If there is a region of the country that best represents the American spirit, it might be the Great Plains. Pioneers seeking a grander, more prosperous life, headed West in wagon trains, discovering endless grasslands and prime cattle country. As the herds proliferated in Texas and the Southwest, they were moved north in fantastic numbers. Entrepreneurs and captains of industry raced to get the rails built, and shipping headquarters were established across the region, making the cattle market the economic king of the plains. However, little about life on these plains is easy. The land is populated with people of grit and gumption and the incredible willpower to withstand dust storms, droughts, and economic downturns. Like the pioneers who preceded them, they look forward, with the devout hope for a better tomorrow, and often enough, the immense satisfaction of a bountiful life that only the Great Plains can provide. 

7S Stuart Ranch

Caddo and Waurika, Okla.
On 40,000 acres across southern Oklahoma, this ranch maintains the superlative title of being the oldest in the state under continuous family ownership. Run by Terry Stuart Forst, she focuses on superior breeding in her cattle and her horses—winners of the 1995 AQHA Best Remuda Award. The ranch is a recognized AQHA Ranching Heritage Breeder and Forst is a 2007 National Cowgirl Hall of Fame inductee, the former president of the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association, and was also named the Oklahoma Cattleman of the Year in 2007.

Blair Brothers Angus

Vale, S.D.
This multi-generational operation believes when it comes to cattle, “you can have it all.” As founding members of U.S. Premium Beef, the brothers and their families’ commitment to the industry is undeniable, as their engagement with local organizations (Black Hill’s Cattlemen’s Association), state entities (South Dakota CattleWomen), and national interests (U.S. Meat Export Federation), shows.

Drummond Land & Cattle Co.

Pawhuska, Okla.
In a 2013 list of America’s largest landowners, the Drummonds ranked 17th with 433,000 acres. The ranch got its start in 1910, and today, brothers Tim and Ladd run 6,500 cow-calf pairs along with 12,000 stockers between two Oklahoma facilities. Drummond horses are bred to perform on the ranch and the arena, like their 2004 AQHA World Champion colt, Lizzy Gotta Player. The Drummond Ranch was inducted into the Oklahoma Quarter Horse Association Hall of Fame in 2013.

[Read more: Great Ranches of the Great Basin]

Gardiner Angus

Ashland, Kans.
This multi-generational family ranching and top-ranking seedstock operation has planted its genetic beliefs firmly in the research they have been conducting and the records they have kept since 1964. Residents of the Ashland area since the covered wagon brought them in 1885, they maintain a strong and reputable network of clients through high-quality customer service and keep their eye on the prize of being better, not bigger.

Haythorn Ranch

Arthur, Neb.
In 1876, 16-year-old Harry Haythornthwaite stowed away on a ship set for America. When discovered, he was forced to care for a set of white-faced bulls to pay for his passage. Upon arrival in Galveston, the importer of the bulls hired the youngster to continue to care for them. He became a cowboy and made four trips up the trail—two to Kansas and two to Nebraska. After the second trip to Nebraska, he stayed in Ogallala, married, and filed on a land grant near Arthur. He and subsequent generations put all their savings and credit toward buying more of the fertile Nebraska Sandhills ranch country—the Haythorn Ranch.

Leachman Cattle of CO

Wellington, Colo.
To follow Leachman lineage is to dive deep into the story of America’s cattle, from the lush hills of Ohio and New York, to the Great Plains of Montana, South Dakota, and Colorado, and even overseas to Scotland and South America. For three generations, Leachman brothers, sons, and grandsons have sought not only to breed better cattle but to create a better cattle business.

Maddux Cattle Company

Wauneta, Neb.
Father and son pair, Jack and John Maddux, run their 2,500-head cow operation on 40,000 acres in the southwestern Sandhills of Nebraska. The family has ranched the area since the late 1800s and now focuses on finishing efficient animals with low-cost feed.

N Bar Ranch

Grass Range, Mont.
Now owned by Montana’s largest landowners and billionaire brothers, Farris and Dan Wilkes, the historic N Bar Headquarters was established in 1885 and still serves the 60,000 contiguous acres that comprise the ranch and the 1,500 head of cattle that graze it. Remarkably, ranch operations are fully self-sustaining and handled by a full-time staff of two or three.

Padlock Ranch

Ranchester, Wyo.
Running 11,000 head on 475,000 owned and leased acres in Wyoming and Montana, this 72-year-old operation keeps its herds on the move during the growing season and calves in May and June to allow plants to reach maturity. As a result of their stewardship, they received the 2013 National Cattlemen’s Beef Association’s Region Five Environmental Award.

[Read more: Great Ranches of the Southwest]

Sunlight Ranches Co.

Montana / Wyoming
Despite the sale of its Pronghorn Ranch to the aforementioned Wilkes brothers, Sunlight Ranches Co. still boasts more than 190,000 acres between Montana and Wyoming. Until his death in 2013, Robert Earl Holding, who began his career as a Wyoming gas station attendant, owned the ranches. In 2009, Sunlight Ranches gifted the Big Horn County Museum two cabins and the log studio once employed by legendary cowboy, author, and artist, Will James.

True Ranches

Wheatland, Wyo.
Encompassing a large swath of eastern Wyoming’s plains, True Ranches was established in 1957, and is now one of the largest cow-calf operations in the West. Employing around 90 people from the greater Rocky Mountain region, this multi-generational family venture raises Angus, black baldy, Charolais, and Hereford cattle.

XIT Ranch

Plains, Kansas
The XIT Ranch in Kansas has been owned and operated by the Adams family for more than 100 years and has impressively retained its original acreage, nearly 100,000 acres. The XIT is known for its dedication to improving ranch horse and cattle genetics, and producing top-quality animals. 

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