Big V Ranch

Big V Ranch

All of the photographs on this page are clickable and will bring up photographs that are 1000 pixels on the longest side. If you have a project that you would like larger photographs, email me and I will be glad to send them to you. The photographs on the page are my own, and are copyrighted by me, but you may use them for your personal use, but please email me to let me know at Paul Reeves

All of the information on this page is from my interview with Wally Edwards on August 19, 2010 who resides on the ranch with his brother Van Edwards. There are some factual excerpts that are listed with where I was able to retrieve a little more information.

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The Big V Ranch is located 2 miles off State Highway 156 going from the Ranch Drive area of Ponca City to Marland, and is about 8 miles south of where the townsite of Autwine was located. In 1984 the 3,500 square foot Big V Ranch house was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.[3]

Back in the days of horses and mules, this would have been a all day trip to go to Autwine and back, so the ranch had become self sufficient to overcome that obstacle. I was given a wonderful opportunity by Wally and Van Edwards to have a tour of the ranch, and this page is from my conversation with Wally Edwards.

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The Big V Ranch was the creation of William Henry Vanselous, the homestead for the nation's largest mule dealer from 1907 to 1912[3] and construction began in 1895 and the buildings were finished around 1901. W. H. Vanselous, born in Three Rivers, Michigan, on August 11, 1863, married Viola Love at Belle Plaine, Kansas, in 1893. In the fall Vanselous and his brother, Tom, participated in the Cherokee Outlet Opening in 1893 and staked town-lot claims in Enid. William traded his claim to Tom and bought out a settler's 160 acres. Vanselous soon leased land from various Ponca Indians and started purchasing Ponca land, as soon as legally feasible, eventually accumulating around ten thousand acres.[1]

The ranch was situated on 10,000 acres to the north of the Salt Fork River, and also extended to the south of the Salt Fork River. The main buildings of the ranch are situated on about 7 acres of the land. At the height of it's operations it employed 50 to 60 ranch hands. Besides the main house there was a Commisary, chicken coops, a bunk house, a large silo and a large barn. Mostly oats and corn were grown on the ranch. There is a photograph in the lobby on the first floor of the house that shows the tremendous amount of corn that was put up in the crib. Wally told me that the corn crib reached all the way to the roadway, and you can tell by the photograph that it would be very large.

The ranch had earned a national reputation for both its corn production and the quality of the mules that W. H. Vanselous breed and raised. Besides raising corn and cattle, W. H. Vanselous had a national reputation for the quality of his mules, and would brand a "V" usually on each jaw and became the best known in all of the country.[2] He got into the mule trading business when Zack Miller told him about a large auction of unbroken range mules taking place in San Angelo, Texas, so W. H. Vanselous went there and bought the whole group and began breaking the mules and shipping them off to St. Louis.[1]

The house was renovated in the 1940's and had bathrooms installed, the sinks in the lobby on the first floor were against the north wall (south wall of the kitchen) but were moved out towards the lobby and two toilets were installed behind the sinks. Bathrooms were also installed in the second and third floors at the time, and a couple of bedrooms were taken out at that time. The main bathroom on the second floor has a shower made of galvanized tin that is painted over, and looks fabulous and very professionally installed still today.

William Henry Vanselous died April 7. 1930, leaving his ranch to his children, Edward, Grace, Kay and Oklahoma to operate. They continued to operate the ranch until 1953 when it was sold off into auction.[1] His grandson, Wally Edwards, has continued the farm and ranch operation since that time.  The 1,200 acre working far includes cattle, hay, and small grain operations.[4]

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The ranch was very active until 1953 when it was disbanded and sold off in 28 parcels. Some of the improvements was sold to Charlie Jenkins from Blackwell, Oklahoma who later owned Shepherd Mall in Oklahoma CIty. Some of the other parcels were sold to the children and grandchildren, while Wally Edwards did manage to keep a large parcel himself. A man named Gary Davis owned the 7 acres that the house and barn are on, and when he passed away Wally and Van Edwards were able to buy back the property. Wally and Van Edwards are W. H. Vanselous' grandsons, and they gave me a very nice and interesting tour of the ranch.

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Wally and Van Edwards began renovating the ranch back into original shape about 2 years ago, and they have really done a remarkable job in restoring the house back to almost the original condition. They have added a few of the modern items such as conveniences in the kitchen and the addition of central heat and air. However, the tour Wally Edwards gave to me brought back many visions of the ranch when it would have been operating in the early 1900's. One of the many things I did find interesting is that the stairs do not 'creak' and are all very tight and sound, so you can tell the house was built to stand the elements of time and is still very solid and secure.

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The house is arranged in a cross or X shape, and is situated north and south for the air flow through the windows. It has 10 foot ceilings and has porches on the four corners of the main house. All of the doors, both inside and outside have the louver window above them to allow for the air to pass through the house without having the doors open, this is something that is not often seen these days of energy efficient homes. But when the house was first built those windows to give the whole house cross ventilation were essential to help keep the Oklahoma weather at bay. In the days before central heat and air, it was sometimes quite hard to make it through the Oklahoma harsh weather patterns

The house is three stories and the downstairs has a dining room, a lobby, an office and the kitchen.

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I could visualize the ranchhands as they would come into the lobby on the first floor to go to the dining room, washing their hands in the four sinks that were on the north side of the lobby, getting cleaned up from fighting the Oklahoma dust and dirt so they could sit down at the dinner table, as Wally told me of the happenings in the old ranch house all of the wonders of his stories filled my mind with wonderful visualizations..

You can see the penny tile on the floor in front of the four sinks with the date that the ranch began. Yes, there are four sinks, one on the left hand side is hidden from view by the doorway. These are the original sinks that the ranchhands used to wash up so they could enjoy their meal. Wally told me that the house was completed in about 1901 so I am sure that the ranch itself was well established in 1895 and was a working endeavor of Mr. W. H. Vanselous.

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The dining room had four tables and would seat 32 men at once, so the men would come in when the dinner bell was rang (and I could hear the bell as well) and then sit and eat, chattering about the day to the other ranchhands, dressed in their dungrees and long sleeved shirts with a bandana around their neck.

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Then when the ranchhand was finished eating, he would take his plate into the kitchen on the north side of the dining room and put up his plate, and another ranchhand would come off the porch to eat. The way that Wally described the whole affair I could easily see in my mind the men waiting patiently to be able to grab a meal before heading back off to work on the ranch.

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 The kitchen has been changed some and the large pantry area has been removed, as well as the ice box. The ice box is the original one (but it is currentlyout in the Commisary), and ice would have been put in the middle part and perishable foods put in the glassed in areas. No doubt there would have been an ice wagon making it's rounds, for in the early days without electricity that was all there was to keep perishable items from spoiling. The large old Garfield stove with a griddle, grill and burners, and a warmer on the upper part is no longer in the house, but it is preserved and is to the north of the house now at the Bar-B-Que area. The stoveis still usable but Wally told me that it would have put out too much heat if it were still installed in the kitchen.

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There were 8 bedrooms on the secondfloor with beds, and a parlor or sitting room on the south wing of the second floor. Wally made it sound like some of the ranchhands were able to sleep in the upper part of the house so I imagine if that is the case then the bedroom were reserved for the ranchhands that were married and had children. There are not any closets in the house, only hangers, so all of the space in the house was used and none was wasted.

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The ranch had a bunkhouse in the area above the Commisary, and Wally said that there was little more than bunks there, 3/4 beds is what Wally said, and he said they were arranged with nothing more than a sleeping area and the washbowl and pitcher to clean up with in the bunkhouse area. There was room for the ranchhands locker, but not much else. This area was no doubt for the single ranchhands, and I would suspect (although Wally did not say) that the second floor bedrooms were probably for the ranchhands that had wives and children.

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I could easily picture in my mind the late night talk about what was happening on the farm with the men in the parlor on the second floor, with the children probably running up and down the three stories of stairs and the wives all working in the kitchen cleaning up the dishes and working at preparing what they could in the way of food for the oncoming day. On the ranch, it kept the ranchhands employed year round, so there was not any real part time workers, for with all the acreage to be prepared, the cattle to be worked, oats and corn to be sold, I am sure that the workers had a full time job on their hands.

The third floor was mostly for the children, and had four bedrooms with two beds in each room and school was held there for the children of the ranchhands.

The Big V's large corn crops of a corn called White Wonder (a drought resistant strain that some stories say that W. H. Vanselous concieved and some say it was a conception of the 101 Ranch), the ranch kept large crews to harvest and shuck the product, with husking contests each year on the ranch during the harvest that brought attention to the ranch from all of the local area.[1] Back in those days all the corn had to shucked by hand, wearing a special glove that had a spike on the wrist to hold the base of the corn cob, and with the free hand you would pull the covering off the corn cobs to expose the dried corn that was still on the cob.

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When built, the house did not have any bathrooms and had two outhouses out back of the house. In the 1940's the house was renovated and bathrooms were installed, with two downstairs, a centrally located one on the second floor, and one upstairs. The house did have water from the start, with a water tank between the Commisary and the house that was about two stories tall, but as it aged it became weak, so a new water tank was installed on the top of the silo that was 20' by 60' tall, and provided enough water for the ranch. Unfortunately the silo is no longer standing, but as Wally told about it I could envision it's grandeur across from the engine building.

There were five houses on the farm that some of the ranchhands and families lived in, but they no longer exist at the site. Wally said that they were across the road to the east of the main ranch, so the ranchhands, foremen and families were still quite close at hand. It would take a lot of work to keep a 10,000 acre ranch running at the turn of the century, so the Big V Ranch was apparently very prosperous and thus kept things moving forward.

To the West of the house was the Commisary where the ranchhands could get some of the stores that they needed, with a porch about three feet high to make it easy to load the items into the wagons. The porch is now gone, but the Commisary remains, and is being worked on to bring it back to original. The north part of the Commisary was used for the vehicles that brought stores to the Commisary, but now is cleared out.

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To the west of the Commisary is a large cement block building, and it was where an old four cycle engine was that was used to generate electricity for the ranch. and maintained forty-five miles of charged fence in the late 1930s.[1]There was a block of batteries about 10 foot square and the whole house had electricity to see by. The exhaust from the old four cycle engine came out on the north side of the building, and would shoot out a 'puff' of smoke as it went through it's cycles. The ranch also had it's own telephone system, and although Wally did not go into the details, I imagine it connected the different buildings on the ranch to the main house.

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To the west of the Engine Building is the old Chicken Coops, which no longer have chickens, but during the tour that Mr. Edwards gave to me I could almost see the chickens through my mind's eye running around the yard and going in and out of the coops. I am sure the women of the ranch were yelling at the children to 'Stop chasing the chickens so they will lay eggs!'

To the south of the Chicken Coops, across the road to the barn, was where the old 20' by 60' silo used to be, but alas, it is now gone, but you can certainly visualize the massive structure that would have been there, supplying the silage for the steers that were on the ranch. This was the silo that had the water tank on top of it for water to go to the house that Wally was telling me supplied water for the ranch.

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To the far west of the ranch site is the large barn that is about 100 feet long, with a huge 'V' on the roof, signifying the "Big V Ranch". The ranch mainly used mules and horses, and the barn was considered a mule barn. You can see the statue representing a mule on the southeast corner of the barn, and the mule almost looks real. When I was there I could easily envision a corral on the east side of the barn, however, I did not ask Wally if that was where the corral was or not, but it is still easy to visualize to me since W. H. Vanselous was a mule breeder and trader as well, and I am sure he had numerous mules being raised. According to Jane Morris as she spoke of the early days of the ranch, "They sold mules even to the British army, that's why the mule barn is an interesting aspect to the ranch house."[3]

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The stalls are a bit short though, so the mules were about 2 feet out into the aisle, and there are 10 stalls so I would say that there were no doubt about 20 mules and/or horses that were in the barn at any given time, although I did not ask Wally how many animals were used on the ranch. The ranch had about all types of livestock with the exception of sheep, so it was a fully functional ranch that was able to totally support all fo the ranchhands and the family.

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The water troughs are in the center of the barn, one on each side. The other stalls all looked to be for hay or oats. All of the timbers are rough hewn and still look to be in remarkable condition. Wally did say that this was the third barn on the ranch, and that two others had burned down over the years, and thus have been rebuilt. This barn of course is the last one to be built.

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The tack room was right inside the south door of the barn on the west side, where the harnesses and bits were kept for the horses and mules. Keep in mind that mules wore collars, for a bit would not fit into their mouth like it does a horse.

The north east corner of the barn was set up to milk cows, but the ranch only kept enough cows to supply the ranch with enough milk and butter for the ranch's own use, that was not something the ranch marketted.

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In the loft you can still see where the chutes were located so that the hay was delivered to the mules and horses, and the loft was well used Wally said that the barn sagged some when the ranchhands first put baled hay into the loft so care had to be taken with the inception of baled hay, for the bales of hay were considerably heavier than the forked hay, so the ranchhands also had to put out blocks of hay along the edge of the barn. Wally said that the barn sagged some when the ranchhands first put baled hay into the loft

One thing is for certain after being taken on the tour through the ranch, and that is that the whole ranch is totally a remarkable feat, laid out perfectly and it was very functional. It is not hard to understand why in Vanselous's obituary George Miller was quoted as saying that Vanselous was "the best farmer in the entire country."[1]

As Wally Edwards and I walked back towards the house, I could almost see the corral on the east side of the barn with numerous mules and horses in it. The ranch is truly a keepsake, and Wally and Van Edwards has done a tremendous job of preserving it back to the way it was, and the way Wally told me about the farm made it so easy to visualize the workings in the days that the ranch was it's most productive. The whole ranch has been magnificently renovated with period furniture and with solid wood, and I felt quite privledged to be given a tour of this magestic ranch. Thank you Wally and Van Edwards.

© Lord Gazmuth 2012