The historic Agate Springs Ranch was one of the first ranches to be established in Northwest Nebraska – in 1879, just six years after Custer’s Last Stand - by Dr. Elisha Barker Graham and his wife Mary Eliza Hutchison Graham, of Cheyenne, Wyoming.
Graham, a physician, completed his education after their marriage on April 7, 1861. In 1864, upon his graduation from Hannaman College in Cleveland, Ohio, they moved to Three Rivers, Michigan, where he practiced medicine for 12 years. They had two daughters: Clara, born in New York, and Kate, born in Michigan. Clara later became the first elected woman Representative to the Wyoming State Legislature. In the U.S. Centennial year, 1876, the family moved to Albany, New York, where Graham joined another physician in a large practice. After a few years in Albany, his health affected by overwork, Dr. Graham decided to move to a higher altitude. He chose Cheyenne, Wyoming, where he traded practices with a Dr. Gorham. According to the Cheyenne Daily Leader of November 1, 1878, "Dr. E.B. Graham, late of Albany, New York, arrived yesterday and will at once enter into the practice of his profession." The family, along with their household goods, followed in December.
Wyoming was then a Territory, with Cheyenne its capital. Among Graham's early patients in Cheyenne were John "Portugee" Phillips, and Hugh Orr, then mayor of Cheyenne. Phillips and Orr told Graham that if he wished to invest in cattle, they could show him a spot on the Niobrara River in Sioux County, Nebraska, with plentiful grass and good water, that would be ideal for a ranch site. In the spring of 1879, Phillips and Orr conducted Graham to the spot that is now the headquarters of Agate Springs Ranch. With their assistance, he bought cattle from a large herd that had trailed up from the south that summer. The brand he used was the 04, thought to have been chosen because the ranch was near the 4th meridian. The ranch, while Graham owned it, was known as the 04 ranch.
Agate Springs Ranch's first foreman was John D. "Charley" Russell. Under his direction, a crew of cowboys hauled logs from Pine Ridge to construct the first buildings as well as for winter firewood. By 1880, two log houses had been completed, along with barn, stable, sheds and corrals.
In the late 1800s, no trees stood in the Niobrara Valley, and where green meadows now feed cattle, it was largely blowing sand that had been churned up for millenia by the deer, antelope, and bison that used the river as their watering place. The country was open range and unsurveyed, so squatter's rights prevailed since applying for a homestead was virtually impossible. Dr. Graham and Edgar Beecher Bronson, the well-known author, were the first men to bring cattle to ranch land in Sioux County. Bronson's ranch, on nearby Whistle Creek, was known as the Lower 33.
In 1887 the Graham’s daughter Kate and her husband, noted frontiersman "Captain" James H. Cook, purchased the ranch from the Grahams. Cook had met Kate on one of his trips to Cheyenne after driving cattle over the Chisolm Trail.
Cook's close friendship with many of the Oglala Sioux Indians, including such notables as Red Cloud and Young Man Afraid of his Horse, brought groups of Sioux to the ranch for many decades, particularly after their confinement to reservations. One legacy of this friendship is the priceless Cook Collection of Plains Indian materials, now on display at the Agate Fossil Beds National Monument.
Because of the discovery of an important fossil quarry on the ranch, scientists from museums all over the continent visited and collected there; Erwin H. Barbour and Cope to name only a few.
Still owned exclusively by descendants of the Grahams, today Agate Springs Ranch is an operating cattle ranch that produces award-winning Angus cattle under the able stewardship of Jim and Maureen Skavdahl.
In 1960, James Henry Cook was inducted into the Cowboy Hall of Fame. His contributions to the cowboy way of life included driving cattle over the Chisolm Trail, scouting for the U.S. Army during the Geronimo Campaign, and befriending and advocating for the Oglalla Sioux - particularly Chief Red Cloud's band.