A barn fit for a sheep king

This Prairie barn north of Grand Island caught the eye of columnist Chris Beutler because of its tall brick walls.

Just northwest of Grand Island lies a small unincorporated town named Abbott. Before the turn of the 19th century in 1887, this town located on the Burlington tracks was a well-known stop for trains trekking across the Midwest. Just a couple miles east of there on Highway 2 is where I took this “On the Go” picture.

I have driven by this beautiful barn more than a few times, and on this particular day, across the road I noticed a few gentlemen were working on some hay equipment. Guessing that the fresh cut hay in front of the massive barn and where these guys were working was an obvious connection, so I pulled in.

I approached the two men and asked if they knew much history of the barn across the road, and soon my story was in motion. The Dibbern brothers, Randy and Joe have rented and taken care of the property for many years.

“They called this Ovina which means sheep in Greek,” said Joe, relating to this grassy building site just off the railroad tracks.

I asked them if they knew how old the barn was and they cumulatively guessed it was built about 1910. I told them that I have seen brick barns before on the common level, but never with brick all the way up to the peaks. This style of barn is known as the Prairie barn because of its low first level and then the large second level for feed storage.

As I was listening to the two brothers sometimes finish each other’s sentences I realized I had a unique story. The history of the barn is probably well known to some, and to others, it’s just a barn along Highway 2.

This barn was part of the “Taylor Ranch” for Robert Taylor, known as the Sheep King.

Born in Scotland in 1846, Taylor immigrated to America and at the age of 20, moved from Pennsylvania to California. With money he earned shearing sheep, Taylor purchased 600 ewes that he trailed to Wyoming. This herd quickly multiplied, and soon Taylor found that as the U.S. grew, so grew its need for meat. Cities like Chicago boomed with the meat packing business.

Also growing was the railroads, and this opened up western states like Nebraska and Wyoming to grazing sheep and cattle with the opportunity to ship them by train live to Chicago. Midpoint for the long trip from Wyoming to Chicago was this property located next to the Burlington tracks. A siding was built and it was here that the sheep were off loaded and fed for the next half of their journey.

“It became obvious that it was easier to raise the sheep here in Nebraska” Randy said.

Taylor purchased 160 acres, and the operation shifted to lambing and feeding and raising feed. This spurred elevators and stores nearby, along with housing. This barn was used as a dairy barn to supply milk to the area.

This sheep empire grew into cattle and farming. Taylor became a politician with shared residences in Wyoming and Perkins County, Nebraska, where he reportedly owned over 18,000 acres, plus 9,000 acres in Hall County with an immaculate residence near Abbott. The story goes that in 1903 President Theodore Roosevelt stopped there while visiting Grand island.

I have always had a fascination with barns, and when you see one this well kept but not being used, you sometimes have to stop and look and snap a picture or two and maybe a story will unfold.

Chris Beutler is a ringman for cattle production sales and a Midwest Messenger sales executive. He can be reached at cabonthego@yahoo.com, 402-380-8244.

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