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John Fenton Pratt

John Fenton Pratt

Sheridan County pioneer.  Born: 1856 England.  Died: November 26, 1937 Studley, Kan.

John Fenton Pratt captured life on the High Plains and preserved it on glass. Through his love of photography, Pratt documented the mixture of high Victorian style and hard pioneer realities in northwest Kansas over a 50-year span.

Born in England, Pratt followed his father, Abraham, to what is now Studley. The elder Pratt had come to the United States in 1878 and convinced his sons Fent and Tom to join him in Kansas.

The three Pratts lived in a dugout while they established a sheep operation, similar to ones in their native Yorkshire. Wool was in demand and the business prospered.

Fent built his English cottage and planted cottonwood trees in preparation for his English sweetheart, Jennie Place. Jennie arrived on December 30, 1888 and they were married the next day.

With surprising clarity, Fent’s photographs captured moments in time from the families of Sheridan County.

Fent often featured his beloved English cottage in his photographs, which came to be known as Cottonwood Ranch. Fent photographed English friends and family at parties and picnics. He captured the changes in Sheridan County as trees were planted, sod schools became frame structures, and transportation turned from horse to automobile.

Fent kept a detailed ledger of income and expenses. Among his entries are camera accessory purchases, receipts for photo materials, and exposure notes, which offer an insight into early photography.

Cottonwood Ranch remained in the Pratt family after Fent’s death in 1937. Jennie and Hilda continued to live there throughout their lives. Nearly 100 of Fent’s original photographs were donated to the Kansas Historical Society. The State of Kansas purchased the buildings and 23 acres in 1983 and today is operated as Cottonwood Ranch State Historic Site. Together the photographs, ledgers, and ranch provide a rich story of those who settled in northwest Kansas.

Entry: Pratt, John Fenton

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: January 2010

Date Modified: March 2013

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.