LEON — It has not always been FlutterBye Ranch, but it has been in the same family for 120 years.
John Crowley arrived in Butler County in 1865 at the age of 14, traveling to Kansas on a wagon train from Kentucky seeking a new life on the plains.
He landed a job on the ranch of J.R. Kibby.
“He worked for [Kibby’s] wife as a firewood catcher and chore boy,” said Zach Hettenbach, current owner of FlutterBye Ranch.
The Kibby ranch was about 4,000 acres. When Crowley turned 40, in 1899, he purchased 2,200 acres from Kibby, and the Crowley family legacy was born.
“That 1899 is where the 120 years comes from,” Hettenbach said. “He actually probably worked the ground for a lot longer than that.”
FlutterBye will celebrate that anniversary with a benefit for Sunlight Children’s Advocacy and Rights Foundation from 6 to 9 p.m. June 15, using a new event venue located on the ranch at 1001 SE 140th, Leon. The event will include barbecue from the FlutterBye Mobile Diner, family yard games, music, face painting and carriage rides on the prairie.
Crowley raised cattle, using bottom ground and grazing pastures. He also became known for his hogs.
“He was known for his pigs up through the 1950s and 1960s,” Hettenbach said. “He raised a Hampshire and Yorkshire cross (breed) that were highly sought after in the market.”
His son patented the “Flying B” branding iron in 1953. The ranch still holds the rights on the cattle brand.
Bob Crowley, the grandson of John and father to current owner Shannon Hettenbach, started community fundraisers on the ranch.
“He was a Mason, part of the Shriners,” Zach Hettenbach said. “They did annual fundraisers out there and used a big pavilion that they had. That section of the ground sold in the 1980s. There has been a lot of hospitality and fundraiser events that have been held out there over the years.
The space occupied by Bob Crowley’s daughter, Shannon Hettenbach, and her husband, Zach, is now called FlutterBye Ranch and consists of 432.8 acres.
In 2017 the couple opened the event venue and mobile diner, incorporating the Flying B in the logos of both.
The couple wanted to find a way to “share the ground” when the idea of an event venue was born.
“It started out as bathrooms and a storm shelter for when we were out riding horses, fishing, or whatever and morphed into this. Two years ago, the timing was right and we pulled the trigger with financing and everything,” Zach Hettenbach said.
For those who want a little action, there are horse riding trails, trails for bikes, plans for a platform in the woods and possibly flat boarding on the river. They also host an annual 5K train run.
During those events, Zach Hettenbach said, ranch visitors can tread on some historic ground — including some history that needs to be uncovered.
It is believed that about 200 feet from the current event venue there was once a Pony Express stop.
“That is of much more historical relevance than even my family history here,” Zach Hettenbach said.
According to the Kansas Historical Society, the Freedom Post Office operated from June 22, 1874, to April 14, 1900.
According to an archaeological survey for a proposed lake created in 1987, it was originally constructed as a Pony Express Station and was used by a local mail delivery service, the Freedom Express, as its main office. The building included a post office and a separate stable for 12 horses. It was destroyed in the 1950s.
“It held a valid postcode until 1913,” Zach Hettenbach said. “It is a cool space.”