In a corner of Kansas is a hamlet beside the Lincoln to Colorado railroad which was named after one of the most picturesque places in North Yorkshire by an émigré who was proud of his homeland.

Indeed, the ranch that Abraham Pratt, from Ripon, established at Studley, in Kansas, is based upon farms in North Yorkshire and has been preserved as a museum dedicated to the early sheep-raising American settlers.

Even Abraham’s icehouse has been preserved – an icehouse is a highly unusual feature in Kansas but could well have been inspired by the water gardens at Studley Royal where there are two.

Abraham seems to have come from Kirby Malzeard, where he was baptised in 1827, and in his youth, he was a sailor. In the late 1840s, he was on a British ship sailing north to the Arctic in search of Sir John Franklin who had become lost searching for the North West Passage. Abraham’s ship docked at San Francisco for supplies, and when the crew heard that gold had been found in Colorado, about 1,200 miles away, they mutinied and joined the rush.

Whether Abraham was a mutineer is unknown, but it took him more than a year to return to Kirby Malzeard, where he married Catherine in 1855. They moved into Ripon, firstly to Borrage Lane, overlooking the River Skell, and then to Westgate, where he had a “spirit vaults”.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Westgate, Ripon, where Abraham Pratt had a "spirit vault". He sold his business here in 1878 and emigrated to Kansas

They had four children, but in 1866, Catherine died, aged 36. Twelve years later, Abraham sold his pub and travelled to the US with a view to buying land. He was 51, so not a typical settler.

He looked first in Nebraska but instead bought 160 acres on the banks of the South Solomon River beside the railroad in Kansas – both Nebraska and Kansas adjoin Colorado where he may, 30 years earlier, have been involved in the goldrush.

Darlington and Stockton Times: The Cottonwood Ranch, built by Abraham and Fent Pratt from Ripon, is now a museum dedicated to English settlers in Kansas

In 1880, his eldest son, John Fenton Pratt – known as “Fent” – joined him. At first, they lived in little more than a dug-out, which evolved into a little house on the prairie with a turf roof and a mud floor, and Abraham’s other son, “Little Tom”, came over.

Fent returned to Ripon and persuaded his girlfriend, Jennie Place, to join him from Ripon. She sailed alone to New York from where she caught the train to the end of the line, Lenora in Kansas, where Fent was waiting for her on December 30, 1885. They married the next day, and Fent took her to her new home 21 miles away on January 1, 1886, and, when she saw it, she burst into tears: she’d swapped the comforts of middle-class Ripon for a spartan, turf-roofed homestead in the wide open prairies of the mid-west.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Liberal, Kansas 2019

It was a tough environment: hot in summer, deep snow in winter. Many cattle ranches in the area had closed down after the “great die-up” of animals; a plague of grasshoppers afflicted those who survived.

Unsurprisingly, a couple of times Jennie tried walking north back to the station at Lenora to escape.

(Interestingly, if she’d tried walking 50 miles east along US Highway 24, the first township she would have reached was called Stockton. This, though, has nothing to do with the Teesside town of her homeland; instead it was named in 1879 after the cattle stock in the district.)

But the three Pratts were good sheep-raisers and businessmen. In March and April 1891 alone, they sold 3,566lbs of wool to markets in St Louis and Philadelphia. In 1892, they owned 1,581 head of sheep, plus they had a growing timber business.

And their homestead, now called Cottonwood Ranch, was expanding. “The complex of stone outbuildings at the ranch was constructed in a pattern similar to farms in the Yorkshire, England, area,” says the museum website. “That is, the southern faces of the buildings were aligned and then connected with a stone wall. This placement was used so that the walls of the buildings also served as walls for the corral, making convenient accessibility to the livestock.”

Darlington and Stockton Times: Statues in the Studley Royal waterpark, a view that stayed with Abraham Pratt in Kansas. Photograph: Andrew Butler

The settlement around the ranch attracted scores of other Yorkshiremen so that in 1894, Abraham officially named it Studley, after the waterpark next to Fountains Abbey.

Little Tom had eight children but it was the two daughters of Jennie and Fent who got to live on Cottonwood Ranch. When the youngest of them, Hilda, died in 1980, the state bought the ranch and turned it into a museum.

“Visitors experience the past as it was when they tour the ranch in its near unchanged Kansas prairie setting,” says the website. “This is the way it is now, the same as it was then.

“It is one of the state’s last surviving legacies of English settlement in Kansas.”

The museum features five of the site’s six original buildings – the house, wash-house, bunkhouse, stable and shearing shed, plus the icehouse – although a sixth outhouse was destroyed in the 1920s by a tornado which, as Dorothy would have been able to tell Jennie, is another hazard of Kansas life that you don’t get to experience in Ripon.

  • With many thanks to James Wood of Ripon for drawing this to our attention after our story of the Ripon obelisk in October.