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Rock Corral Maintained as Part of the History of Maddux Ranch

It held sore-footed steers from the Western Trail drive for a time before they healed on the plentiful grass along Spring Creek.

Tyler Harris, Editor

February 12, 2015

3 Min Read

I've always enjoyed reading and learning about Western history, through both fiction and non-fiction literature. It's not quite an obsession, although I have read at least 50 Louis L 'Amour westerns as well as western histories written by many other authors.

Brave men and women settled the West, but not without great adventures, inevitable conflicts and hardships. Eventually, ranches, farms and towns were built in the rough and unforgiving region we call the American West.


A big part of that history involved the 19th Century cattle drives, as drovers ramrodded Texas Longhorns north to the railheads in Kansas and, in later years, to places like Ogallala in Nebraska. There are those who contend Ogallala's brief history as a cow town on the Western Trail from Texas was rougher than what went on in Dodge City, Kan.

I learned a piece of that history last summer on a ranch tour in southwest Nebraska, at a stop at the 2S Ranch in Chase County. At the ranch headquarters are the remaining two walls of a rock corral. John Maddux, the ranch's owner, greeted tour members and, before heading out to his rangeland and cowherd, he told briefly of the history of that rock wall.

Maddux bought the ranch, its fourth owner, about 15 years ago and related that Thomas Webster established it in the mid-1870s, primarily because it was along the trail drive route. He saw an immediate opportunity to benefit from the herds moving north. He built the rock corral in which he would trade a sound steer for two sore-footed, trail-drive steers. He also negotiated the same way for horses.

According to Maddux, Webster collected the sore-footed animals in the corral for a short while and then turned them out to heal on the plentiful grass along the lowlands of Spring Creek. Webster would then do the same bartering when the next cattle drive came through, and build up quite a herd in the process.

The ranch was purchased by the Kilpatrick Brothers just before the turn of the century and they held onto it until the 1950s when Basil Bentz bought it.

Maddux, who for 13 years was an investment banker on Wall Street in New York after obtaining his MBA at the University of Chicago, came back home in 1999, eventually buying the ranch from Bentz and fulfilling a goal made in the eighth grade to own his own ranch.

His 2S Ranch is near Spring Creek in Chase County and, during the 2014 ranch tour, I learned something that really surprised me. I figured that the trail drives experienced the driest country when moving through Texas and Kansas. But it so happens that during this open range period, there were streams and watering holes about every 25 or so miles. But after watering the herd at Spring Creek, they encountered the longest stretch of the drive without water--about 40 miles--from there north to the South Platte River near Ogallala.

"There was no live water that entire distance," Maddux says. "Occasionally, a small basin located near present-day Grant held some water, but not often. That's why Spring Creek was such an important stop for the herds."

Today, according to Maddux, the rock corral is on the National Registry of Historic Places.

About the Author(s)

Tyler Harris

Editor, Wallaces Farmer

Tyler Harris is the editor for Wallaces Farmer. He started at Farm Progress as a field editor, covering Missouri, Kansas and Iowa. Before joining Farm Progress, Tyler got his feet wet covering agriculture and rural issues while attending the University of Iowa, taking any chance he could to get outside the city limits and get on to the farm. This included working for Kalona News, south of Iowa City in the town of Kalona, followed by an internship at Wallaces Farmer in Des Moines after graduation.

Coming from a farm family in southwest Iowa, Tyler is largely interested in how issues impact people at the producer level. True to the reason he started reporting, he loves getting out of town and meeting with producers on the farm, which also gives him a firsthand look at how agriculture and urban interact.

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