Milton Arthur Richstein
August 26, 1918 – July 26, 2008
World War II began. In 1941 on October 9th at Fort Warren, Colorado Milt enlisted and became an active member of the US Army. Following his three months of basic training and some time spend stateside, he was shipped overseas. He participated in Air Offensive Japan, Southern Philippines and Luzon. He received his honorable discharge as Staff Sergeant 418th Night Fighter, Squadron on December 8, 1945. His decorations and citations included: American Service Medal, Asiatic Pacific Medal, Philippine Liberation Ribbon with one Bronze Service Star, World War II Victory Medal and the Good Conduct Medal.
On February 28, 1944, Milt took as his bride Emma Josephine Campbell (Jo). Jo’s parents, Perry and Irene Campbell, owned a ranch north of Oshkosh. Jo graduated from Oshkosh High School then rode the train to Lincoln where she attended the University for two years. Passing the Civil Service examination qualified her for a job in Washington D.C. as a stenographer at the Pentagon. This put her in the ranks with others as a “Rosie the Riveter” during the war years.
Following discharge from the army, Milt and Jo made their home on the Perry Campbell ranch. To this union two daughters were born, Kemmy Sue and Konny Sharlene. While at the Campbell ranch north of present day Oshkosh, mailing address being Ellsworth, his first cattle drive to Alliance, NE provided many new experiences. Upon reaching sale barn destination, straws were drawn to see who would be responsible for trailing the saddle horses home. While the other cowboys attended the sale and were to travel home by car, Milt being the winner of the short straw headed out with the string. Being unfamiliar with the territory he lost his way, not knowing what else to do he turned the reins loose on his horse. Milt’s horse led him and the herd from pasture gate to pasture gate. At dusk, arriving at a familiar fence line to the Campbell ranch he opened one last gate allowing his horse to complete the trail to the barn.
The P.O. Campbell ranch north of Oshkosh was homesteaded by Perry’s father, Tom Campbell, who he later purchased it from. The ending of World War II brought son “Short” and son-in-law Milt back to the prairie increasing the ranch family’s size. Due to the enlarged family situation more land was needed to sustain everyone’s livelihood. The purchase of surrounding land was not an available option therefore Perry chose to look elsewhere. Because Perry’s brother-in-law “Guy Smith” lived at Brewster, NE and was familiar with the territory, he provided Perry with information for the opportunity to purchase a ranch in Brown County. This land was then purchased from Doc Johnson. After selling the family homestead, preparations began for moving machinery, cattle, horses and families to the new location. The new ranch consisted of only one house and set of outbuildings.
Numerous trips were made from Garden to Brown County hauling the cattle and horses in trucks. Hay sleds were loaded with machinery, harness and miscellaneous ranch equipment; both were hitched to a tractor driven by Milt. The hired hand, Martin Fiesterman, drove another tractor pulling hay equipment. The caravan made it from the Ellsworth ranch to Mullen the first day. Nightfall found them cold, tired, hungry and unable to see in the dark so they stayed at the hotel there. With chill still in the air at daybreak they were on the move again. Nightfall the second day had them arriving at the ranch south of Ainsworth.
As life settled a bit at the ranch headquarters, Milt began working on a home site for his little family. A Kincaider shack was located in the hills east of the main place. This two-room shack was then moved to the north meadow to become home for Milt, Jo and Kemmy. Milt’s internal alarm clock had him up at 5:00 am each morning which allowed him some time before and after ranch work for slowly developing his family’s dwelling and outbuildings. He did this with enthusiasm despite leaving behind a newly constructed home in Garden County. The new site consisted of a barn so he no longer had to mild cows in the open front windbreak. His many talents also provided for a garage, cellar, chicken house and milk separating shed. In the early 50’s Milt hired a carpenter to construct his family a new home per Jo’s design. He assisted the carpenter as hi time allowed when not working with cattle. Before riding his horse “Pete” to the main headquarters to work, he first had to feed the cattle with his team of horses at home.
In the following years, Milt became the neighborhood electrician and assisted others with stuccoing and carpentering projects. The main place continued to take shape with the addition of a shop and numerous outbuildings.
The cattle herd changed as well with the introduction of Galloways then Black Angus into Perry’s Hereford herd. Milt remained a Hereford man although eventually he caught the bug and integrated Angus bulls into his Hereford cow herd.
Milt had great respect for the prairie. He was instrumental in fencing and reseeding land that had been plowed up during the Kincaid Act, giving the grounds the opportunity to return to native grasses. He hayed blow outs hoping in time they would heal over, also cross fenced the large pastures so cattle rotation prevented erosion. Included in the fencing projects was a cemetery discovered on the Kincaid farmed ground. This provided protection to the gravestones as well as respect to those buried there. He planted fruit trees at his house and windbreaks around his outbuildings. He created a ditch irrigation system to provide water to his plantings and in a homemade tank hauled water to the trees that the ditch could not reach. Milt knew the names of the grasses and identified birds and their native calls. He respected the bounty of Mother Nature but did enjoy fishing and occasionally brought a young prairie chicken home in the fall. A duck was not necessarily safe during hunting season either.
Idle time or boredom had no opportunity to creep into the lives of Milt or anyone associated with the ranch. When Perry decided to incorporate the mink business into the ranch operation, Milt once again spent many hours designing and building dozens of individual cages and houses as each animal had its own. Then there was butchering to provide food for the mink and large sheds to be constructed so the pens and houses would have protection from the summer and winter elements. Late fall brought pelt preparation for marketing and shipment to fur buyers.
With home sites settled the venture to new opportunities for the community transpired. North of the Calamus River along Hwy 7 on land owned by Perry, a roping arena was created. The crow’s nest was built at the ranch by Milt then transported and secured at the arena. A roping club was formed including neighbors from all around. An old box car was converted into the lunch stand, shade trees were planted and his & hers outhouses were installed. Besides club roping, jackpot ropings were held and since no one had roping calves, anyone who had bucket calves volunteered them. Uniformity of size was non-existent; you roped whatever came out of the gate when you were up. Since Milt didn’t have a real horse trailer, he opened up the back of the Model A car and loaded the bucket calves in it. Behind this he pulled a small homemade trailer transporting Pete the rope horse. Pete minded his manners and never attempted to jump out of the chest high trailer.
Times changed, the roping club dwindled and it was time to develop a community hall across from Raven School Dist. #3. Square dancing numbers had outgrown the school house so Perry went to work on the business and again Milt was the general carpenter. The land belonged to Hitchcock’s. Raven Hall was created of many previously used items, lumber etc. however it sported a new 1” oak floor installed by Milt and a volunteer crew. Raven Hall served the community well; it provided a place for various forms of entertainment. Square dancing, round dancing, school programs, card parties, church, Sunday school, box socials, bridal and baby showers were to name a few.
Family ties were important to Milt. Every summer he took his family back to Oshkosh to celebrate his mother’s birthday over July 4th for the Richstein Family Picnic. This trip also provided him the time to spend with his “Oshkosh buddies”. Then the family would return for Thanksgiving if the weather cooperated.
In the summer of 1966 Perry announced his retirement which meant the ranch was to be divided as equally as possible between his daughter Jo and son Short’s families. This eventually became known as “Raven Cattle Company.” On February 4, 1968 life changed drastically with the passing of Jo following a battle with cancer.
On June 14, 1970 Agnes Mae Snyder joined Milt in marriage. Agnes is the daughter of Jesse and Margaret Snyder who resided on the Snyder family homestead by Chain Lakes. Agnes graduated from Ainsworth High School, took summer and off campus classes from Chadron State College. She taught at various schools around the area prior to meeting and marrying Milt.
Milt was continually on the move to improve the quality of his cattle herd. He attended local cattle auctions, scouted and purchased the best bulls he could afford at private bull sales. In 1964, he completed ABS instruction therefore artificial insemination became another avenue for enhancing the quality of his herd. His bull magazines and catalogs were always within easy reach of his chair. He knew the information contained in those publications forward and backwards, always eager to educate anyone interested in listening.
Milt thoroughly enjoyed life and as he retired from the heavier ranch duties, he pursued new interests and hobbies. His friendships with neighbors were priceless to him. He was always happy to loan out his equipment, help someone running short on hay and most of all have the time to visit with them. Milt enjoyed sports, he had an opinion on and talked politics, he kept up with the times by reading the Omaha World Herald and watching news on TV. Milt was pleased with his cattle operation and always ready to provide a ranch tour…that is if you had the time!
Even thought Milt’s permanent home was in the Sandhills of Brown County he always had a special spot in his heart for Garden County. He never complained of leaving there nor voiced a desire to move back to Oshkosh. He simply loved the prairie holding both places near and dear in his heart. He was sincerely grateful for his opportunity to celebrate “The Good Life.”
As they often did, on July 25, 2008, Milt and Agnes returned to Milt’s hometown of Oshkosh, NE to visit old friends and family. At day’s end, Milt’s comment to Ag was, “This has just been a wonderful day.” In the early morning hours of July 26th, Milt completed his earthly journey. He was 89 years old and 11 months of age. His family had a 90th birthday celebration planned for him at the end of August; however, that celebration came in a different form. One month short of his 90th birthday family and friends gathered to celebrate Milt and his “Good Life”. Thus this story of “The Life and Times of a Genuine Sandhills Cattleman” is complete. However, Milt’s stories will live on in each of us whose lives he touched.
Raven Cattle Company remains in the family and continues to operate as a Sandhills ranching business.
Milt’s notable distinctions and honors were:
Staff Sergeant of 418th Night Fighter Squadron—WW II
American Service Medal
Asiatic Pacific Medal
Philippine Liberation Ribbon
Bronze Service Star
WW II Victory Medal
Good Conduct Medal
Ainsworth American Legion Member—44 years
Lifetime Member of IOOF Lodge
Nebraska Cattleman’s Association
American Angus Association
School Board Officer—Raven School Dist. #3