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SWETT, LEONARD HERBERT This archive consists of three letters written by Leonard Herbert "Berty" Swett to his mother or to his mother and father between 1883-1885. Swett spent part of the summer of 1875 with family friend George Armstrong Custer in the Dakota Territory, just one year before the Battle of the Little Bighorn. He later participated in the U.S. Geological Survey of the Utah Plateau Region, traveled across Europe, and worked on the Texas XIT ranch. Swett was also the namesake son of Leonard Swett (1825-1889), an informal legal advisor and ally to Abraham Lincoln who, working with Ward Hill Lamon and David Davis, helped engineer Lincoln’s 1860 presidential nomination. All three letters are from Swett's travels through the western United States, highlighting the young and isolated nature of the region in this era. Letter "A" - LS. 10 pg. 8" x 5." November 5, 1883. Wichita, Kansas. A letter signed by "Leonard H. Swett" to "My dear Father & Mother. "I arrived in Wichita â€" from Wellington â€" last Thursday and wrote you a short letter then. Friday PM Will Campbell drove me out to the farm, which is 3 1/2 miles north-west of town, and contains about 500 acres. It is bounded on the west by the Arkansas river having a little more than a mile of water front. The little Arkansas river, a stream which never runs dry, extends for half a mile just inside the eastern boundy [sic], that is, runs across the farm. Both streams are sufficiently supplied with natural timber along the banks to afford good shelter for stock during the cold break winds of winter and the heat and XX time of summer…" After going into detail on the crops and cattle situation, Swett explains that property in Wichita is affordable and accessible, but, "I give you this description to illustrate how desirable a piece of property a Kansas farm may be, I have no desire to buy it even if I had an abundance of money, as it is a little to {sic} big for my present condition and knowledge of the business and would involve a great many details, then by gaining cheaper land I hope to gain the first profit which has already been realized here." Even this isolated area is already too settled for Swett. This letter is written on his father"s law office stationery. Letter "B" - LS. 6 pg. November 10, 1883. Albuquerque, New Mexico. A letter signed by "Leonard H. Swett" to "My dear Mother." In describing his journey from Kansas to New Mexico, Swett describes Colorado as, "a part of the country I have always passed through in the night. The country all the way is desert and good for nothing apparently â€" The only objects of interest are the Spanish Peaks â€" two mountains about 50 miles from the track, and 13,000 feet high â€" but only 7,000 higher than the railroad. They were very blue and beautiful â€" but only visible for a short time…" Yet within the next decade, Colorado and New Mexico's populations skyrocketed thanks to the discovery of silver and gold in the former and the climate of the latter. This letter is written on very thin paper. Letter "C" - 11 pg. November 19, 1885. XIT Ranch. A letter to "My Dearest Mother." "Late in the afternoon of Sunday the 8th of this month a cloud of smoke rose on the Southeastern horizon. Its origin was at once attributed to a prairie fire and tho’ evidently distant probably on our range. Immediately an outfit consisting of a wagon containing a barrel of water â€" for wetting clothes for beating the fire out with â€" a few provisions and some bedding for the men started out in charge of two men with six horsemen under command of Mr. XX…to find the fire. This outfit was deemed sufficiently large to meet the fire and little more thought was given the matter…" Thus begins Swett's unsigned letter to this mother describing his work on the XIT Ranch to put out a fire. From 1885 through 1886, Swett was employed at the XIT Ranch, a cattle ranch in the Texas Panhandle which operated from 1885 to 1912. Comprising over 3,000,000 acres of land, it ran for 200 miles along the border with New Mexico, and at its peak regularly handled 150,000 head of cattle. The original owners of the ranch are briefly mentioned in Swett's previous letter as travel companions, indicating a pre-existing relationship that surely helped him acquire this job. Originally, the ranch was very profitable, but crashing cattle prices just one year after this letter, combined with an inability to sell excess land, brought the ranch's owners to bankruptcy by 1912. This letter is written on thick paper. All three letters are in excellent condition and a fascinating window into the life and mind of a young man forging his own identity on America's western frontier.
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  • $2,200