Area rancher’s land auctioned for $10 millionCaring for his brother, his mother and his cows left Walter Holzworth no time for marriage or a vacation. Instead, his friends and neighbors say, he spent his life working and quietly acquiring land in the county where he was born.
By: By James MacPherson, The Associated Press , The Jamestown Sun
BISMARCK — Caring for his brother, his mother and his cows left Walter Holzworth no time for marriage or a vacation. Instead, his friends and neighbors say, he spent his life working and quietly acquiring land in the county where he was born.
The 79-year-old bachelor rancher, who died in November 2007, amassed 16,626 acres — or more than 26 square miles — of fertile crop and pasture land in northwest Stutsman County, in central North Dakota.
On Tuesday, Holzworth’s land was auctioned, drawing more than 500 people from around the country to the Jamestown Civic Center.
The land was sold in 39 parcels and fetched more than $10 million from local and out-of-state buyers, said Noel Johnson, the county’s tax director and chief operating officer.
County officials and auctioneers said it was the biggest land auction ever in the county, and possibly the state.
“He was an old cattleman, who ran several thousand head of cattle in his day,” Johnson said. “For him to have amassed 106 quarters of land in a lifetime, that’s pretty amazing.
“I can’t recall anything this large up for auction — 26 square miles is a huge chunk of land,” Johnson said.
Ken Dalsted, an attorney for Holzworth’s estate, said Holzworth didn’t have a will even though he was prodded by bankers, accountants, lawyers and family for years to have one.
“Everybody who ever dealt with him urged him to get a will,” Dalsted said. “Why he didn’t, I don’t know.”
Dalsted said Holzworth’s land was sold to Tuesday about 15 different buyers and fetched more money than estimated.
“It exceeded our appraised value, so it shows that the economy is alive and well in North Dakota, or at least here in Stutsman County,” Dalsted said.
Jay Anderson, of Los Angeles, was among the biggest buyer’s at the auction. Anderson said he spent $2.8 million for 4,000 acres that surround his late grandfather’s homestead farm.
“I think the land went pretty reasonable for what it is,” said Anderson, who grew up in Jamestown and owns a farm machinery manufacturing company there. “A lot of this land has been in people’s hands forever and it rarely changes hands.
“Walter controlled a lot of that land for 50 or 60 years,” Anderson said.
Anderson said his mother went on one date with Walter Holzworth decades ago.
“She said he was the sweetest, most good-looking man she’d seen,” Anderson said.
Harvey Holzworth, 91, said his younger brother never talked about how much land he had, but most everyone knew it was substantial. Not even Harvey, who also farmed in the area, knew the expanse of his brother’s land until his death.
“I knew he had quite a bit of ground but he never bragged about it, that’s for sure,” Harvey said. “He ran a big outfit, scattered throughout the county. A lot of people who retired or quit farming came to him and he bought it.”
Dalsted, the attorney for the estate, said he figured Holzworth might have owned land in neighboring counties, but that was not the case.
Harvey Holzworth said that was likely by design. He said his brother was born in northwest Stutsman County and rarely left the area he loved.
Harvey Holzworth, who said he has two sisters, said money from his brother’s estate would be split among the family.
“It will get divided up so many ways between the government, attorneys and the auctioneers, that it will get whittled down quite a bit,” he said.
Harvey said his brother never had time to raise his own family. After a stint in the military, Walter returned to the family farm to care for his mother and a brother who suffered from Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Walter’s commitment to caring for his family “is probably what helped keep him single,” his brother said. “And he just loved to work — I heard he had 1,200 cows until his later years and then he had to cut back.”
He never knew his brother to take a vacation.
Johnson, the county’s tax director and chief operating officer, said he’s heard talk in town that for some women, Walter Holzworth was the one that got away.
“A lot of sorry women are wishing they’d have caught up with that guy,” Johnson said.