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Serving: NE

Bowring Ranch honors Sandhills heritage

TAGS: Ranching
Down the Road: The state park in Merriman, Neb., tells the history and heartache of Sandhills ranching.

It’s almost as if the Sandhills of Nebraska were made just for raising cattle. Arthur Bowring knew that the Sandhills were unique. Just days after his 21st birthday, he acquired 160 acres near Merriman. He began raising Shorthorn cattle, but eventually settled on Herefords for the herd at his Barr 99 Ranch north of town.

In 1894, Bowring built and lived in a sod house until 1908, when he married a local schoolteacher, Anna Mabel Holbrook. He began building a small, frame house for his new bride. But tragedy struck in August 1909 when Anna and their newborn son died in childbirth during a violent thunderstorm, with Arthur stuck miles away working in the hayfield.

For nearly 20 years after losing his wife and child, Arthur worked the ranch alone, growing his Hereford herd and making expansions on his ranch house. Eve Forester was a traveling salesperson for Norfolk Steam Bakery, covering a sales region that spread out from Norfolk, Neb., west to Wyoming.

On a fall day in 1927, Eve’s car broke down near Merriman. Arthur was driving to the ranch and helped her get her car back on the road. That’s when the romance got started. Eve and Arthur were married in Valentine, Neb., in 1928.

Life of service

In addition to ranching, Arthur served as a state legislator in the Nebraska House of Representatives from 1927 to 1929, and in the Nebraska State Senate from 1930 to 1933. After that, the state went to a single-house, unicameral format.

In 1944, Arthur died, but Eve blazed her own trails. She continued to manage the 12,000-acre ranch and was appointed as Nebraska’s first female U.S. senator in 1954 to fill out Dwight Griswold’s term after he died.

Although Eve was in the Senate for only a short time, she earned recognition from President Dwight Eisenhower for a speech she gave backing Ike’s legislation that would help farmers. The president appointed her to a post on the federal Board of Parole, where she served from 1954 until 1964.

Eve became friends with the president and Mamie Eisenhower. The Eisenhowers had planned to take a vacation at Bowring Ranch in 1955, before Ike suffered a heart attack and they were forced to cancel their plans.

The gift

Eve died one day before her 93rd birthday in 1985. Before her death, Eve made arrangements to gift the ranch to the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, so the house, ranch and property could be preserved as a working ranch and a state historical park.

Today, this park includes the original Bowring ranch house, which houses Eve’s many collections of antique china, crystal and silver, as well as memorabilia of the Bowrings' service to the state and the country. Eve had the house remodeled and expanded in the 1950s, in preparation for the planned visit from the Eisenhowers that never came to be.

The Eve Bowring Visitor Center, up the knoll from the ranch house, offers displays and exhibits on the Sandhills and ranching history. A sod house replica nearby hearkens back to the early days of Sandhills settlement and to the early sod house that Arthur lived in during his first years on his land.

Learn more about the Bowrings and the historic ranch they owned that is now a 7,202-acre state historical park by visiting outdoornebraska.gov/bowringranch.

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