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Ranching in Sioux county: The early years

Published: Jul. 21, 2020 at 10:16 AM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - During a trip to northwest Nebraska, we got the chance to learn more about the origins of the Coffee Ranch in the Hat Creek Valley.

Steve Cleveland, who is the president of First National Bank in Chadron, shared his knowledge during the tour. He is from Hyannis, grew up in the ranching culture, and understands ranching families well. Cleveland says C.F. Coffee was from Missouri, but eventually made his way to Nebraska. “He came to the area on cattle drives, and delivered cattle to Wyoming,” Cleveland said. “He brought up his own herd of cattle, and settled first in the Goshen Hole area of Wyoming. But, he then found his way to the Hat Creek Valley.”

At the time of C.F. Coffee’s move into Nebraska, open range ranchers were interested in finding water sources. “The Hat Creek flows out of the Pine Ridge, and it flows year round. So when it came time to put down a stake, most of these ranchers put it right along water,” Cleveland said. Today, there are dozens of ranches in the area, but around 140 years ago, there were probably just two, and each might have had a range of up to 300,000 acres. “The Coffee Ranch has 42,000 acres today, I believe, in four different parcels,” Cleveland said.

Charles F. Coffee’s father was an officer in the Confederate Army. When the war was over, he and his father were in Missouri, and they traveled to Texas, according to Cleveland. “Because he was hanging around his father, C.F. Coffee acquired the nickname “colonel”. Colonel Coffee was a visionary person,” Cleveland said. “Nothing was given to him, he earned it all, he probably had good timing to put together his ranch. In about 1900, he could see the end was near for open range ranching. So, he started divesting from ranching. How he did that was he traded his cows for another business interest and that would be banking. He traded 2,000 cows with calves at side, to Bartlett Richards who owned the bank where I’m now the president. From there, Richards got the cows to stock the Spade Ranch, and Coffee got controlling interests in First National Bank.”

If you are interested in more ranching history, a good place to visit would be the Coffee Gallery at the Mari Sandoz High Plains Heritage Center at Chadron State College.

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