The Pratt family established a working sheep ranch on the high plains in the late 19th century. They would leave a legacy that includes unique stone structures and a large photograph collection. The fascinating story begins in Yorkshire, England, and continues.
Abraham Pratt (1827-1901), came to America as a young man, arriving in California during the Gold Rush of the late 1840s. After less than two years in this country he returned to England, resigned from the British navy, and became a liquor merchant and owner of a bottling works. He was married in 1855, and became the father of two sons and two daughters. Twelve years later, in 1878, Pratt sold his British businesses, returned to the U.S., and bought 160 acres of land along the South Solomon River in extreme eastern Sheridan County, Kansas. Pratt was soon joined by his two sons, John Fenton, and Tom.
In its earliest days the ranch consisted of the stone house and at least one outbuilding of sod, which was used as a stable. A sod-walled corral was constructed near the stable. A small, wood-framed structure, which was used as a bathhouse and toilet, was located near the house in the 1880s and still exists today at the ranch. In the late 1800s a natural spring northwest of the house was modified to carry water into a storage cistern from which a pipeline was constructed to provide running water in the house.
Fenton, Tom, and Abraham became successful ranchers, raising Merino sheep. Their journals reflect the prosperous nature of the business. In March and April of 1891 Fenton shipped a total of 3,566 pounds of wool to markets in St. Louis and Philadelphia. A month later the Pratts sold 3,399 pounds of wool to Hagey Brothers in St. Louis and received $522. Fenton’s livestock tally for 1892 indicated 1,580 sheep on his ranch.
In 1888 Fenton married Yorkshire native Jennie Elizabeth Place. The couple had two daughters, Hilda, born in 1889, and Elsie, born in 1894. Fenton Pratt sold all of his sheep and most of his land in 1904 and pursued his other business interests in Sheridan and Graham counties. He died in 1937. Hilda never married and remained on the home place with her mother. After the death of Jennie Pratt in 1959, Hilda lived alone at the ranch until 1978. She died in 1980.
In 1982 the state of Kansas purchased approximately 23 acres of the original John Fenton Pratt ranch. Today it is operated as Cottonwood Ranch State Historic Site. It was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1983, nominated for its association with the settlement of western Kansas and for its architecture.