If one is studying the early history of Banner County, he must consider the era of open- range. The Bay State Cattle Company was one of the largest in the United States. We have included this story on our web site because some of the cowboys who worked for Bay State later took out homestead claims and became permanent residents of Banner County.
THE BAY STATE LIVESTOCK COMPANY
by Carol Enderlie
The first cattle development in western Nebraska was that of Edward Creighton of Omaha, and his brother, John A. Creighton. Edward realized the potential for grazing large herds of cattle in this area when he built the transcontinental telegraph line through western Nebraska and eastern Wyoming in 1861. “After the loss of his cattle on Rush Creek, in 1865, John A. Creighton decided to get out of the lines of the regular raids of Indians. Creighton went west to Gonneville or Pumpkin Creek, then over to Horse Creek and up to the Laramie Plains. Here he built a substantial set of ranch buildings, securing the materials from the Laramie Mountains. (Shumway, Vol. III) In 1867,Ed Creighton had a bull ranch on Horse Creek, and in 1870 he stocked his and his other ranches on Pumpkin Creek with Texas cattle. This was the first time Texas cattle had been used to stock a ranch in Western Nebraska. (Nebraska History, “The Cattle Kings”) The Creighton ranch operations extended and establishments were built on Horse Creek and Pumpkin Creek and his ten or 12 thousand cattle roamed the ranges of the east half of Wyoming and the western part of Nebraska. The Half-circle-bar brand of the very early days developed into the quarter-circle-block, generally called the “circle-block” in the later years. (Shumway) Ed Creighton died in 1874 and his younger brother, John A. Creighton took charge of his estate. The Bay State Cattle Company bought the Creighton ranches in 1882 for $750,000 (Nebraska History)
In 1883, the Bay State bought from Mark and John H. Coad (brothers) who ran cattle on land adjoining the Creighton ranches, “only the possessory rights” to practically all of Scottsbluff county south of the North Platte River, and to quite a piece of present Banner county besides. For the near million dollars it cost the Bay State people, they received actual title to only 527 acres of land, along with 21,892 head of cattle (book count), 180 saddle horses, 10 work horses, mules and harness for same, and the “improvements”. (Yost, Call of the Range) “The purchase of possessory rights to range lands was customary at that time. By mutual consent of users of the public domain it was divided into “ranges” belonging to the outfits turning cattle on them. When a man sold his headquarters site, usually located on or near a stream or lake, the surrounding range for “as far as a cow could walk to water” went with it, even though he owned not a foot of it. It was practice that worked reasonably well until homesteaders began to move in”. (Yost)
The Bay State Cattle Company started as the Evans-Jackson Livestock Co. It had been organized at Council Bluff, Iowa, on June 15, 1877. “On the assessment rolls of Laramie County in the Territory of Wyoming their lands and implements were valued at $400. Their 300 beef cattle were valued at $5,700 and their 1200 yearlings and two year olds at $8,500. In 1882 the company’s name was changed to Bay State Livestock Co. and its place of business transferred to Cedar Rapids, Iowa.” (Shumway) It was financed with money from Scotland and England, “as well as capital from Maine and Massachusetts. G. W. Simpson of Boston was president of the corporation, H.H. Robinson, General Manager, and Seymour J. Robb, General Foreman.” (Wood, Pioneer Tales of the North Platte Valley and Nebraska Panhandle)
The original holdings of Bay State were in the area where Kimball is now. The Sparks ranch on the Lodgepole, The Circle Arrow, and the Circle Block, and the J H D, were all bought out and a “suitable” ranch house was built in sections in Massachusetts and shipped out to be set up about a mile and a half east of Antelopeville (now Kimball). “The great house, a palace on the plains, was a curiosity to the cowboys of the region, who rode miles out of their way to sit slack reined on their horses and wonder at it; for they had heard it had carpets deep as a boot-heel, lace and velvet curtains, and running water inside, along with a bathing tub and “the whole works” In a little room by themselves.” (Yost)
The Bay State began expanding when-due to advertising and publicity in Europe as to the profits possible in the cattle business-the company acquired quite a lot of capital. It was at this time that the Creighton and Coad holdings were purchased. “At the time of the Creighton and Coad purchases, the Bay State also leased many thousands of acres of railroad lands from the Union Pacific and established another base ranch in Wyoming, planning to control enough range to run cattle all across Western Nebraska to the Big Horn Basin in Wyoming. (Yost)
An interview with Laurence Warner, a pioneer settler of Banner County who can remember the Bay State, revealed that a second house had been freighted to the Pumpkin Creek headquarters of the Creighton place from Kimball when that land was purchased. This house was not so ornate as the first, but was two story, had a shingle roof and was nicely furnished inside. These headquarters were called the Home Ranch, and had what Mr. Warner describes as a “monstrous stable--with stalls for 40 or 50 head of horses.” Its dimensions were approximately 60 feet by 100 feet. Thirty or forty men worked and lived at the Home Ranch and there was a long string of bunk houses for their shelter. The Bay State Livestock Company in an effort to up-grade the cattle they sold, brought 250 head of registered Hereford bulls to western Nebraska and wintered them in a canyon near the headquarters. That canyon is now called Bull Canyon. In the later a line fence was built across the northern boundaries of the Bay State property to keep cattle from damaging farmers’ crops along the North Platte Valley. However, hard times and encroaching homesteaders caused the Bay State to move their operation from western Nebraska to Wyoming in the latter part of the 1880’s. (Lawrence Warner)
Mismanagement had its part in causing the end of the Bay State in Nebraska. The original herds had been purchased by “book count”, which was only an educated guess as to the cattle actually on the range. “The calf crop was figured at about one-fourth the number of mixed cattle in a herd, but some years it fell far short. The winter loss in a herd could be higher than normal, too, and so could the 102,000 head, book count. (Yost)
The Blizzard of 1884 marked the beginning of the end. “Big steers, wintered one or two seasons in the north, and native cattle survived the storm best. The round-ups were not the usual gay, hustling affairs of past years; for where ever the punchers rode, that May and June, the stench of dead cattle filled their noses -- and when the job was done and the losses tallied up it was worse than even the most pessimistic had predicted. The huge Bay State, who had bought vast herds of cattle by book count, was in serious trouble. Having expanded their capital on cattle that existed only on the sellers’ books, the terrible losses had dealt them a blow they could not handle. The Bay State figured its winter kill at 75 percent--100,000 out of its book count of 150,000 head. (Yost) Severe winters in 1886 and 1887 caused the Bay State to be hard pressed for cash and it sold off most of its deeded land to homesteaders and moved its cattle to Wyoming. “The land sold consisted mostly of alternate railroad sections, strung out for forty miles from Potter to Pine Bluffs, Wyoming. But the settlers were poor, too, and the best price the company could get was $7 per acre, with twenty years to pay--not the kind of transactions to net much cash on hand. (Yost) By 1894 “Most of the settlers who had bought Bay State land in 1887-88 starved out and quit the country, letting their fares go back to the Company, which hadn’t paid for the land either and had to let it revert to the Union Pacific. (Yost)
When Bay State left Nebraska in 1886 they moved 20,000 of the cattle to the Big Horn Basin of northern Wyoming where the corporation had bought a ranch from W. P. Noble. Earlier he had set up a headquarters on Ten Sleep Creek on the west slope of the Big Horn Mountains. Other cattle barons followed and within two years the entire Basin was stocked with cattle. Homesteaders and bad winters continued to plague the corporations, and though Bay State was located at that time near the scene of the Johnson County War, no overt action was taken by Bay State operators. However, cowboys originally with the Nebraska ranch were involved. By 1896, the Bay State Corporation paid taxes on only 300 head of cattle. In 1898, the Bay State Land and Cattle Co. was closed out.