ON offers to buy ranch

Mike ErwinJournal-Capital

The Osage Nation is reportedly the winning bidder for 43,000 acres at the heartland of the former Osage Reservation.

Osage Nation officials confirmed that the Pawhuska-based tribe had submitted a bid to purchase Osage Bluestem Ranch from media mogul/conservationist Ted Turner.

“The bidding process for the Bluestem Ranch is completed,” Assistant Principal Chief Raymond Red Corn said in an official statement released Friday afternoon.

Located in central Osage County approximately midway between Pawhuska and Fairfax, the ranch had been put up for sale at a semi-private auction in which sealed bids were due Jan. 25. Red Corn said further details cannot be released before the deal is finalized because the tribe is bound by a confidentiality agreement with the Turner Group and broker.

“Until additional steps are completed, the (ON) Executive branch will have no additional comment on the transaction,” Red Corn said, while adding a somewhat-telling note on the auction’s outcome: “We are extremely pleased to reverse 200 years of loss of our lands.”

According to Red Corn’s release, Osage Nation Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear wrote Turner a letter regarding the the Bluestem Ranch land on Jan. 21.

In the letter, he said Standing Bear had stated: “These plains are part of the Osage People’s original homelands … At last we have the ability and opportunity to once again own this much land in one place.”

The Osage Principal Chief also shared his thoughts about the devastating effects of early 20th century land allotment, Friday’s release said.

“Until 1906, we owned nearly 1.5 million-acres in one contiguous parcel of what is now Osage County,” Standing Bear explained in the letter to Turner. “(W)e now only own 5 percent of our original land in scattered parcels.”

Osage Nation Congress approved a bill on Jan. 22 which had authorized the appropriation of an undisclosed amount of funding for a non-specified purchase which it said was “stated in sealed confidential documents.” The bill’s title was slightly more descriptive, saying it was “pertaining to the potential land purchase being discussed in the Congress.” That purchase was strongly rumored to be Turner’s Bluestem property.

Osage Nation Congressional Speaker Maria Whitehorn confirmed that a major land purchase had been “discussed at length” during the legislative body’s executive sessions. The sponsor the clandestine tribal bill, Congressman Kugee Supernaw, said its passage “put into motion the process required to make an offer” on property for the Osage Nation.

Approval was by a 10-1 vote. Congresswoman Shannon Edwards, who opposed the bill, said she could not vote “to spend the people’s funds in the amount authorized today for this land without an appraisal” or some other evidence of financial planning and documentation. Edwards indicated that her request for an appraisal had been denied.

“At a different price and under different circumstances, I could support an offer to purchase this land,” Edwards said, noting that she has been in favor of the tribe buying back properties located within the former Osage Reservation.

Turner purchased the Bluestem property in 2001. He was rumored to have paid approximately $15 million for an existing ranch (part of former Mullendore family holdings) and three or four adjoining properties. Reports revealed that Turner had acquired the Osage County ranch for raising bison calves (between 3,000-4,000 per year, it was estimated) which would be used for stocking other Turner ranches in several states.

A few years later, Bluestem Ranch was being called “an interim point for supplying bison meat to Turner’s restaurant chain, Ted’s Montana Grill.” By 2004, it was estimated that Bluestem Ranch contained around 7,600 bison — making it home of the largest single bison herd in the country. Along with the herd managed at the Nature Conservancy’s Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, Osage County’s bison population included more than 10,000 head.

When Bluestem earned Turner the 2011 Landowner of the Year Award, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation described it as a $43,000-acre working ranch that concentrated primarily on bison production. The award noted that the ranch included “cross timbers and tall grass prairie” and said it had adopted certain “non-traditional ranching practices” benefitting wildlife (such as patch burn graze efforts and elimination of fencing to increase pasture size.) Bluestem “uses limited amounts of herbicides and in doing so has restored brushy native prairie beneficial to quail and has maintained a high diversity of wildlife food sources,”according to the presentation.

State wildlife officials also said Bluestem Ranch had established waterfowl habitat by building a wetland area and seeding shorelines for waterfowl food production. Four ponds had been constructed on the ranch and two previously-existing ponds had been reclaimed — and all were stocked with fish, the award continued. Additionally, the ranch had established food plots, participated in the Wildlife Department’s Deer Management Assistance Program and held youth deer hunts and supported youth trapping activity on the property.

Turner Enterprises’ website lists 14 U.S. ranches owned by Turner: five in Nebraska, four in Montana, three in New Mexico and one each in South Dakota and Kansas (Z Bar). He’s also the owner of three ranches in Argentina, according to the website. Bluestem has not been included on the Turner list of ranch sites for at least a year. When it was, the website said the Osage County ranch “is managed for bison grazing, which has proven to be very conducive to quality wildlife management. Bluestem’s primary species are whitetail deer, wild turkey and bobwhite quail. Waterfowl hunting and fishing are also popular.”

Friday’s Osage Nation press release said the tribe “will provide more updates for the Osage people and the public as continued progress is made” on the Bluestem purchase.