George Grant and the Victoria Colony

George Grant and the Victoria Colony

George Grant and the Victoria Colony
The majestic Cathedral of the Plains was completed by the later settlers of Victoria in 1911.

At the beginning of the 1870s, Scottish nobleman George Grant’s only idea was to retire to a country estate in England.  Nothing quite suited him, however, so he traveled to America in 1872, still searching.  The vast prairies of Kansas soon fascinated Grant.  Clearly the plains were ideal for livestock, and slowly his plans for retirement were absorbed into a new vision.

Grant bought nearly 70,000 acres from the Union Pacific Railroad and hurried back to England.  The prairies held promise; they were only waiting for someone to extract their potential.  Grant was bound and determined that it would be the young men of England.  They were going to introduce gentility to America.

In May of 1873, Grant was back with 38 colonists, several fine horses, some Southdown sheep, and what are believed to be the first Angus cattle in America.  The new colony was to be named Victoria.  The gentlemen farmers set to work at once building a church, a depot, a general store, a grain elevator, and about 25 houses.  Grant’s high hopes were infectious.

At least, they were at first.  A few of the colonists were married men who brought their wives and children to America undoubtedly with the intention to work and prosper.  Many, however, were well-to-do young gentlemen with absolutely no interest in agriculture.  Suddenly finding themselves with plenty of spending money and no parental supervision, they set to work at once fulfilling their own vision of what Victoria should be.  The next institutions of the colony were a hunt club, a cricket club, a race track, and a dance hall.

George Grant and the Victoria Colony
Grant’s sheep pen

But the most ridiculous enterprise was yet to follow.  The young gentry next dammed Big Creek, put together their allowances, and bought a steamboat.  The boat was floated west on the various rivers until it reached the plains, where it was hauled to Victoria by oxen.  Southdowns and Angus alike were forgotten amid the pleasures of boating on the new lake.

Not surprisingly, Grant’s grand colony didn’t last much longer after this.  Word got back to England of the spendthrifts’ doings, and many of the young men were disallowanced.  Those who might have had a remote interest in farming and ranching were further discouraged by fires, droughts, and winter storms, and by the time Grant died in 1878, most of the colonists were already on their way home.

However, Victoria’s story was not over.  By 1876, Germans were immigrating to the region.  Accustomed to farming and its accompanying hard work, they faced the challenges of the plains with much more success.  Their town of Herzog, located just north of the failing colony, grew and prospered.  Slowly it absorbed the British settlement, and by 1913 the two towns were combined into one—still named Victoria.