Walter Williams was the sixth generation of the Williams family to own Windermere Farm. Windermere Farm was the largest and most successful sheep farm in southwest England. The farm was over 3000 acres of prime sheep farming land. The farm supported over 6000 sheep and through good animal husbandry and land management, the land was not over used. The farm would annually produce over 60,000 pounds of prime wool for spinning. They also were able to sell many animals for meat to various butchers.
Walter and his wife, Edna, had nine children but only seven survived childhood. The survivors were three boys and four girls. They were a very attractive family. The girls would each have a handsome dowry which would assure a prosperous marriage. The three boys were a different situation. As in Germany, the oldest male would inherent the farm. Walter recognized the inherent unfairness of this custom but would not be able to change it. Walter started early, when the boys were very young, to rectify this unfairness. He took a sailing ship to Australia. He didn’t like the climate of Australia or the people of Australia. He took another ship to New Zealand. This was a land he liked and was ideal for raising sheep. He found a land agent and was shown various properties to buy. He settled on purchasing a 4000 acre farm on the North Island. The land was close to Wellington and was a good price as the man that owned the land didn’t understand sheep farming. After buying the farm he leased it to the successful farmer that owned the adjoining land. With the purchase settled, Walter took another ship to San Francisco to see what North America had to offer. He quickly recognized that California would not be good for sheep farming. California was too far from what would be his market for meat and wool. That would be in the east of North America. Walter took a coach from San Francisco to Omaha. While travelling through Nebraska, Walter recognized that this would be good land for raising sheep. He got off the train in Omaha and sought a land agent. After explaining to the agent what he wanted, he was sent to see an agent in northern Nebraska. This agent showed him a farm with 7000 acres of land for sale. The price was right so Walter bought it. He decided to let it remain fallow for the time being. Walter went back to Omaha to go to New York where he could board a ship back to England. He was gone for six months but he had accomplished what he set out to accomplish.
On his return to Windermere Farm, Walter gathered his family together to explain what he had done. The boys could choose the property they wanted by age. The oldest boy, Percival, decided that he wanted Windermere Farm. There was a young lady that lived on the adjoining property that Percival was fond of and hoped to marry. Jonathon was the next oldest and he decided that he would like to have New Zealand. New Zealand was part of the English commonwealth and adhered to English law and customs. This appealed to Jonathon. The youngest boy was Edgar. Edgar had no choice. He got the land in North America. In truth, it is what Edgar would have chosen if he had gone first. He had always had the spirit of adventure and loved the idea of going to a place that was new, exciting, and somewhat dangerous. Jonathon was 17 and Edgar was 15 so it would be a few years before they would be able to start their new lives in a new land.
Finally, Jonathon was twenty and could start his new life. Walter hired five experienced sheep men to accompany Jonathon to New Zealand. They loaded 1000 sheep on a sailing ship and set off for the New Zealand farm. He had posted a letter a year previous informing the farmer leasing the land that Jonathon was coming and would start running his own sheep on the land. He implored the farmer to give Jonathon any assistance he required. Edgar journeyed with the family to Liverpool to see Jonathon off on his new life. Edgar was envious and could hardly wait for his time.
While awaiting his turn to leave, Edgar fell madly in love with a local girl, Emily. Fortunately for Edgar, Emily had the same spirit of adventure as Edgar. Emily was from a very wealthy family. Her parents were quite concerned with her going off into the wilderness and live in a hut surrounded by sheep. They were fond of Edgar and didn’t oppose the marriage but made Edgar promise that they could help them get settled in the new world. They married and started their life together.
Finally, Edgar reached the magical age to be able to start his new life. They decided that Emily would stay behind while Edgar got everything together and, using her parent’s money, build a proper house for Emily. It was time for Edgar to leave. In 1836, they loaded 1000 sheep on a sailing ship, hired 5 experienced sheep men to accompany Edgar, and set off for the new world. The ship sailed to New Orleans where the sheep were off loaded onto a barge for the trip to their new home. The barge went up the Mississippi and then onto the Missouri for the last leg of the trip. Edgar’s land was in the Northern part of what is now Nebraska. The land was between the Niobrara River and the Missouri River. The Niobrara turns north before it empties into the Missouri so the land was bordered by the Missouri River on the north, the Niobrara River to the east, and the Niobrara River on the South. Edgar picked the site for the house and hired some local masons to do the construction. There was plenty of sandstone and limestone in the area to build the house. Edgar spent $20,000 of Emily’s parent’s money on the house. It took almost a year to build the house and furnish it but when it was finished it was a sight to behold. Sitting on the prairie was a replica of an English manor house. It was beautiful and people came from miles away to see it. Edgar was sure that Emily, and her parents, would be pleased. Edgar sent for Emily and made arrangements for a riverboat to bring her and her entourage to the farm. Edgar had a special landing made for the boat to dock.
Emily arrived with her entourage. She had a personal maid, a housekeeper, and a cook to assist her in managing the house. This was a pretty strange sight on the frontier but Edgar was so in love that he didn’t care.
There were some unexpected problems. There were eagles in the area and a new born lamb could be taken. The wolves and coyotes were quick to develop a taste for sheep. Other carnivores such as bobcats and fox were able to take a small lamb. It meant that the shepherds and the dogs had to be constantly vigilant to assure that the losses were kept to a minimum. The farm was not yet a success. Of the 1000 sheep that left England, 970 arrived in good shape. By the end of summer they still had 850 sheep. They built winter protection for the animals and put in hay and grass to feed them through the winter. The land would support many more sheep but there was no way to expand the flock except through natural means. The next mating season would tell how successful they would be. The mating season was unsuccessful. Most of the new born lambs were taken by predators. They were able to shear the sheep but found the cost of getting the wool to the spinners cost more than the wool. The eastern mills could bring wool from England by ship for less money. Also, Americans did not have much of a taste for lamb or mutton. They liked beef and pork. Edgar could see that his father had made a mistake trying to make a sheep farm of this land. He now had only 742 sheep in the flock. The land was ideal for raising cattle. Edgar posted a letter to Walter telling what he had found. When Walter received the letter he immediately took a ship to New York and the train to Omaha. Edgar met him in Omaha and escorted him to the farm. In the interim, Edgar had talked to local ranchers and learned as much as he could about cattle ranching. He was ready for Walter.
When they arrived at the farm, Edgar proceeded to show Walter all of the data that he had accumulated. After digesting the information, Walter agreed with Edgar that they were in the wrong business. They sheared the sheep one last time and then shipped the sheep to a meat packer in Omaha. They were unable to sell the wool so they stored it until they could find a use for it. They also kept 8 ewes and two rams so they would have continuing access to their favorite meat. Walter and Edgar visited a number of ranchers and made arrangements to buy cattle for the ranch. The local ranchers told them that the land could carry one head for each 10 acres. That meant that they could support 700 head of cattle on the ranch. They would have to grow the herd slowly to reach the maximum. Edgar estimated that it would take at least five years for the ranch to show a profit and Walter agreed to help him until the ranch was in the black.
Edgar was pleased that he had been able to convince Walter. That was not always an easy task as Walter was always very set in his decisions. Now that it was settled, Walter left to go home to England. Walter took the entourage that Emily had brought with her as she discovered that they were unnecessary. Walter gave the shepherds that had come with the sheep the option of returning to England or staying. Two of the shepherds opted to return with Walter. The other three shepherds had nothing to return to so they decided that they would stay and learn to be cowboys. Edgar hired two experienced ranch hands. The cowboys would help Edgar get started, teach the shepherds to be cowboys, and teach Edgar what he needed to know to run a ranch. With everything settled, Emily and Edgar agreed it was time to start their family.
The ranch was only moderately prosperous. Edgar learned to be a cowboy with the riding and roping and branding. Emily learned to manage the house. Then the children started coming. Within ten years they had six children, three boys and three girls. Emily taught the girls to be young ladies and Edgar taught the boys to be wild cowboys.
The cattle population of the land had reached the maximum of 700 head. The major problem they had was winter feed. They used all the land to graze the animals and had no extra acreage to grow winter feed. Edgar learned of a large farmer in the Dakota Territory that had alfalfa hay to sell. Edgar went to see the farmer, Oskar Huffman, to make arrangements to buy what was available. He also had to make arrangements to have it shipped to the ranch. Edgar and Oskar had a good arrangement and they also had a great deal of mutual respect for each other. They determined that they would keep in touch. Edgar was especially taken with Oskar’s relationship with his Indian neighbors. Oskar showed him some of the blankets that the Indians had made from plant fibers. Edgar asked Oskar if he thought the Indians would like some wool to spin and weave. Oskar asked Marie if that would be a good thing for the tribe and she affirmed that it would. Edgar arranged for the wool in storage at the ranch be shipped to Oskar to give to the tribe. Oskar gave the wool to the tribe and told them where it came from. The chief was very appreciative and told Oskar that the first blanket made from the wool would be given to his friend.
When Edgar returned to the ranch, he told Emily of his friendship with Oskar and the arrangements Oskar had made to educate his children. Emily was also concerned about the education of the children. The closest school was many miles away and Emily did not want to send the children to a boarding school. Emily set about finding a teacher for hire so the children could get a proper education. A young lady that had recently graduated from a teaching school responded to her search and Emily promptly hired Edith to be teacher. Edgar also had a school building built. One of the closest neighbors had five children that needed to be educated and Edgar welcomed them to the school. Edith was delighted with the opportunity to teach and to gain teaching experience. Edith was a very nice young lady and one the cowboys, Henry, fell madly in love with her. Edith returned the feelings. Edgar and Emily were delighted and arranged a wedding. They built a house for the couple and made them a part of the family.
Things were finally settled down. One of the neighbors with 5000 acres decided that he didn’t like ranching and Edgar bought his land. Now Edgar’s land could support an additional 500 head of cattle. The ranch prospered. Edgar was able to sell about 600 head a year to a packing plant. The children were grown. The girls married and the boys ran the ranch. Edgar and Emily went back to England for a year as the competence of the boys was enough that they needn’t worry about the ranch.