Looking Back After 63 Years on the Homestead
by Kim Maxwell
Things haven't changed much on the Henry Wasserburger ranch since he homesteaded it in 1916.
There are more buildings and the place has a modern look to it, but the original homestead house is still in use. And Wasserburger's family is in its third generation of ranching on the Niobrara County spread.
It wasn't easy for Wasserburger and his brother John, to leave their home in northern Sioux County and move across the state line into northern Niobrara County. But they had to move if they ever wanted a place of their own.
There was just no room down in Harrison," Wasserburger said. "There was no chance of getting anything done down there. We tried to buy land but there wasn't any.
"We came up here, saw this land and said it was good enough for us."
Wasserburger and his brother formed a partnership to homestead the land because John wasn't old enough to sign the homestead papers for himself.
They started out with 640 acres like all homesteaders. When John turned 21, he filed his own claim and received 640 acres.
The ranch continued to grow as the brothers bought out other ranchers in the Buck Creek area who had gone broke. Today the Wasserburger ranch covers more than 10,000 acres.
Wasserburger raised cattle and trailed them to Harrison for the winter, returning to the homestead for the summer.
He trailed his first herd of cattle from the homestead to Coffee Siding at Van Tassell to be shipped to market. "We had 101 head of yearling steers," he said. "We were pretty proud of them."
Wasserburger continued cattle ranching through grasshopper and prairie dog attacks.
"When the grasshoppers hit, they just cleaned house - we were helpless," he said. "Then the government took hold and helped us out."
The brothers survived the Great Depression but "had a hell of a time finding money," Wasserburger said.
Wasserburger eventually branched out into other areas of business. He went into the sheep business to stay out of debt and almost lost the ranch.
Wasserburger was running sheep in the Buck Creek area when a terrible hail storm and flood hit in 1945, drowning almost 2,000 head.
"The report in Lusk was that I went broke," Wasserburger said. "But I still had 500 head of sheep and I bought 200 more. I was back in business the same day it happened almost."
Wasserburger also bought into a little bank in Ardmore, S.D., where the banker loaned money until he went broke. Wasserburger, however, "ran into a little money."
After his banking experience, Wasserburger rook $2000 he had in the bank and bought lots in Edgemont, S.D. - then an oil boom town. After he bought the lots, the boom died down, and Wasserburger was stuck with land in a town that wasn't growing.
I paid taxes and paid taxes on those lots," he said. "A fellow from Mule Creek wanted to get into real estate, so I traded the lots for a few hogs and milk cows."
Even while working to improve his ranch, Wasserburger also tried to help his community. Because he was married almost 50 years to a school teacher, the late Anna Pfister, it seemed natural that he should serve on the school board.
As a member of the District 4 board, Wasserburger was instrumental in helping consolidate the school districts.
"We had a meeting once a year and people came with their complaints," he said. "We finally consolidated into one district. It was wonderful."
The tradition of a Wasserburger on the school board was carried out by Henry Jr., who served on the Niobrara County School Board for 15 years.
While change and growth are inevitable on any ranch, Wasserburger has maintained a part of the past with the original homestead house, where his grandson, J.D., still lives.
Wasserburger bought the house in Manville after the big oil boom died out. He paid $600 and it cost him about $900 to have the house moved from Manville to the ranch.
"Foster Johnson moved the house over 77 Hill," Wasserburger said. "How in the heck he did it I don't know."
"We put a basement on it and it still has the same furnace. It was just a giveaway."
The traditions of ranching and school teaching still remain strong in the Wasserburger family.
Two children, Bill and Jean became school teachers in California while Henry Jr. chose to remain on the ranch. Today two of Wasserburger's grandsons also are working on the ranch.
Although it was difficult moving to Niobrara County to homestead, Wasserburger, who is 84, is glad he chose to live here, and hopes to keep the ranch in the family.
"I always liked it and I like it better now than ever. It's a lot easier."
Images & Attachments
|Obituary||Wasserburger, Anna (10/27/1900 - 08/09/1977)||View Record||Obituary||Wasserburger, Henry (08/16/1895 - 05/09/1982)||View Record||Obituary||Wasserburger, Henry (12/08/1870 - 09/17/1950)||View Record||Obituary||Wasserburger, Henry (05/18/1931 - 01/18/2023)||View Record|