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Finney County History Continued

The cost of the building complete was about $186,323.21. The main contract was let to the Bailey-Burns Construction Company of Norman, Oklahoma, for $122,400; Carter Bros. Hardware for plumbing, $13,995; Eggen Electric Co., $4,844.21; special sound-proof ceiling, $975.00; furniture $16,998; architects were Rutledge and Hertz of Hutchinson, Kansas, $7,000; installing water system, $2,500; decorating $2,830. The building is 76x107 feet, and four stories high. It is of steel and solid cement construction faced with Bedford, Indiana, stone.


The second chapter of the cattle industry began after the blizzard of 1886 under a new system and on a much smaller scale.

During the boom years the overwhelming number of homesteaders completely routed the open range cattlemen. But in 1888 the hot winds began again and crops were a complete failure, and people began leaving. In 1889-90 the crop conditions were no better, and unseasonable years prevailed all through the nineties. A great exodus of settlers took place in those first years of drouth. Soon all that remained upon many homesteads to remind one that it had once known home life were slight depressions or piles of sod marking the spots where the settlers' dugouts and shanties had stood.

The majority of those who did remain in the country suffered from poverty, but they had grit and determination and managed to stay on. But they gave up the idea of extensive farming and went back to stock raising and began to make use of all the deserted lands around them. Every farmer became a breeder, and every heifer calf was kept. The beginning of many herds was the family milk cow. Those who had money bought blooded stock, and there was a general grading up of stock cattle.

Practically all the land deserted by `the homesteaders had been mortgaged to various loan companies, and it was not long until these companies held titles. Owing to drouthy years, however, they could not sell it, and there were no crops on it from which to collect rentals, so they let much of it go back to the county. Gradually the men who had stayed on the job and were making use of the unoccupied lands began buying it up by quarters and sections often as low as a dollar per acre, or bought it in for taxes. The cheap land induced big ranchers from other parts to move their interests here. This new crop of cattlemen in a few years had control of large land holdings, but this time by purchase and ownership.

The big pastures were cleared of the boom towns. Even the population of Garden City dwindled to a few hundred, and once more it became only a cow town.

The Windsor Hotel with its 125 rooms, built to accommodate eastern speculators, now became headquarters for heads of wealthy cattle firms. Its spacious corridors and spindled patios were constantly thronged with booted and spurred cowmen. Cattle deals amounting to millions of dollars have been transacted over the long table in the great inner court.

Bands of cowboys cantered in from surrounding ranches and enlivened the town with their pranks. They were always well armed with guns while on the range. But they were law-abiding citizens and respected the ordinances of Garden City, which prohibited the carrying of fire-arms in town. As soon as they arrived, they would usually go straight to Carter Brothers Hardware store, strip off guns and belts, and hand them over the counter, to be stacked away in a drawer. They would then clatter up and down the plank side-walks in their high heeled boots and jangling spurs, stopping at the various places of business, or would be the center of an admiring crowd as they exhibited their skill with saddle ropes at which they were all artists.

During the days of `86 Garden City had supported sixteen "drug stores" where liquor was sold openly. Several of them quit business in the next few years, but those that remained seemed to prosper. According to the State Prohibition law, which had been in effect since May 1, 1881, whiskey could be sold only for medicinal purposes. Each applicant was required to fill out a blank, stating what he needed it for. They nearly always said, "for Consumption".

The cowboys usually managed for one reason or another to consume a satisfactory amount of whiskey while in town. By the time they were ready to go back to the range they were pretty well "lit up". They would call for their pistols, and there is no record that they ever shot up the town, but they did ride out shooting and yelling like wild Comanches. Sometimes in farewell they would rope a section of the high plank sidewalk, hitch it to the pommel of a saddle and go hurtling across the prairie.

To list the men in the cattle business during the thirty years following 1886 would include the greater percent of those living in the county. Farmers, merchants, and professional men were all more or less interested in the business, besides a number of exclusive dealers. There is a large volume filed away in the Finney county courthouse which contains the names of cattle owners and the brands they used to distinguish their cattle, horses and sheep. Many of the ranches had descriptive names registered in this volume. Broadacres, W. R. Jacques, all of Sec. 5-24-33. Herman Ranch, 800 acres, one mile west of Ravanna. Lone Elm, S.W. 26-25-32. Graceland Meadows, section 14-24-33. Ivanhoe Valley Ranch, section 7-26-31. Many of the ranches were named after their brand. Some of the well-known ranches were: The Bullard Ranch, operated by the Bullard cattle company. They owned every other section between Holcomb and Pierceville. They put down the first two wells in the sand hills south of Garden City. The Cowgill Ranch, southwest of Garden City, also covered many sections. It was owned by James Cowgill of Kansas City. Later the Guthrie Ranch owners bought up many sections south of the river. Prominent among the ranchers at Pierceville were A. H. Warner and the Orf brothers. Straud Renick and Edward Bowles ranged long-horn cattle from Pierceville to Charleston on the south side of the river from 1886 and through the nineties.

The Pawnee valley in Garfield township was almost entirely a big pasture. Straud Renick and John Quincy Grub were herding two hundred cattle on the Pawnee about the summer of 1900. Mr. Renick tells of an unusual experience:

"It was almost dark and we were hunting a place to camp. We were driving the cattle along when we heard something coming with a rush and roar. Looking toward the northwest we saw a dazzling, terrifying light which seemed to be coming directly toward us, and it looked like it was going to drop right among the cattle. As it neared the earth it made a popping, cracking noise and the cattle all started running. By golly, we were pretty badly scared. We recognized this heavenly visitor as a meteor, and while we were pretty sure where it came from, we hadn't the least idea where it was likely to land. But we went after the cattle and managed to head them into a corral. The brilliant light disappeared almost as quickly as it had appeared, but it left a column of smoke hanging in the heavens like a pall for several minutes."

Finney county is not the cattle country that it was, but there are still a number of its citizens in the beef business. There are over twenty ranches of 1,000 acres and a few over 5,000. One of the largest ranches still in this region is the Cowgill Ranch southwest of Garden City. It was owned by Judge James Cowgill for many years, who was mayor of Kansas City at the time of his death. It is still in the Cowgill family, being now the property of Mrs. Effie L. Spratt, Mrs. Cora F. McWilliams, and Mae C. Tait, his daughters.

Other large ranchers are: J. W. Jones, W. E. Hicks and Son, E. A. Stone, J. D. Cathcart, 0. J. Brown, K. M. Winters, Chas. L. Brown, the Concannon brothers, Fred J. Reed, Chester and Oliver G. Reeve, C. E. Adams, J. W. King and Son; J. F. Douglas, George 0. and John Long, J. H. Burnside, A. M. Lawrence, John T. Reed, Frank Reed, Sr., D. H. Holden, E. B. Phelps, R. E. Beach, C. H. Norris, Beecher F. Breyfogle, John Landgraf and Sons, the Greathouse family, Wm. C. Erkie, Alex Legleiter. These ranchers in nearly every instance diversify in crop growing, and farm a large acreage aside from their grassland, and grow nearly all their own feed. According to the assessor's rolls, there were 19,835 beef cattle in Finney county March 1, 1929.

While Finney county is one of the largest shippers of cattle in Kansas only a few breeders are registered with the state board of agriculture. The only breeder of Aberdeen Angus cattle listed is B. F. Breyfogle, of Imperial, and the only Hereford breeders listed are Kinney and Byler, of Kalvesta.

G. W. O'Neil, north of Cimarron in Finney county, R. F. Plummer and Bryan Thomsen of Deerfield, are breeders of shorthorn cattle.

Jersey breeders are: Rose 0. Craytor, of Holcomb, W. E. Hamill, Kalvesta, and E. A. Wingett, Garden City.

Dewitt Craft of Garden City is the only Holstein breeder listed, and Peter Blotcher the only breeder of Red Polled cattle.

The beef cattle in this county are all high grade. Nearly every stockman has at the head of his herd from one to twenty or more registered sires.

Note: Text taken from "Conquest of Southwest Kansas" by Leola Howard Blanchard, which can be ordered through the Finney County Historical Museum.

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