It never takes a lot of coaxing to send me to the Smoky Hills. As I like to say it’s a wide swath of pristine prairie like the Flint Hills were 25 years ago. Prairie chickens still gather by the hundreds on winter crop fields. Amid the rolling hills are scores of species of prairie birds, mule deer, bobwhites, pheasants and lots and lots of wild turkeys.
A chance to spend some time on the ranch owned by Keith and Debra Houghton is even more of a bonus.
In his office Keith has the homestead papers of when his family started the ranch in 1872. Generations of the family have lived on the place ever since.
Last week I stopped by for a bit of turkey hunting. In between calling sessions Keith took me to “the hill,” a prominent knoll east of the ranch headquarters.
On a clear day the ridge has a 40-mile view. As we looked Keith told family stories about the knob. My favorite was of when his family headed by horse and wagon to the town of Wilson, about 40 miles away, in about 1900 to buy lumber.
In the tiny town they found a nine-year-old African-American boy abandoned and on his own. The Houghton’s took him in, brought him to the ranch and charged him with the task of watching the family’s flock of sheep.
Day after day, he drove the flock into the hills early in the morning and watched them from atop the high hill. At dusk every day he drove them to the protective pens at the ranchstead.
Standing there last week I tried to imagine what it was like to ascend the hill every day. I also day-dreamed of what it was like when the Houghton’s first arrived. Back then the view probably included big herds of buffalo and maybe the distant camp fires of a band of Cheyenne.
You just have to love a ranch with a view and that kind of history.