Historical Details

Olinger Ranch

Courtesy of Our Heritage: Niobrarans and Neighbors, 02/22/2021


Albert James Olinger (1880 - 1954)

Margaret 'Maggie' Mary Pfister-Olinger (1880 - 1959)

by Donald J. Olinger

Initial Ranch History

The Olinger Ranch buildings were in the southwest quarter of the northeast quarter, Section 2, Township 35 North, Range 63 West of the Sixth Principal Meridian. It was first in Converse County, but later, upon sub­ division, in Niobrara County. They were just over one-quarter mile north of the confluence of Young Woman Creek with Old Woman Creek, and approximately 19 miles north and 3 miles east of the town of Lusk. The travel distance to Lusk was considered to be 25 miles, either up the Old Woman Creek route, or the more easterly mail route by the Hat Creek Store and post office owned by Andrew Faulkner. This later became the U.S. 85 highway route.

The original homestead was Ralph Olinger's, a younger brother (1885-1965) who came to Wyoming Dec. 30, 1905. Ralph first  visited his uncle, Frank Hanson (1870 - 1951) who lived approximately one mile west  on Young Woman Creek. Ralph recalled, in a letter  to a nephew in 1962 "that while at Frank and Catherine Clare Burke-Dorsey­ Hansons' in the winter of 1906, I hemmed 'didies' for the expected first born in that family, Dan Hanson, born Feb. 4, 1906."

Ralph obtained employment herding sheep at the Albert Rochelle Ranch. Frank gave him a horse to ride there, 20 miles to the northwest, instructing Ralph to tie the reins to the saddle horn and turn the horse loose upon arrival, for he would return home. This worked out as planned, for there were no fences through this country at that time. A few months later, partially due to having attended Business College at Omaha, Ralph moved into Lusk for employment as a clerk with the Snyder and Collins Store.

He was associated with this organization, later named H.C. Snyder Mercantile Company, until it was dissolved in 1933. He then moved to Newcastle, Wyo. where he and his wife Elvira Snyder-Olinger, whom he had married May 19, 1912, had already established a clothing store.

Albert - Family Origin and Early Background Albert James Olinger was born Jan. 5, 1880, at the farm home of his parents James Preston Olinger (1849 - 1925) and Isabel Hanson-Olinger (1856 - 1946). Albert's father was six years old when the family of seven children and two parents left Virginia to travel the first 150 miles to the Kanawaha River by four-horse team, thence  by steamboat to the Ohio River, then on the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers suc­cessively to the river port of St. Joseph. The final span of the trip was by team and wagon, arriving at the Tekamah townsite on Nov. 13, 1855, to complete the 32-day journey.

Albert's maternal grandparents, Herbjorne Hansson Rue (1818-1887) and Julia Mathilde Kittilson-Rue (1826 - 1909)had emigrated, with seven children, from the farm and timber community of Hovin, Telemark, Norway, in 1860. Their destination was near Leland, LaSalle County, Illinois. Ten years later, in 1870, having Americanized their names to Herman (often Harmon or Harman) Hanson and Julia Mathilde Kittilson-Hanson, they moved westward ap­proximately 450 miles to a farm about eight miles north of Tekamah, Neb.  There were now 12 children. Hans, the eldest, was 24, while Frank, the youngest, was only several weeks old. Isabelle, the sixth child, was thirteen. Albert had heard many tales of  pio­neering from both sides of his family, and  his two uncles, Oliver 'Red' Hanson and Frank Hanson, had spent considerable time out west in Wyoming and Montana. He had decided early that when 21 he would go west to become a cowboy.

Westward - To Wyoming

Albert arrived by train at Node, Wyo. July 4th, 1901. Here he worked for his uncle, 'Red' Hanson, who had a ranch on Duck Creek just a mile north of Node. In the spring of 1902 'Red' sold his ranch to Tom Bell, and moved, with his wife and six children, to a new ranch at Tilford, S.D. Albert then worked for Tom Bell and became a hard rider, usually at a fast trot, or a gallop.  At one time he had nearly 25 horses in his 'string', and would, if pos­sible, change mounts in the middle of the day. For a number of years he was Bell's representative on the annual roundups con­ducted by the Coffee and Tinnin ranch in the North Platte Valley from Guernsey to Scotts  bluff.  During haying season he considered it just a normal day to pitch nine to eleven loads of hay (rattlesnakes included).

In 1908, Albert took some leave from working at the Tom Bell ranch. He resided at the Frank Hanson ranch and while under the supervision of Fred Kettler (not related to the Kettlers of Manville) he and others built a three room log house on the Ralph Olinger homestead. This was in addition to Ralph's original homestead house, which now included a horse barn and a chicken house, also of log construction. They built an earth cellar 50 feet west of the house, plus cow sheds and corrals several hundred feet east and north. Frank Hanson was skilled in this type of construction, for when only 17 he helped his oldest brother Hans, build a log cabin home and other appurtenances in Banner County, Nebraska, during the spring of 1888. Several wells were hand dug in the area adjacent to the Olinger house before a satisfactory water supply was located. This was slightly over one hundred  yards south and east of the house, on the edge of an upper Old Woman Creek terrace, so a windmill and stocktank were located there, and water had to be hauled to the house from this location.

Albert and Margaret "Maggie' Mary Pfister were married Jan. 6, 1909, at her parents' (the John Pfisters) ranch about seven miles southeast of Lusk. They then moved into the new three room log home on Old Woman Creek.

Maggie - Family Origin and Early Background Margaret 'Maggie' Mary Pfister, and twin brother Valentine, were the first children born on a small farm near Junction City, Geary County, Kansas, to John Pfister (1857 - 1939) and Ellen Josephine Arnold- Pfister (1861-1926) Jan. 25, 1880. In the spring of 1884, the mother and children moved to Wyoming Territory, Laramie County, by train, with all their possessions and livestock, where father John and his brother­ in-law, Edward Arnold - with whom he was in partnership, met them. There were then only four children, Maggie, Valentine, Jane and John - just a baby. The mother drove the covered wagon north from Cheyenne, while

the two men drove the horses and cattle. Their destination, which the two men had selected earlier, was in the north edge of the pine covered hills southwest of Silver Cliff (now Lusk) and southeast of the pre­sent town of Manville.

While building their three room log house, they camped near a spring and had a
cook shed with a roof of pine twigs. One morning, while Mrs. Pfister was at the spring caring for the milk, the roof of the _ shed caught fire. Maggie and Valentine pulled John, in his cradle, from the shed, rescued Jane, and called their mother.

Maggie recalled the blizzard of May 1, 1886, and how her father and uncle rode for days getting the drifted cattle home again. The winter here in the hills was generally longer and more severe than in some of the adjoining lower country, and the profuse loco weed in the area was quite detrimental to their horses. Therefore, five years later, and with three more children, Richard, Frances and William, they moved to a better location approximately eight miles southeast of Lusk.  In this community there was a school for the children, who had been denied a formal education thus far.

The children progressed quite well in school, even though the terms were only of three months duration. Maggie completed her education in Junction City, Kan. and the Grand Island Business School in Nebraska.

At 17 she taught her first term of school, north of Manville at the 77 Ranch. Then she taught in various other locations in south­ east Wyoming: at Uva, approximately seven miles northeast of Wheatland; Lindbergh, a Swedish community approximately 10 miles north of Pine Bluffs; Sherman's Ranch on Raw­hide Creek, northeast of Lingle; Tom Bell's Ranch, east of Node, etc.

Early Ranch Life (1909 - 1930)

When Albert and Maggie moved into their new home in 1909, the house was considered to be quite spacious and luxurious. Along with all the other buildings it was very adequate for a ranch operation.

Albert had sold his homestead, north of Node, to Tom Bell. Albert and Ralph had 
a partnership for a number of years, but the winter of 1912 practically put them out of business. Ralph did not restock, but Albert continued on. Ralph obtained the Patent on the homestead in 1915, and shortly thereafter sold his remaining live­ stock. Albert then bought the homestead.

Albert had the L7 Brand, and at first cattle were turned out to the north and west on 'open range' in late spring. They ranged west to the present Lance Creek town area, approximately 15 miles, and north, well into the Buck Creek Hills, or about 10 miles. Grass was often scarce, due to drought, overgrazing, or both. Water was usually a problem, and cattle became mired down in mud adjacent to 'water holes', or in Buck Creek (present Crazy Woman Creek) and Lance Creek. If found in time, they were roped and pulled out with the saddle horse - otherwise they perished.  This was one reason for constantly riding the range area, plus turning back any that drifted too far out of a desirable range area. Thus the fall roundup was not such a large job. The last roundup was held in 1918, and this 'open range' was gone by the early 1920's due to homesteading.

'Pitch-pine' fence posts and firewood were hauled by team and wagon, from the Buck Creek Hills, where the south edge was about six miles to the north.  Here there was an abundance of fallen and cured timber. This was a long day's job for each load.

Around 1920 this area was homesteaded and the fuel supply had to be switched to coal and hauled from Lusk.

There were about two or three trips per year into Lusk with the wagon, (inter­ mediate trips of emergency or social nature were usually with the buggy), and usually a four to six month's supply of staple foods were laid by: flour, corn meal, baking powder, sugar, salt, coffee, tea, syrup, potatoes, beans, salt fish, salt pork, bacon and ham. There were a variety of canned goods such as green beans, peas, cream corn, and tomatoes: also dried fruits, including apples, peaches, apricots, prunes and raisins. Along with such a gro­cery purchase, the store usually added a complimentary sack of assorted candies.

This was anticipated with great expectations by the children, Donald James, born April 8, 1910 at Lusk and Isabel Ellen, born Jan. 28, 1917 at the Douglas hospital.

By the early 1920's, the Olingers had purchased the Elmer Clarence DeBorde and Max Heth homesteads, and were operating entirely on approximately 5000 acres of fenced lands, either deeded or leased, on both sides of U.S. Highway 85. The DeBorde log cabin had been used as a bunk house, even though it was nearly a mile south and across Young Woman Creek. DeBorde had con­ structed a tight wire trolley, prior to World War I, between two heavy pitch-pine posts, anchored by 'deadmen', across Young Woman Creek. With an old motorcycle rim astride the wire one could sit on the single-tree, suspended below, and cross 'high and dry' during flood stages. After purchase, the DeBorde log cabin was moved and re-set about 150 feet southwest of the three room ranch house, where it again served as a bunk house. The Elmer Olinger one room tar-paper board homestead shack was moved and reset 10 feet west of the DeBorde house, with the intervening space roofed over and enclosed on the north to serve as a garage for the 1916 Buick touring car that Elmer had brought out from Albert's parents in 1922. Elmer's shack served as a shop and storage area.

Cattle were now pastured adjacent to Sage Creek (designated as Hat Creek further south near the Hat Creek store and post office), on the east side of the highway during the summer and fall, plus fattening those for fall shipping in leased pastures northeast of Lusk. Wintering was in pastures west of the highway and adjacent to the ranch buildings.

A school was started in the community in 1915. This served the children of four families: Stephen and Gaylord Anderson; Clara, Ray and Bertha Freeman; Dan and Sadie Hanson; Donald and Isabel Olinger. Teachers boarded at the Andersons, Hansons and Olingers at various times.

Albert and Maggie kept their two children busy in 4-H club activities. Maggie was one of the first 4-H club organizers in northern Niobrara County, and some members of her sewing class came from distances of up to 30 miles by horseback or wagon. She was also a member of the first Extension Club organized in the county.

The Middle Years (1930 - 1945)

During this period, due to 'bum lambs' that had been picked up during the middle and late 1920' s from sheep ranchers for Isabel to raise on skimmed milk, there was a gradual change in the ranch operation.

The sheep inventory increased to over 600 and the cattle inventory was reduced to around 50. The sheep provided a welcome additional late spring income from the wool, whereas the yearly income from the cattle had only been once, in the late fall.

Initially, as the sheep increased, it was necessary to hire a herder. However, Albert kept upgrading the fences to a five­ wire sheep tight facility. This, along with improved predator control of coyotes, eventually enabled him to operate without a herder.  Surprisingly, the sheep did much better under this manner of operation. 

The Twilight Years (.1945 - 1959)

There was a gradual improvement in the Olinger's financial picture following World War II. They liquidated their loans in 1947, and moved a modern four room frame house in from the town of Lance Creek. It was placed on a foundation and full base­ment at the location of the old horse barn and chicken house.  It was only connected to electricity at this time.

The sheep and cattle did very well, and fortunately there was no loss of live­ stock during the blizzard of 1949. Albert and Maggie purchased their new automobile in Dec., 1950. The original O'Connell homestead of 404 acres, owned by Herman Hitz, was purchased in 1953.

Albert passed away on July 30, 1954, after an overnight stay at the Spencer Hospital in Lusk. He had been in failing health for several years. Interment was in the Lusk Cemetery.

Maggie sold all the sheep and most of the cattle at appropriate market times during the following fall months. She had an electric well pump installed, then added water and a sewage disposal system to the house. She leased the grass to Wayne and Betty Dainton, neighbors to the east. First Mrs. Ida Boogaard, Betty's sister, lived on the ranch with Maggie. Then Wayne and Betty, who also managed the few remaining cows, were there until the spring of 1960.

In the winter of 1958-59, Maggie moved to Lusk, due to age and ill health. She had room and board with Mrs. Emma Rogers, and passed away of sudden heart failure Sept. 3, 1959 at the DePaul Hospital in Cheyenne. Interment was made in the Lusk Cemetery. 

An Era Ends - 1960

Early in May, 1960, the Olinger ranch properties were relinquished to new owners. Dan Hanson, now headquartering at Mayoworth, Wyo. received the deeded land, including the Elmer Olinger land, and all leases on the west side of U.S. Highway 85.  The land and leases east of said highway went to Wayne and Betty Dainton, who were now moving into their newly built ranch home on Sage Creek. The Olinger era in this com­munity had ended after over half a century.


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Related/Linked Records

Record Type Name
Obituary Olinger, Albert (01/05/1880 - 07/30/1954) View Record
Obituary Olinger, Margaret (01/25/1880 - 09/03/1959) View Record