Ranchers and Homesteaders

Grasslands National Park

The lure of grass and open range enticed ranchers and large cattle operations. Ranching and the cowboy way of life survived relentless hardships. Nevertheless, the Homesteading Act of 1908 closed the open range in favour of farming. Cattle were fenced in and ranching lost some of its freedom forever. The weathered remains of long abandoned homesteads stand testament to those early attempts to adapt to a demanding environment. The ranchers and homesteaders who persevered, combined farming, ranching and country hospitality to create the prairie communities surrounding the park today.


By the late 1800’s, cattle replaced Buffalo creating a different way of life on the prairies. The government passed leasehold legislation to promote ranching in the west. The rolling grasslands that stretched into the horizon was divided up into huge ranching companies such as “N-N”, the “76 Ranch”, and the “Turkey Track”, grazing thousands of cattle on the “range”. However, a succession of harsh winters, the massive die-off of cattle in 1906-07 and the Homesteaders Act in 1908 contributed to the loss of the open range. Cattle were fenced and the glory days of the open range were gone.


Pioneers were enticed by government to “tame the west” and “break the land”. However, poor soils, rough topography and a hot, dry climate spelled disaster. After only a few years, many homesteaders picked up and left; their signature remains on the prairie to this day.

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