Born in Vermont, Bartlett Richards, the son of a Congregational minister, came to Wyoming in 1879, at the age of 17, to spend a year as a ranch hand before enrolling in Williams College in Massachusetts, but he never returned to the East. Instead, by the time the year was over, he had purchased 1000 head of cattle and established the Ship Wheel Ranch on the Belle Fourche River in northeast Wyoming. Shortly before his 21st birthday in 1883, Richards was hired to oversee a herd of 6000 cattle on the Upper 33 and Lower 33 ranches in Sioux County, Nebraska. He had become a cattleman.
In 1900 Richards was labeled one of the most influential cattlemen in the United States. He had owned the First National Bank of Chadron, had established several ranches including the nearly 300,000 acre Spade Ranch in the Sand Hills, and had developed a cattle herd that topped prestigious cattle shows in Chicago and Denver. He’d also made a powerful enemy: a fellow rancher--turned politician, Theodore Roosevelt. The men’s battle over a ranchers’ right to the public domain began shortly after Roosevelt became president in 1901 and led to Richards’ conviction and incarceration for land fraud. In 1911 Richards died, a month before completing his one-year land fraud jail term.
Bartlett Richards’ achievements are often overshadowed by the land fraud conviction and the negative press surrounding the purported actions of the big cattlemen during the homesteading era, but his achievements were finally recognized in 1970, when Richards was inducted into the Cowboy Hall of Fame in honor of his role of establishing a ranching industry based on husbandry not chance.