Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

Skip Navigation

Electronic Publishing Center
Oklahoma Historical Society
Encyclopedia Homepage
Search all Volumes
Disclaimer and Usage
© Copyright 2003

Table of Contents Search All Entries Home


In the 1880s William Greiffenstein (1829-99) and his Potawatomi wife, Catherine Burnett (1853-1918), operated a large cattle ranch in the Potawatomi Hation of Indian Territory. Greiffenstein had had an illustrious life prior to the founding of his Indian Territory ranch in 1883. Born and raised in Germany, he had emigrated to the United States in 1848. He had been a clerk in a general store, then a trader with different American Indian nations, first in Kansas and then in Indian Territory, a rancher, a store owner, and a co-founder of Wichita, Kansas. His first wife, "Cheyenne" Jennie, a full-blood Cheyenne, had proven invaluable in his affairs with the Cheyenne, Arapaho, Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache in western Kansas. In 1867 he had established a trading post on the Canadian River in Indian Territory, later relocating to the Kiowa and Comanche agency on the Washita River.

A contemporary and friend of Jesse Chisholm and James Mead, who knew him as "Dutch Bill," Greiffenstein earned respect for his skill in dealing with the various tribes in southwestern Oklahoma. Later in 1867, Gen. Philip Sheridan had expelled Greiffenstein from Indian Territory for allegedly selling firearms to hostile American Indians. Greiffenstein disputed this claim in Washington, D.C., and received compensation for the loss of his goods. He then settled at the junction of the Arkansas and Little Arkansas rivers, where he helped establish the city of Wichita, Kansas.

In 1869 Greiffenstein married Catherine Burnett, daughter of Potawatomi chief Abram Burnett and Mary Knofflock Burnett, a native of Germany. Greiffenstein remained in Wichita, operating a general store and speculating in real estate into the 1890s. He served as mayor in 1878 and from 1880 to 1884. In 1883, through his wife's Potawatomi citizenship, the couple leased four hundred thousand acres of Potawatomi land on the nation's reservation in Indian Territory. Under his wife's name they ran cattle and horses on this large range, which they called the UF Ranch, and also kept a herd of swine. Even after the U.S. Department of the Interior ruled the lease invalid, the Greiffensteins continued to graze their cattle on the unoccupied land until 1888, when the government forced them to remove the animals to the wife's allotment or sell them. At that time the herd numbered twenty-five hundred head. Like many other developers, Greiffenstein lost most of his assets when the Wichita real estate boom ended in 1887.

In 1888 he had financed the construction of a store on his wife's allotment in Indian Territory. Here, he again planned a town, which he named Burnett, in honor of Catherine's maiden name. He had hoped to make Burnett the county seat of what became County B in Oklahoma Territory, later Pottawatomie County, but Tecumseh secured the designation originally (Shawnee became the county seat of Pottawatomie County in 1930). The Greiffenstein's fight to graze cattle on unoccupied American Indian land ended when the Potawatomi land was opened to non-Indian settlement by the land run of 1891. In 1895 the Greiffensteins permanently moved to Burnett, living in a large ranch house on the allotment. William Greiffentstein died on September 26, 1899, and Catherine passed away on October 20, 1918.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: William C. Ellington, Jr., comp., William Greiffenstein (1873; reprint, Wichita, Kans.: W. Ellington, 1987). Robert McIsaac, "William Greiffenstein and the Founding of Wichita" (M.A. thesis, University of Wichita, 1937). Charles W. Mooney, Localized History of Pottawatomie County, Oklahoma, to 1907 (Midwest City, Okla.: Thunderbird Industries, 1971). Joseph F. Murphy, Potawatomi of the West: Origins of the Citizen Band (Shawnee, Okla.: Citizen Band Potawatomi Tribe, 1988).

Larry O'Dell

© Oklahoma Historical Society

Return to top

Electronic Publishing Center | OSU Home | Search this Site