One of the best managed, most picturesque native Bluestem pastures in the world will play host to the Symphony In The Flint Hills on Saturday.
Keith Schultz and his family and partner have been busy working with Symphony coordinators supplementing the grassland’s roadways and fencing to accommodate the more than 7,500 guests coming to their Volland Ranch.
Located on the Scenic Skyline Drive, northeast of Alta Vista and southwest of Alma in Wabaunsee County, the ranch, right by the old town of Volland, where Schultz lives, has been in the family for 139 years.
“My grandpa, Gus, came here from Germany when he was three years old, and there are still remains of the log cabin where his family lived,” related Schultz, 77, as he showed reproductions of the original abstract.
First owned by the U.S. Government, then the Union Pacific Railroad and one other surname are listed before Gus Schultz appears as owner.
“My grandpa had five children, including my dad, Art. Grandpa deeded each of them 1,000 acres of land, and he still had a thousand acres of his own when he passed away at age 100 in 1969,” recollected Schultz, whose uncle Bill’s wife, Mary, 91, Alma, is the only one left of that generation.
“There is a lot of family tradition in this ranch and this area,” admitted Schultz, who worked the ranch first with his dad, and then his younger brother, Cleo, a nearby rancher.
“We operated as the Schultz Brothers with 600 stock cows and summer grazing cattle on 10,000 acres,” Schultz described.
“After we dissolved our partnership, I had to have a name for my operation, and I just said ‘Volland Ranch,’ because that’s the way we were referred to sometimes anyway,” explained Schultz, who has another brother, Willis, of Alta Vista, and a sister, Virgie, is deceased.
Just south on the paved road are likewise picturesque ranches of cousins, Gary and Leland Schultz, sons of Bill Schultz, who has a third son, Ron, also an Alma rancher.
After nearly 55 years of marriage, Keith Schultz lost his wife, Carol, four years ago to cancer surgery complications.
Their daughters Deb (and Richard) Lind of Wamego and Cindy (and Ken) Smith at Alma have an active interest in the ranch and have been instrumental in helping with Symphony preparations..
Schultz has six grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren, all who are proud of their Flint Hills heritage.
“Matt Johnson has been an important part of the ranch for 20 years,” Schultz credited. “We have cattle and do some farming together, but we both also have cattle of our own, and he’s in another cattle partnership, too.
“I couldn’t really do any of this without Matt. He’s a great partner and has a super family,” Schultz emphasized.
Johnson resides in the native stone home on the hillside just north of Volland, at the headquarters where Schultz’ parents had lived.
Like many now defunct towns in the Flint Hills, Volland, Kansas, was founded about 1887 when the railroad built stockyards there for trains to bring cattle to the Flint Hills for summer grazing. A family by the name of Volland was the land owner.
“It was always a busy place every spring with cattle coming in and then in the fall when the cattle were shipped out of the stockyards,” assured Schultz, who has fond memories of those long days as a youth helping on horseback.
“We’d meet the train, unload cattle and drive them to pastures, have to look after the cattle during the summer and then bring them back in the fall,” Schultz remembered.
“The most memorable time for me was driving cattle to pastures we had near Paxico. That was a lot of time in the saddle,” Schultz recalled.
Volland never was a metropolis, but it did have about 10 structures in its heyday. “Of course, there was the depot and stockyards, a general store which also served as the post office, and several homes,” Schultz calculated.
When cattle started being hauled by trucks, railroad business deteriorated, train shipments of cattle stopped, and Volland and other stockyards towns died.
In addition to Schultz’ house built before the turn of the last century but enlarged and renovated to a modern ranch home, there are three other well-kept houses in Volland now.
A retired woman lives in one, and the other two are unoccupied but maintained by their owners.
The general store and ice house buildings remain in Volland, but they are largely deteriorated. Union Pacific trains pass by every day, even though there are no apparent indications to a lay person of where the stockyards and depot were once situated.
Daughter Cindy (Smith) has special memories of patronizing the Volland General Store as a youth. “They had everything from groceries to hardware to overalls. What I liked best was the candy shelf. We’d go down there with a penny and end up with a sack full of candy,” she said.
Schultz himself even remembers that candy department. “I had chickens when I was a kid and would sell their eggs at the store. I’d always buy some candy, too,” he echoed.
Just a short distance south on the blacktop on the west side of the road in the hillside is Volland School.
“I went there for eight years, and it closed in 1957 when my cousin Gary was in the fourth grade,” Schultz related.
“The school sat vacant for many years and was even used for hay storage, until my daughter, Deb, and her husband, Rich, got it,” he added.
The couple has completely renovated the one-room native stone structure, doing most of the work personally, so it appears that class might be in session today if somebody would just ring the appropriately-intact bell.
Right on the route of Symphony attendees coming from the south, Volland School will be open for tours Saturday.
Horses have always been an important part of Schultz’ life. “I had an ornery Shetland pony as a kid, and we always had a lot of horses to handle the cattle,” he informed. “I’ve continued to use horses, and I still have one old gelding, Whitey, but I don’t ride much.
“Matt has four horses he uses. We did finally get a 4-wheeler. We had a three-wheeler before that to check flood gaps,” Schultz admitted.
Farming the rich land along Mill Creek that runs through the ranch has always been an important part of the business to produce grain and forage for cattle in off-grazing seasons.
“We had teams of horses and mules when I was a kid to do some of the farming,” Schultz reminisced. “I raked lots of hay with teams even into the early ’50s.”
Throughout the years, a variety of programs have been incorporated in ranch operations from a cowherd to back grounding to grazing to even finishing cattle in commercial feedlots.
Now Schultz usually buys cattle for double-stock and full-season summer grazing the Flint Hills and then merchandizes them off pasture at heavier weights.
With memories of buying and selling cattle with his dad through commission companies in Kansas City, Schultz procures the bulk of his cattle nowadays out of Nebraska.
“They seem to work best for us,” he contended. “We have our own truck for hauling, which helps, too.”
As cattle are being acquired during the winter and spring, they are fed in pastures behind the headquarters.. “That works well, but we must spray those pastures every year to control the weeds,” Schultz explained.
Admitting that burning rangeland continues to be a controversial issue with some landowners, Schultz burns his pastures annually. “We have to in order to control the invader plants and get maximum gains on the cattle,” he assured.
Neighboring pastures to the east are overgrown in timber. “They never burned and see what they have. There is very little grass in them,” Schultz pointed out.
The town name Volland has been designed with native stone in one high hillside pasture just northeast of town..
“Much of the stonework is still intact, but they had to clear timber out to see it. I thought the people putting on the symphony were going to redo the rocks some and paint them white, but I guess they couldn’t get it done,” Schultz said.
However, it’s like a lush green carpet with not a weed or intrusive tree insight on the 400-acre pasture where the graveling has been completed and acres of tents are being raised for the symphony goers.
A Mill Creek Watershed pond is on the property along with other manmade ponds, crystal clear natural springs and even a workable windmill to supply ample clean water for cattle at all times.
Hay has always been a key part of the ranch and continues essential to operations.
“We stacked loose hay when I was a kid, then we baled 35,000 small bales annually at one time, and now we put up several thousand big round bales every year,” tallied Schultz, who’s also had considerable bottomland alfalfa acres over the years..
Corn and soybeans are major feed and cash crops for the ranch now.
Always having a fondness for driving trucks, Schultz has had a part time job for Frito-Lay out of Topeka traveling the nation’s width and depth.
“I really like that,” he verified. “I also do some hauling with our truck. Flint Hills Stone has me transport rocks to several cities.”
Conscientious in his ranch management, Schultz has long used commodity hedges for both grain and cattle to lock in prices to help assure profitability of all operations.
Optimistic for agriculture, Schultz can recall when his grandpa bought Colorado land for 50 cents an acre, and some of the present ranch was valued at only a few dollars an acre in early years.
“This land is higher than I’ve ever seen it, but it could sure come down,” Schultz evaluated.
Likewise, Schultz has sale tickets from buying cattle for 18 cents a pound as recent as 1970, and then the market doubled that within four years.
“My dad and grandpa bought and sold cattle for a lot less though back in the ’30s,” Schultz recognized. “I think cattle can get too high, and they may be that right now. People have to eat, but they don’t have to eat beef.”
However, he emphatically pointed out, “There’s no better source of protein than beef, and cattle are very efficient converters of these native grasslands into high quality beef.”
Land management is an extremely high priority for Schultz. “I really want to take care of these Flint Hills, but landowners have to burn and control the trees and weeds, or it can become a forest like that of my neighbors,” he restated.
Symphony In The Flint Hills attendees truly have an opportunity of a lifetime to view the only remaining natural native grassland in the world in its most perfect condition at the Volland Ranch.