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RG2455.AM:  Bartlett Richards, 1862-1911

Ellsworth, Sheridan County, Neb.:  Cattleman

Papers, etc.:  1864-1982

Size:  1 roll of microfilm; 3 boxes


Bartlett Richards was born in Weathersfield, Vermont in 1862, the son of Rev. J. DeForest Richards, a Congregational minister, and Harriet Bartlett Jarvis. For health reasons young Bartlett Richards went west before he was to enter college. He arrived in Cheyenne, Wyoming in 1879, became involved in the cattle business, and elected to remain in Wyoming rather than return to the East.

Discouraged by the blizzard of 1886, Richards sought adequate range lands in the Nebraska sand hills. In the late 1880s he joined with J.J. Cairnes to establish the Spade Ranch, headquartered in Ellsworth, Sheridan County, Nebraska. The firm of Richards and Cairnes was succeeded by the Nebraska Land and Feeding Company, operated by Bartlett Richards, his brother Jarvis, and a new partner, Will Comstock.

Richards and Comstock were faced with a problem common to the range cattle industry: the need to obtain sufficiently large tracts of land to support their livestock. To cope with this problem they followed the custom of the day by encouraging old soldiers and soldiers’ widows to take up the quarter section of land to which they were entitled under the Homestead Act and subsequently deed these “buried claims” to the Nebraska Land & Cattle Company.

In April of 1902, Secretary of the Interior Hitchcock announced that all fences on the public domain had to be removed. This ruling was opposed and in some instances ignored, by cattle interest in the West. In 1905 Bartlett Richards and Will Comstock were charged in federal court with illegally fencing public lands. In June of 1905 they testified that they had not fenced surveyed government land. A force of Secret Service men entered the area of the Spade Ranch and extended the lines of the original government surveys. In so doing they demonstrated that the Nebraska Land and Feeding Company had illegally enclosed 212,000 acres of government land. Before the November trial, held in Omaha, Richards and Comstock pled guilty and were sentenced to pay a fine of $300 each and remain in the custody of the U.S. Marshal for six hours. The perceived leniency of the sentence and the manner in which the convicted men spent their imprisonment (the six hours were spent at the Omaha Club) aroused the ire of President Theodore Roosevelt, who removed the U.S. Attorney and Marshal in the case.

In 1906 Richards and Comstock were indicted again. In December of 1906 they were convicted on a charge of conspiracy to defraud the government of use of public land, and ordered to pay a fine of $1,500 each and serve one year in jail. The two men were incarcerated in Hastings rather than Omaha, after three years of judicial appeals proved unsuccessful. On September 5, 1911 Bartlett Richards died in a Hastings hospital, one month before the end of his sentence.


This collection consists of one microfilm reel and three boxes of manuscript material arranged in three series; Series One, Correspondence, 1864-1959; Series Two, Minutes, 1895-1913; and Series Three, Printed Matter, 1862-1982.

Series One contains correspondence (on microfilm) relating to Bartlett Richards’ personal and business interests, 1864-1959. Topics include Bartlett Richards’ early experiences in the West, his interests in the cattle business and involvement in litigation relating to charges of illegally fencing public lands, 1905-1910.

Series Two consists of the minute book of the Nebraska Land and Feeding Company and the Richards and Cairnes Company. It includes, articles of incorporation, by-laws, minutes of stockholders meetings and a half-million dollar bond issue floated by the corporation. This material was loaned for microfilming by Bartlett Richards, Jr. in September of 1974.

Series Three contains information compiled for the book, Bartlett Richards, Nebraska Sandhills cattleman, by Bartlett Richards, Jr. and Ruth Van Ackeren. This series includes correspondence and paperwork of the Richards Brothers, articles and news-clippings about the land trials and the Richards – Comstock incarceration, information about fencing public land, research notes and correspondence of the authors, and book publication notices and reviews.

For information about Bartlett Richards photographs, please contact our Library Staff.


Series 1 – Correspondence, 1864-1959

Roll 1


  1. 1864-1959

  2. 1898-1900

Series 2 – Minutes, 1895-1913

Roll 1


  1. Minute Book of the Nebraska Land and Feeding Company and the Richards and Cairnes Company, 1895-1913

Series 3 – Printed matter (legal), 1862-1982

Box 1


  1. Cattle Contracts – Pine Ridge Agency

  2. Death of Richards & Imprisonment

  3. Equity Suits

  4. Fencing – Leasing

  5. Fencing Trial

  6. Huntington and Todd

  7. Judges

  8. Kincaid Act

  9. Krause Brothers

  10. Land Trial

  11. Leasing

  12. Leasing and Fencing

  13. Lease Laws

  14. Legal

  15. Newspaper Articles – Legal

  16. Omaha Daily News – Clippings, Richards – Comstock Trial

  17. Public Land Hearings

  18. Stearns – Horsnell (Dakota)

  19. Rev. George G. Ware

  20. Mosby – Kevin Siepel

  21. Court Opinions, US Court of Appeals, Justice Hook – Phillips

  22. Bartlett Richards Letters – typed

  23. Bartlett Richards Letters – typed

  24. Jarvis Richards Letters, bound

Series 3 – Printed matter (misc.), 1862-1982

Box 2


  1. Banking – Richards

  2. Cattle Ranching – General

  3. Cattle Rustling and Range Violence

  4. General News Items – NW Nebraska

  5. Miscellaneous Clippings & Articles

  6. Miscellaneous Clippings & Articles

  7. Miscellaneous Clippings & Articles

  8. Miscellaneous Clippings & Articles

  9. 1890s – Richards

  10. Richards in Berlin

  11. Richards, DeForest

  12. Roosevelt vs. Richards

  13. Schnurr – “33” Ranches

  14. Spade Ranch

  15. Spade Ranch

  16. Stockmen’s Association

Series 3 – Printed matter (Bartlett Richards book)

Box 2


  1. Correspondence, Ruth Van Ackeren

  2. Correspondence, Ruth Van Ackeren

  3. Richards Family – Research Requests

  4. Richards – Research Notes

  5. Book – Cost Estimates

  6. Bartlett Richards Book – Maps

Box 3


  1. Book Reviews & Summary of Bartlett Richards’ Life

  2. Correspondence, Book Front Piece

  3. Critique & Revisions Suggestions

  4. Book Review in North Dakota History Journal of the Northern Plains

  5. News Notices & Book Reviews

  6. Correspondence, Book Photographs

  7. Correspondence, Guy L. Peterson; copy of Bill Barlow’s Budget

  8. Historical Highlights of Public Land Management, 1962

  9. Bartlett Richards Book Reviews




Cattle trade — Nebraska

Nebraska Land and Feeding Company

Richards and Cairnes Company


DHH/ht   09-05-1974

DDM/pmc   08-08-1985

AW/tmm   07-18-2005