HOMINY — At the start of negotiations over 43,000 acres of prairie an hour northwest of Tulsa, media mogul Ted Turner sent a message to the potential buyer. “I want this land preserved for generations to come,” Turner told the chief of the Osage Nation last year.
And Geoffrey Standing Bear sent word back to Turner.
“It won’t be just generations,” the chief promised. “It will be forever.”
More than 300 Osage citizens drove several miles down a bumpy gravel road Wednesday to celebrate the purchase, a $74 million deal financed with casino profits. Turner himself, who’s most famous as the founder of CNN, planned to attend the handover ceremony, but health issues prevented him from traveling, a spokesman said.
After running an environmentally friendly ranch on the grassland for 15 years, Turner wanted a buyer who would treat the property with the same tender care, explained Taylor Glover, the president and CEO of Turner Enterprises.
“After my very first meeting with Chief Standing Bear,” Glover said, “I told Ted, ‘You found your buyer.’ ”
Now that the land is the tribe’s, Standing Bear has received several proposals for what to do with it — at least one of which he has already rejected.
Putting thousands of wild mustangs on the property would earn a lot of cash from the federal government and bring an instant return on investment.
“But it would take a heavy toll on the land,” he said. “It’s our responsibility to preserve this land for the future.”
Other possibilities include raising bison, renting out parts of the property to cattle operations and hosting for-profit hunting businesses.
Whatever the tribe decided a to do with it, the Osage Nation didn’t buy the Bluestem Ranch to make money, but simply for the sake of owning it, Standing Bear said. Or more precisely, to own it again.
The tribe claimed virtually all of Osage County before the federal government forced allotment in the early 1900s. And before settling in what is now Oklahoma, the tribe had hundreds of millions of acres of territory, said Everett Waller, chairman of the Osage Minerals Council.
As the tribe faced extinction in the 19th century, the rolling hills of the Osage prairie became its last refuge.
“We had one home left, and this was it,” said Waller, who wrapped himself in a bright red traditional Osage blanket as he spoke. “Our ancestors walked on this land. Our warriors died for this land. And today, this land is ours again.”
The tribe has already started the process of putting the land in trust with the federal government, which would give the Osage Nation sovereignty over it. And it would legally prevent the tribe from ever selling the property or giving it away in the future, Standing Bear said.
“We cannot ever be separated from this land again,” he said.