county, but Bart observed how well elk from the Black Hills wintered there and once came across a little bunch of stray cattle that had come through the winter in fine condition.
He started establishing waterings and drilling wells to claim all surrounding government land as was the custom. With some partners he established the famous old Spade Ranch, which encompassed hundreds of square miles and numbered cattle in the thousands.
Then came the homesteaders. Mostly poor immigrants whom someone had convinced they could make a living on one of those little government squats. Cattlemen were ordered to take down their fences and refused. They fought hard to elect Teddy Roosevelt, expecting sympathy from him as a brother cattleman. He went according to law and sent that famous old Gray Ghost of the confederacy, John Mosby, out to see that the fences came down.
Litigation and court battles followed until Bartlett and his partner, Will Comstock, were brought to trial and given a prison sentence. Much to the chagrin of the nestor element, an apartment was arranged in the basement of the courthouse at Hastings for their detainment and the news loudly proclaimed the elaborate meals they received at their own expense. Also the picnic table that was set up in the courthouse lawn where they could pass pleasant evenings with friends and relatives.
Barlett's health, never completely sound, became worse and much of his prison time was spent in Mayo Brothers Hospital where he died shortly before the expiration of his sentence. The few days left on Comstock's sentence were commuted that he might bury his old partner and friend.
A few of the old hands held the Spade together during that time, but the cost of the court battle left it broke and it passed into the hands of the receiver. Also under ownership of Will and Bartlett was the noted old 77 Ranch in Wyoming, a few miles south of Lance Creek village. It was at that time stocked with sheep and also included in the mortgage.
As mentioned, often waterings held grazing rights which may account for three small tracts that probably seemed too insignificant to mortgage. One was at the confluence of Cherry Creek and Lance Creek, another on Lance Creek at the edge of Lance Creek village and the third on Little Lightning just across Highway 271 from my residence.
Then came the Lance Creek oil boom and the last mentioned, The Richards-Comstock Lease, became a great producer. It left Mrs. Richards fixed very comfortably for the rest of her life and a good education for her children. Bartlett II later became either president or vice president of a large steel corporation. Will Comstock set up a trust in a Cheyenne bank and gave each of the hands that had stayed on the Spade without pay to the bitter end, a royalty interest. The Richards-Comstock lease is still in production and Marathon Oil continues to send monthly royalty payments to that trust.