In 1893, the Cherokee Outlet (which would become part of the state of Oklahoma 14 years later) was opened to settlement in what’s now called the Cherokee Strip Land Run. Oscar Chain was only 18 years old, so he didn’t meet the minimum age of 21 to file a claim on land, but that didn’t stop him. Just after the run, he found an Ohioan who didn’t want the land he claimed, so Chain traded him $50 and a shotgun for 160 acres just north of present-day Canton.
“Since 1893 we’ve been here,” says Oscar’s grandson, Ralph, who, at 88, is the patriarch of the Chain family.
Oscar and his wife, Laura, had one child, Leonard. While Oscar had a love for livestock, Leonard’s passion was machinery, and together they ushered the Chain Ranch into a new era. In 1927, Ralph was born.
Oscar’s mule training and trading and Leonard’s cattle feeding and machine-savvy set the family up to not only endure the Great Depression and Dust Bowl, but actually take advantage of it.
“Back in the Depression, our neighbors wanted to get out of the country,” Chain says. “But my dad and granddad wanted to stay, so they bought their land.”
As Leonard’s only son, Ralph grew up quick. He spent his days in the classroom daydreaming of ranching, and at age “10 or 12” came up with the Chain Ranch brand that his cattle still carry today.
“I drew a brand, a chain with three links,” he says. “When I got big enough to run things—I was probably about 15—we started using the three links Chain brand. It represents my grandfather, my father, and myself.”
Since then, the operation has expanded considerably from the original 160 acres to encompass six different ranches in Oklahoma and Kansas.
Today, the next generation of Chains is taking the reins.
“We all live within a quarter mile of each other, we all get along, we don’t fight, and we’ve never had a divorce in our family,” Chain says. “We just mind our own business and try to take care of the land the Lord has given us.”