The Cattleman from Colorado
August 1878 -
Stephen F. and Louisa Jones moved to Strong City, Kansas in August of 1878. Stephen came from southeast Colorado where he was engaged in a successful cattle operation called the JJ Ranch with his two brothers Jim and Peyton. Shortly after his arrival to Chase County, Jones bought 160 acres along Fox Creek from Jamima Rocker and William M. Langston for $2000. The Chase County Leader reported on September 19, 1878, that Jones had started building a residence on the farm and referred to him as the cattle man from Colorado.
September 1880 -
Jones purchased 1,409 acres of land for $4001 from the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad. He also purchased property (from 40 - 1,000+ acres at a time) from individuals, the sheriff of Chase County and the Texas Railroad between 1878 - 1883. He eventually amassed 7,000 acres of land. He had the entire ranch enclosed with 30 miles of five-foot high stone fence to accommodate his cattle operations. On a hill with freshwater springs surfacing, he chose a site for his new home. David Rettiger was contracted to build the house from Cottonwood limestone quarried just two miles south of the building site. In 1881, the three story stone mansion was completed at a cost of $25,000. A short time later, construction of a massive three-story barn and stable was completed, measuring 110 x 60 feet and costing $15,000. He named his estate the Spring Hill Farm and Stock Ranch. In 1882, Jones generously donated two acres north of his estate to the school district for the construction of the Lower Fox Creek School.
One Ranch, Many Owners
February 1888 - March 1907
After only nine and a half years, Jones sold his grand estate and property on February 13, 1888, to his neighbor and banking partner, Barney (and wife Bridget) Lantry, for $95,000. Lantry consolidated this ranch into his own Deer Park Place estate of 5,800 acres, spanning 13,000 acres total. According to the Chase County Historical Sketches, Lantry's ranch was called Deer Park Place because he kept a small herd of deer for his own amusement. After the two ranches were combined, the entire ranch was called either name. The Lantry family did not live in the mansion, but preferred to stay at their residence just outside of Strong City. Employees of the Lantry's lived in the mansion. The Lantry home is the current site of Carol's Country Inn.
Lantry was wealthier than Jones. He made his fortune in stone cutting. It is said that Barney Lantry and Sons, a contracting firm in Chase County, became one of the world's greatest contracting firms, and at one time was credited with being the largest supplier of crushed rock and building stone to railroads (Chase County Historical Sketches v. 1, 33-34). The Lantrys had quarries throughout Chase County. The company secured contracts from the Santa Fe Railroad for building stone bridges and laying ballast. They also helped build the Mexican Railroad, and constructed the famous cog line railroad to the summit of Pike's Peak.
March 1907 - March 1909
On March 14, 1907 there began a series of property divisions for the ranch (due to death) when Charles and Nannie Patten purchased 9,682.55 acres of the Spring Hill/Deer Park Place Ranch from the Lantry family. Barney Lantry died in 1895 and one of the sons, Henry Lantry, followed in 1904. The Pattens paid $180,636.92 for the property. The Pattens did not live in the house.
March 1909 - April 1921
On March 15, 1909, Otto and Flora Benninghoven purchased the house, barn, and outbuildings, along with the surrounding 1,080 acres from the Pattens on a time payment basis. The Benninghovens lived in the stone house for many years. They farmed much of the Fox Creek farmland and ran cattle and sheep on the pastures. They even raised turkeys for a period of time. After the death of Otto in 1917, Flora and two of her sons operated the ranch until they were forced to sell it during the Depression.
On April 6, 1921, the Pattens sold the remaining 8,602 acres of pasture to Lester and Beulah Urschel for $400,000.
During the 1930s Depression, the Urschels and Benninghovens both sold their properties. On April 18, 1935 the ranch was transferred to the Prudential Life Insurance Company from the Benninghoven family. The buyer was the very wealthy Kansas City resident, George (and Elizabeth) Davis. Mr. Davis began to reassemble the Spring Hill/Deer Park Place ranches by purchasing 10,000 acres from the Urschels. He purchased the property on May 7, 1935 from the insurance company.
Mr. Davis purchased the Benninghoven's homestead and acreage. For the most part, the original Jones and Lantry ranches were back intact. Taking advantage of the low land prices, he acquired a total of 70,000 acres in the state making him the largest landowner in Kansas at the time. All of Davis' holdings became known as the Davis Ranch. Fred Howard was hired as manager for the Flint Hills operation and lived in the Lantry house. A top ranch hand, Hazel Slabaugh and his wife Erma were hired to manage the Spring Hill Ranch area. The Slabaughs lived in the Jones' house for many years.
George Davis resided in Kansas City and through his busy life had been a leader in many organizations. He was involved with national politics as the president of the United States Chamber of Commerce. He was also president of his own large-scale farm and ranch operation, the Davis-Noland-Merrill Grain Company. The ranch went under this name after Davis transferred title to the new ownership in the 1950s and for many years after Davis' death in June 1955. During this time the barn was altered to accommodate a new granary and to help modernize the ranch's operations.
In April 1971 the stone ranch building complex was entered on the National Register of Historical Places.
In 1975 the Davis-Noland-Merrill Grain Company operations merged with the Z Bar Cattle Company. The ranch was then renamed the Z Bar Cattle Company.
In 1986, the Z Bar Cattle Company disbanded, and the 10, 894 acre ranch was placed into a trust and was managed by Boatman's National Bank of Kansas City. The ranch continued to be managed for grazing and ranch managers lived in the house at this time.
The National Park Trust purchased the property from Boatmen's Bank in June 1994.
November 12, 1996 to today
Senators, Nancy Kassebaum-Baker and Bob Dole introduced legislation to Congress, which would allow the Federal government to create a national preserve. On November 12, 1996, this legislation was approved creating the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. The main portion of the preserve will remain in the private ownership and management of the property will be through a partnership with the National Park Service (NPS). The NPS will never acquire more than 180 acres by donation from the private land owner. In September 2002, thirty-two acres were donated to the NPS by the National Park Trust. This area includes the house, barn, outbuildings, and Lower Fox Creek school. In 2005 the majority of the preserve was sold to The Nature Conservancy. Together the NPS and The Nature Conservancy will work toward preservation of the tallgrass prairie, while sharing in the story of ranching legacy, American Indian history, and the diverse tallgrass prairie ecosystem here in the heart of the scenic Flint Hills of Kansas.
Last updated: October 21, 2021