7,000-acre historic ranch up for auction

NEAR PEABODY — A historic slice of Flint Hills is about to go on the auction block.

The 7,000-acre White Ranch, with 400 head of Angus cattle, windmills, barns and a creek, goes on sale Oct. 19-20.

Roger Hannaford, president of Hannaford Abstract & Title in Marion, called it a once-in-a-lifetime sale.

"What makes it unique is the number of acres up for sale at one time," Hannaford said. "The barns, the facility, the house — it's all one big package deal. It is going to take somebody with deep pockets."

The bidding could reach $7 million to $10 million or more, he said.

A two-day open house of the property is set for Oct. 2-3.

The ranch includes four shop buildings, a horse barn, a hay barn, the historic stone barn and a 1970s ranch-style home. It will be auctioned in sections, but a large enough bid could buy the entire ranch.

"Any time a piece of property with that size of acreage sells, it is an unusual occurrence," said Jim Gray, a cowboy historian from Ellsworth and publisher of the Kansas Cowboy newspaper.

"The larger acreages are generally passed along from generation to generation, or sometimes private deals take place so you never know they are for sale until they are sold," he said.

Owning a ranch that large is a dream for a lot of people, Gray said.

"The opportunity doesn't come along too often," he said. "It doesn't matter if it is in the Flint Hills or western Kansas, a sale like this is fairly rare."

Auctioneer and broker J.C. Barr of Cashion, Okla., said the ranch is more than prairie land. It is living history.

The land was homesteaded in 1886 by T.B. Townsend, who built the ranch from its original 300 acres to include nearly 3,000 acres with stockyards, a post office, a general store, hotel and rail depot.

Later owners expanded the ranch to its current acreage.

In 1887, Townsend built the 80-by-40-foot limestone barn that's become a landmark off U.S. 50.

Doyle Creek runs through the ranch land, which offers abundant habitat for pheasants, prairie chickens, deer and other wildlife.

On one of the highest hills on the ranch is a 12-foot monument known simply as Indian Guide.

When pioneers settled the land, they found a pile of rocks, stacked pyramid style, atop the hill, according to a 2005 story in the Marion County Record .

American Indians may have used the rock pile to mark a valley containing flint, the type of rock used for making arrowheads and spear points, the Record story said.

By the time Townsend purchased the land, sightseers had removed most of the stones from the Indian monument. So Townsend rebuilt it of concrete and stone, making it 15 feet tall. His son built a second monument in 1927 and topped it with a flagpole.

Clay and Ronella White bought the land eight years ago, Barr said. Clay White died shortly afterward.

People who live in the area have speculated who might buy the White Ranch.

Ron Klataske, executive director of Audubon of Kansas, said he doubts it will be a Kansas conservation group.

"That's because of the fact that we already have the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, the Konza Prairie and a smaller area east of Cassoday," Klataske said.

"Conservation groups can't buy up all the land that should be preserved. All we can hope is that whoever buys the land is a good steward and manages the land in a way that will be beneficial to the greater prairie chickens and other grassland birds and wildlife."

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