Lots of people actively avoid mixing business and pleasure. Not so for the Woods brothers. Measured in dollars, their ranches certainly provided them with fantastic profits, and they also afforded them the precious restoration of mind and soul one can only get in the natural world.
In his wonderful book, Red Deer, Biography of a Sandhills Hunting Club, (2005 – privately published by the Red Deer Hunting Club,) author Jon Farrar lays out a fascinating history of the Lake Country of Nebraska’s Sandhills region. Starting in the late-1800s, he provides a context for that history by focusing on the sport of waterfowl hunting. (This essay makes use of much information from Farrar’s book.)
Farrar’s book shines its spotlight on Cherry County and a number of area hunting clubs. Specific attention is paid to Red Deer Lake and the Red Deer Hunting Club, of which the Woods brothers, Mark, George, and Frank, were charter members.
Roughly 1,600 lakes bubble up from the Ogallala Aquifer in Nebraska’s Sandhills. (By the definition of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, 15 surface acres or more of water constitutes a lake. Red Deer Lake qualifies by about 1,000 times at roughly 1,500 acres.) With plentiful food, the shallow waters furnished a paradise for migrating birds. Hunting was splendid, and participants’ experiences evolved from early days of “roughing it” in tents in this wonderland of game, to organizing very sophisticated and exclusive camps, lodges, and clubs.
The club officially incorporated in 1905, and its membership roster was (and still is) populated with Lincoln businessmen. The Cochrane family of Chicago owned the land on which Red Deer Lake is situated and members of the Woods family had hunted there since the 1890s. In 1906, George Woods purchased the 6,000-acre Cochrane Ranch. It then came to be known as Red Deer Ranch.
For club members, Red Deer was a haven for getting away from the city and enjoying the outdoors. Members ate well, played cards, and socialized without conducting business. For the Woods Brothers, their paradise in the Sandhills was used for similar purposes, except that in addition to relaxing at Red Deer, they also welcomed opportunities for entertaining potential business partners, dignitaries, and political leaders.
In the fall of 1926, U.S. Vice-President Charles G. Dawes, and General John J. Pershing were guests of the Woods brothers and spent a few days hunting at Red Deer. Their visit became the subject of a celebrated article in Field & Stream magazine the following year.
The club had its ups and downs – many such hunting clubs came and went in the early part of the twentieth century. The Woods family sold Red Deer Ranch in 1940, by which time the acreage of their properties swelled from 6,000 to about 20,000 acres, of which 9,000 acres run along the Niobrara River. Red Deer Hunting Club still exists today as an exclusive duck club with some 40 members.