Osage Nation wraps up Bluestem Ranch purchase

Mike ErwinJournal-Capital

The Osage Nation took the final steps last week to re-acquire more than 40,000 acres of its ancestral grasslands.

By completing its purchase of Osage County’s Bluestem Ranch from media mogul Ted Turner, the tribe became one of the largest landowners in what constitutes the former Osage Reservation.

Geoffrey M. Standing Bear, the principal chief of the Osage Nation, officially signed the final paperwork on the land purchase June 8. Standing Bear was joined for the historic closing at Musselman Abstract Company in Bartlesville by Assistant Chief Raymond Red Corn and Byron Bighorse, CEO of Osage Casinos.

“We can think of no better learning environment for our children than these lands,” Standing Bear said. “Land is central to the culture, traditions and history of the Osage people. We intend to keep the majority of the property as a working bison ranch, allowing us to connect our youth to nature.”

ON plans are to preserve, protect and sustain the ranch land as a home to the bison that are sacred to the Osage.

“We will need to engage in some profit-making activities to support our nonprofit goals,” said Standing Bear. “We have been discussing the possible hunting opportunities and what would be involved.”

The Pawhuska-based tribe won the bid to purchase the ranch Jan. 28, 2015. ON officials have a binding and confidential agreement to coordinate additional steps necessary to complete the transaction.

At the time the purchase announcement, The Osage News, official paper of the Nation, proclaimed: “Osage (people) rejoiced from California to Pawhuska (upon news of the successful bid).”

“We are extremely pleased to reverse 200 years of loss of our lands,” Red Corn said in late January.

Due to the nature of the sealed bid auction, the purchase price agreed upon between the Nation and Turner Enterprises, Inc. was not disclosed. Brokered by Standing Bear, Red Corn and Tim Tall Chief, chairman of the Nation’s Tallgrass Economic Development team, and approved by the Fourth Osage Nation Congress, the bid was submitted to the Turner group on Dec. 23, 2015.

Projected revenues earned through the Nation’s gaming enterprises made the financing possible with financial partner Bank of Oklahoma. Included in the purchase would be all of the Bluestem Ranch lands and permanent improvements that had been made upon them.

Turner noted in a letter to Chief Standing Bear that the Nation was the high bidder and the “preferred” buyer. The founder of the Cable News Network poignantly added: “It is my sincere hope that our transaction is the last time this land is ever sold and that the Osage Nation owns this land for all future generations.”

Bluestem is located between Fairfax and Pawhuska, south of Highway 60, at the epicenter of the tribal clan hometowns of Pawhuska, Hominy and Grayhorse. When he bought the ranch in 2001, Turner also acquired four privately-owned contiguous properties.

The ranch had been used to raise thousands of head of bison, as well as cattle. Because of conservation management practices employed there, it was often referred to as a “progressive” ranch.

Tribal members owned nearly 1.5 million acres of Osage Reservation land in the early 1900’s. Before the Bluestem acquisition, however, the tribe owned only seven percent of its original allotted lands — and those were in scattered parcels.

Ownership of the Bluestem Ranch made Turner one of the top three property owners in Osage County. Other large-scale landowners in the county are The Nature Conservancy and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormon Church).