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Konza Prairie Biological Station

History of the land

History of the Dewey Ranch

by Charles Given, Friends of Konza Prairie Historian, 2004

The logical place to begin a history of the Dewey ranch is with the birth of Charles Paulson Dewey, more commonly known as C.P. Dewey, in 1843 at Cadiz, Ohio. C.P. was born to money (the family owned an iron foundry and had major interests in local banking) and soon showed an aptitude for making more. As a young man he worked in one of the family’s banks in Hamilton, Ohio, but soon started looking toward the West as the land of financial promise. In 1871 Mrs. O’Leary’s cow kicked over the lantern that ignited the great Chicago fire that burned much of the city. C.P. jumped on the opportunity to buy as much of the ruined real estate as he could, at rock-bottom prices. His investment soon paid large dividends as the value of the city lots rapidly increased. The following year, 1872, Dewey bought the first of his land purchases in Kansas.

The federal legislation commonly referred to as The Homestead Act was in reality three separate Acts: The Homestead Act, providing for transfer of land from the federal government to individuals; The Morrill Act, providing land grants to states for the specific purpose of creating agricultural colleges; and The Railroad Act, giving railroads title to all the odd-numbered sections of land within 10 miles of track. Although a few tracts of land on what is now Konza were claimed by individuals, most of the area was patented to railroads, which then sold the land to settlers. The Kansas Pacific Railroad (which later became the Union Pacific) was granted title to the odd-numbered sections, but when the Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railroad (the MKT or Katy) put down track, they were given title to the even-numbered sections not already claimed by individuals. The first recorded land title on what is now Konza Prairie was in 1858 when James Brown pre-empted the Northwest quarter of Section 12, Township 11S Range 7E, lying immediately east of the present location of Ashland cemetery.

The tract that Dewey bought in 1872 is directly east of the Stone House, extending from near the guest cottages south for half a mile. His second purchase (1876) abutted the first on the north and extended to the north boundary of Konza, and from (now) Konza Lane east to the Hokanson Homestead. At the time of these purchases Dewey was still living in Ohio.

The major expansion of the Dewey’s Kansas holdings came in 1887-88. The winter of 1886-87 was particularly severe, resulting in crippling losses to the livestock industry. With land prices depressed the Deweys bought heavily, gaining title to over 5,000 acres here in Riley/Geary counties, and several times as much in northwest Kansas.

While not giving up their Chicago interests, the Dewey’s focus shifted to Manhattan. In the 1890s they were involved in several enterprises in and around Manhattan, including a livery stable, ice plant, co-founder of The First Nat’l Bank, rental houses, the first livestock sales pavilion in Manhattan, and helped finance a telephone system for Manhattan and Junction City. But by far the most elaborate of C.P. Dewey’s enterprises was the Manhattan Beach, a posh resort located on Eureka Lake, just east of today’s airport.

Day-to-day operation of the two ranches was left to managers who lived on the ranches. By the late 1890s the Oak Ranch in northwest Kansas had grown to truly huge proportions (one estimate taken from court records puts it at over 200,000 acres, but that includes leased as well as deeded land). In 1899 C.P.’s 22-year-old son Chauncey took over as manager of the Oak Ranch, and in 1903 became embroiled in a gunfight with the neighboring Berry family, resulting in the deaths of three of the Berrys. Chauncey and two of his men were arrested and charged with murder, but were acquitted in 1904.

1903 was a bad year for the Deweys: in addition to the shootings at the Oak Ranch, a major flood wiped out the Manhattan Beach resort, filling the lake and destroying or severely damaging most of the buildings. 1904 wasn’t much better: C.P. died, and legal suits arising from the shootings continued. Chauncey inherited a controlling interest in the Dewey empire, but didn’t have his father’s knack for making money.

In 1911-12 the stone barn and house were built on the Riley county ranch by Walter Burr, a local stonemason. The limestone was hauled by wagon from a quarry about a quarter of a mile south of the house site. Burr and his wife lived in the house around 1914, but most of the building was used to house cowhands, usually about 8 men. The sleeping quarters were in the large room on the third floor, while on the second floor was a large recreation room. On the ground floor were the kitchen and dining room, an ice room, and a long narrow pantry, or cool room. None of the Deweys lived in the stone house, although Chauncey had a frame house built just north of the stone house. Descriptions of that house vary from “mansion” to mail-order prefabricated structure. The stone foundation can still be seen.

The barn could hold up to 36 horses (mostly draft animals) as well as equipment and feed. It was used for “barn dances” as well.

During World War I, Dewey leased land to the 9th Cavalry at Fort Riley, grazing as many as 5,000 mules. As late as 1920 Dewey was still buying cattle in Texas and shipping them by rail to stockyards on the east side of Manhattan, south of the viaduct. From there they were driven to the ranch, as many as 2,000 at a time.

However, the Dewey fortune continued to decline, and in 1930 the ranch was sold at a forced sale, with the Riley county and Geary county parts being separated. This ended the Dewey connection with what is now Konza Prairie.

The Geary county part was sold to the Providential Institute for Savings, and in 1943 was bought by Josephine Cobb, former Governor Alf Landon’s mother-in-law. Through a number of in-family transfers, title was finally held jointly by Theo Cobb Landon (Mrs. Alf) and her daughter Nancy Landon Kassebaum. When K-State’s Division of Biology was searching for a tract for research purposes, it was this Geary County part of the old Dewey ranch that was settled on. The Nature Conservancy, with a gift from Katherine Ordway, bought the property in 1971 and concurrently transferred title to KSU, with stipulations. This tract covers 917 acres and is located immediately north of I-70.

The Riley county part has remained intact through four different owners. Johnson and Clayton at the original sale in 1930; George Davis in 1933; Frank McDermand in 1956; and Dr. David McKnight in 1972. When K-State decided more land was needed to conduct proper research, The Nature Conservancy again came to the rescue and in 1977 bought the Riley county part of the old Dewey ranch, again with a gift from Katherine Ordway. However, this time The Nature Conservancy retained title to the property, and is leasing it to K-State for research purposes.

Two parcels of land were added to the ranch after it had been sold by Chauncey Dewey: the Hokanson Homestead, bought by George Davis in 1948 and the White Pasture, bought by Frank McDermand in 1967. A third tract, the Thowe property, was added in 1979 after The Nature Conservancy gained title to the rest of the ranch.

A Brief History of the Hokanson Homestead

Prepared by Travis Hochard, Intern to KEEP, Spring 2002

Born in Sweden in 1848, Andrew Hokanson immigrated to America in 1875 with his two older brothers, Charles and John. In 1878, they moved to Kansas, and Andrew bought 95 acres of prime farmland along King’s Creek, located south of Manhattan, on what is now Konza Prairie. In 1857, surveyor John C. McMullen described the parcel Hokanson bought as being “soil first rate, timber Burr oaks, Elm, and Hickory.” According to surveys of the time, the only land in the area that could compete with Hokanson’s for high quality soil was the Kansas River flood plain.

It is not known for sure why the Hokanson’s immigrated to America, but it is known that Sweden was going through tremendous agricultural reform during the mid-1800s, which contributed to economic hardship. In addition, the drought years of 1861, ’65, ’67, 68’, and ’69, resulted in widespread foreclosures on farm properties. Expatriates who had immigrated to the United States earlier for religious and political reasons, wrote home of financial success and boasted the availability of cheap land on the western frontier.

In 1882, Andrew married Laura H. Anderson, and they had their first son, Arthur, in 1883. Laura gave birth to another son, Carl, in 1885, followed by two more daughters, Emma, in 1889, and Ettie, in 1894. The Hokanson children walked three miles to Ashland School and the family attended the First Lutheran Church in Manhattan. Chores began before dawn and ended well after dusk, so social activities probably centered on Sunday services and school. Andrew’s brother John and his wife had moved to a farm in Zeandale prior to 1885, and his brother Charles and wife lived two miles west of Randolph on 160 acres.

In 1884, Andrew purchased another 18 acres along King’s Creek, which he farmed, and by 1888 he owned 194 acres. Although Andrew was not initially familiar with the growing seasons of Kansas, the Hokanson farm was a successful business. In Sweden, farming would have been based on a short growing season, more stable climate, and the cultivation of oats, barley, and rye. According to the Riley County Agriculture Rolls of 1885, Andrew Hokanson grew 30 acres of corn as his primary crop, cut 25 tons of prairie hay, had seven horses, 18 cows, two milk cows producing 525 pounds of butter, and one pig. He also planted an orchard consisting of 98 apple trees, 62 peach trees, 22 cherry trees, and one pear tree. In 1905, he had increased his corn planting to 40 acres, added 17 pigs, and had planted six acres of alfalfa. The Agriculture Roll of 1905 did not include his fruit trees, which may have been lost in the severe winter of 1886.

The success of the Hokanson farm is largely attributed to the location of a source of year-round water on the property. He also had a steady market for his corn each year through his neighbor, C.P. Dewey, who had bought corn in the 1890s at above market prices to support his huge cattle and hog operation.

Around 1915, Andrew Hokanson retired from farming and most likely moved to Manhattan with Hettie. He died in 1927 and Hettie died in 1939; both are buried in Sunset Cemetery. Their son, Carl, and his wife Anna Nicholson, continued to farm until 1948, when he retired and sold the property to the Davis Cattle Company, owner of the “Dewey Ranch.” He and Anna moved to Manhattan, where Carl died in 1966 and Anna in 1975. They are both buried in Sunset Cemetery.

All that remains of the Hokanson Homestead are two buildings including a stone barn with attached lean-to and a springhouse. Scattered rock walls and the foundations of former outbuildings, can also be found on the site.