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James H. Pratt

James Hervey Pratt, rancher, farmer, land speculator, and freighter, was a frontier entrepreneur of the post-Civil War era. Born in Plainfield, Massachusetts, in 1825, he participated in the Civil War as a quartermaster officer, much of the time at Little Rock, Arkansas. Mustered out in January 1866 he returned to Hillsdale, Michigan, where he had resided before the war, and operated a flour mill.



In 1870 Pratt secured an appointment as post trader at Fort Randall, Dakota Territory. This appointment drew him into the Great Plains just when it was attracting many different kinds of businesses. During the Fort Randall years, Pratt became associated with Cornelius Ferris in the Pratt and Ferris Cattle Company to furnish beef to both the fort and the Red Cloud and Spotted Tail Indian agencies.



When the Sioux agencies were relocated to northwestern Nebraska, Pratt and Ferris sought a convenient location for moving their supplies to the agencies. They decided to form a freighting company and in 1875 located their headquarters at Sidney, Nebraska. Goods could be shipped to Sidney by Union Pacific, unloaded, and carried north to the agencies.



In the summer of 1876 Henry T. Clarke built the two-thousand-foot Camp Clarke Bridge over the North Platte River. Sidney acquired major importance as a Black Hills shipping point in the next five years. Pratt and Ferris, believed to have freighted the largest share of Indian annuity goods to the agencies in northwest Nebraska, now became the biggest outfit in Sidney’s Black Hills trade. In 1876 they shipped 9,230,560 pounds of freight and had 70 wagons with 550 animals. In 1877, in association with George H. Jewett, they organized the Sidney and Black Hills Transportation Company and entered the merchant and outfitting trade for miners and ranchers.



Sidney’s freighting boom was of short duration (business was already declining in 1879), but Pratt and Ferris moved beyond freighting to a new opportunity: raising cattle. They brought Marshall Field and Levy Leitner, two of Chicago’s most prominent merchants and financiers, into their business and acquired vast land holdings in Nebraska, Wyoming, and Texas. This proved lucrative until the winter of 1886-87 brought savage blizzards, which bankrupted many cattle raisers on the northern Plains.



Pratt and Ferris stayed in business. Pratt bought and sold tracts of land in scattered locations, and in 1898 he bought into the Omaha Anchor Fence Company and became its president. He served as president of the Arlington, Nebraska, National Bank and as director of the Union Stockyards in South Omaha. His death in 1910 at his ranch near Bennington brought an end to the career of a noted frontier entrepreneur and self-made man.


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Other Publications

The Bachelors’ Protective Union of Kearney

When the Bachelors' Protective Union gave a gala reception for two of its newly married, former members and their brides in March of 1890, the social club for young, ...

U.S. Weather Bureau in 1890s Nebraska

The U.S. Weather Bureau was established by an act of Congress on October 1, 1890. It took over the weather service that had been established in the office of the Chief ...

Canning the Way to Victory

During American participation in World War I the U.S. Food Administration, under the direction of Herbert Hoover, launched a massive campaign to persuade Americans to ...

The Shoemaker’s Ashes

"Edward Kuehl, one of the most peculiar characters that ever lived in Omaha, or anywhere else, was found dead in his bed last night in the back room of his place of ...

Crazy Horse Surrender Ledger Foreward

Red Dog, an Oglala Lakota who lived at the Red Cloud Agency, Nebraska, 1876-77 (Nebraska State Historical Society RG2955.ph).   In the summer of 1876, following the ...

Darryl F. Zanuck

Darryl F. Zanuck Darryl F. Zanuck (1902-1979), a native Nebraskan, produced some of Hollywood's most important and controversial films. He helped found 20th Century Fox ...

The Burlington’s Profitable Pork Special

Nebraska railroads were much concerned with developing an adequate economy in the areas they served. The Burlington, for example, had a long history of caring for the ...

Bungalow Filling Stations

After the giant Standard Oil Company was broken into thirty-four separate companies in 1911, the newly independent Standard Oil of Nebraska dominated the state's market ...

The Bull Fight

This is the perfect time of year for a visit to the old fishin' hole. But a group of fisherfolk from Plainview discovered that this bucolic pastime sometimes has ...

Buffalo Soldiers West

African-American soldiers on the western frontier are the focus of an exhibit at the Nebraska History Museum in Lincoln. Buffalo Soldiers West, on loan from the Colorado ...

Protection for Buffalo

The extermination of the buffalo on the Plains occurred largely between 1870 and 1885. The Nebraska State Journal of Lincoln on February 1, 1874, editorialized in vain ...

Buffalo Hunting

In late October 1877 young Rolf Johnson and three friends left their homes in Phelps County, Nebraska, for a buffalo hunt in northeastern Colorado. The hunt was not very ...
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