Matfield Green - Our first years

Saturday, October 21, 2006

The Rogler Auction

It was quite a scene at the long-anticipated auction of the Rogler Ranch last Thursday. At least 350 people (and 200 or so cowboy hats) gathered at the community building in Cottonwood Falls for the event - a handful of bidders, five sellers and their spouses, Rick and Nancy Griffin along with a couple of assistant auctioners, and a large crowd of concerned observers.

I missed the morning history presentation but arrived in time for the complimentary lunch of beef sandwich, beans, potato salad and iced tea. At about 1:30 on this perfect autumn afternoon Rick (dressed in a suit as befitted the occasion) asked us all to step outside for a moment so they could clear the tables and set up the chairs in rows for the auction, set to begin on the dot at 2pm.

Just about everyone I could imagine was there. Waiting. Sharing gossip. Wondering about the future of the most famous ranch in the county and one of the most beautiful spots in Kansas. The ranch has been beautifully cared for by the Rogler family since 1859 but now everything was up for grabs.

Bill had been wheeling and dealing (in his understated way) until the last moment. Still hoping as of Wednesday evening to line up a conservation-minded investor whose contribution would allow us to purchase and protect the whole ranch. The final NO, after over a year of working toward the deal, came at about 8 oclock the night before the auction: by morning we were left with one generous partner, some funds of our own that we could use in a pinch, and two friends from Chicago willing to put in $10,000 each if that would put us over the top on any piece of the ranch. But, no matter how you count it, we had not raised nearly enough to buy the whole 4100 acre ranch, which ultimately sold for just over 6 million dollars.

The ranch up for sale in 6 tracts - four tracts of grass and cropland plus two smaller tracts, each with a house and outbuildings.

Sitting down in the third row with Bill and Wes Jackson as the auction began, I knew that the only one of the six tracts that we could afford was the "Henry House" built in 1908 and situatated on 12 acres about 1/2 mile north of where our new house is going up. The tract also includes three historic and beautiful barns. Our partner was particularly taken by the biggest of the barns. Also, part of our plan for the whole ranch was a small organic farm and bed and breakfast in the Henry House. If he had to choose and could have afforded it, Bill would have elected to buy one of the much large tracts of just grass. But by 2pm on Thursday, if we wanted to play any part in the future this historic ranch, our only hope was the winning bid on tract 6.

I've got all kinds of notes on the ups and downs and ins and arounds of the auction. The first and largest tract of rangeland and tillable acres sold for the most money. Four eager bidders went up to $1700 an acre. Good sources tell us that in the end the 1600 acre tract that is most of what we can see as we look out from the frontporch of the bunkhouse went to a man named Allen Wise who is buying up land in the Flint Hills to protect it from development. If that rumor is true he will make an excellent neighbor.

Happily the 710 acres west of the bunkhouse went to TW Burton, son of Tom Burton, Rogler Ranch Manager for 45 years. I say happily first because TW will be a great neighbor and will certainly take care of the grassland better than anyone we could imagine. Secondly happily because Bill and I bid with our hearts and against our better judgment and without a clue as to where we'd get all the money, as the price went up in $10 per acre increments from $11oo to $1150 per acre. At that point our wiser minds prevailed and we dropped out. I was shaking from the rush, sitting beside Bill calculating total cost on my Palm Pilot as he bid into the stratosphere beyond our available funds. Ten dollars goes very quickly when you are multiplying it by 710. We were giddy with relief when the moment of truth had passed and TW owned Tract 4 at $1160 an acre.

Tract 5 was the Rogler headquarters - a house built in 1924 by Wayne Rogler and about 300 acres of grass and cropland. TW and his wife were going for that piece too but lost in heavy bidding to a man who owns 5 furniture stores in Wichita.

Tract 6 was the Henry House. And now it is ours. Ours writ loosely since most of the purchase price will be paid by our partner. But certainly ours in the way of ours to manage, ours to work with others in the community to protect, ours to fundraise for, ours to worry (not too much I hope) about, ours to make the best of as the precious gift from the past that it truly is.

If you have a really fast Internet hook-up and quite a bit of patience to let it download, you can watch this video presentation of photos of the property.

Let me know what you think! And please share any ideas you have about the future of this special place.


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