WATFORD CITY, N.D. – A historic ranch in the North Dakota Badlands sold Wednesday, Sept. 28, for more than $3.3 million to nine different buyers.
About 150 people attended the live auction for the Woodie Lee Watson Family Trust Ranch, with more than 50 registered to bid.
The Watsons’ decision to sell the nearly 2,000 acres south of Watford City that had been in the family for generations gave bidders a rare chance to buy land with prime views of the Little Missouri Scenic River and Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
“I guarantee you in my lifetime I’ll never sell another ranch like this,” said Kevin Pifer, president of Pifer’s Auction & Realty.
Rachel and Russ Howes, who live south of Watford City, bought a parcel along the river where they plan to build their family’s dream home.
“I wanted to scream when we got it,” said Rachel Howes. “I’m just excited that no one came in and took it all.”
The land, which was available as one large purchase or up to 13 smaller parcels, sold for an average of about $1,670 per acre. The prices ranged from $825 an acre for a 615-acre parcel in the Badlands to $4,700 an acre for the parcel that included the family’s house and a historic barn where the Watsons once hosted popular dances.
Steve Burian, CEO of AE2S in Grand Forks, purchased about 430 acres across the river from the parcel the Howes family bought. He plans to lease it for limited grazing and enjoy the land for hiking and hunting.
Burian said he always like the idea of owning land along the Little Missouri River. In addition to traveling to the Watford City area with his business, Burian’s father is from Killdeer and his mother is from Taylor.
“I have western North Dakota in my blood,” Burian said.
Ken Deitz and his wife, Michaela, purchased the parcel that includes the house and the barn, even though they hadn’t toured either building.
“Everybody’s saying I need to have barn dances,” Michaela said.
Ken works in McKenzie County for Basin Electric and is “tired of living in a trailer house.” Michaela, who teaches in Center, plans to join him at their new house in a year or two and is looking forward to riding her horses in the Badlands.
Kevin Wanner, who ranches nearby and was introducing himself to his new neighbors Wednesday, said he was glad to see so many young couples buying the parcels. Wanner said he was afraid the property would go to New York City lawyers who would only use the land for hunting.
“The Watsons ought to be very pleased with this sale,” Wanner said.
The auction attracted some out-of-state interest, including some bidders who were on the phone, but all nine buyers were from North Dakota.
Linda Watson, wife of the late Woodie Lee Watson, said she was pleased with the large turnout at the auction but had mixed emotions after the property sold after being in the family for nearly 100 years. The family also owns a ranch about 12 miles away near Grassy Butte and plan to consolidate their ranching operation to the one location.
“I just hope whoever buys it takes care of it,” Watson said.