by Lee Pitts
The Indians who lived in the 20,000 square mile region that covers one quarter of present day Nebraska knew better. And so did a young farm boy from Lancaster, England. The Indians and Harry Haythornthwaite came to know the largest sand dune area in the western hemisphere for what it really was...a paradise of plenty. Before he was laid to rest in the western Nebraska Sandhills, Harry would leave indelible footsteps in the sand, helping to transform the Sandhills into what they are today...cowboy country.
What those early settlers could not see was that under the Sandhills was the largest underground water source on the continent, the Ogallala Aquifer. Punch a post hole into the Sandhills even today and there's a good chance it will bleed water.
Harry Haythornthwaite first got a taste of the grit of the Sandhills when he came north from Texas on a cattle drive. As a 16-year-old boy in Lancaster, Harry had fallen in love too early in life. Denied his wish to marry, the heartbroken lad stowed away on a ship in 1876. His unauthorized presence was discovered after the ship had already set sail for America and Harry was forced to pay for his passage by taking care of some white-faced bulls headed for Texas. Harry ended up babysitting those bulls all the way to Galveston and, upon arrival, he was hired by the man who imported the bulls. For the next eight years, Harry literally learned the ropes of a new and burgeoning industry...Harry became a cowboy. He made four trips up the Texas trail, two to Kansas and two to Nebraska. The second time he arrived in Ogallala, he found the Great Plains to his liking and decided to stay. Harry opened a livery barn, shortened up his name to Haythorn, and married a veterinarian's daughter, Emma Gilpin.
After selling the livery stable, Harry took a job as a wagon boss. He took his wages in cattle and Emma cooked for the cow hands. When there were more than ten cowboys round the campfire, she got paid a quarter. Less than that and she cooked for free. Nearly every penny they pinched was put aside to buy land. In 1884, Harry and Emma filed on a land grant section four miles east of Arthur, Nebraska, and an American ranching dynasty was born.
Haythorn Land and Cattle today is spread over two ranches in two Nebraska counties. In this, the largest grass stabilized dune region in the world, gramma, blue stem and buffalo grass holds down the sand and keeps the dunes in place. You might say the late Waldo Haythorn, accomplished the same thing. Through blizzards, low prices, and high taxes, he had managed to keep his family firmly established in its proper place, the Nebraska Sandhills. Today, Craig, the great-grandson of Harry Haythornthwaite, his wife Jody and sons Sage, his wife Kelley, and Cord are partners.
Craig got his first taste of ranching when he went on a trail drive at the age of four. He got soaked to the bone, split his lip when he fell off the chuck wagon, and then proceeded to get sick. Naturally he loved it. Thus far this century, every single male member of the Haythorn family has been an honest-to-goodness cowboy, and Craig and Jody's two young sons, Sage and Cord, are carrying on the cowboy tradition.
In addition to the Quarter Horses, the Haythorns use Belgian / Percheron draft horses in four and six horse hitches to pull the feed wagon in winter and stack hay in the summer. It's not just for nostalgia that horses are used...you don't have to put gas in a horse or change his oil either. "It's cheaper to run a horse than it is a tractor," says Craig Haythorn.
Haythorn Land and Cattle today is spread over two ranches in two Nebraska counties. In this, the largest grass stabilized dune region in the world, gramma, blue stem and buffalo grass holds down the sand and keeps the dunes in place.