Sometimes What You Want, You’ve Already Got

Published on: 12:31PM Dec 01, 2008
Vance Ehmke

I want to tell you a true story about a man who looked for something all his life…and who never found it. And all the while it was right under his feet.

Several years back, a number of us were up at Rod Bentley’s place in Gove County, Kan. After Sunday dinner, Rod offered to take us guys out for a look at the ranch. We all jumped at the chance because it is beautiful land. The real West. Cheyenne country. Chalk badlands. The 7th Cavalry. Endless canyons. A place where darned little has changed.

We headed off to the east across a creek. Had we followed the creek, we would have wound up at the Smoky Hill River. But we stayed on the crooked road till it dead ended with another road that took us back north. We crossed a cattle gate into one of his pastures. Rod stopped the Bronco on the high west side of a huge expanse of grassland. From there we looked across a valley that drained off to the southeast. We parked by a long abandoned sod and rock homestead. The only thing left was the foundation.

As we sat there, Rod explained that years and years ago this place belonged to his cousin Leonard. While Leonard farmed and ranched like the rest of us, he had one burning desire—and it consumed nearly his every waking thought.

Leonard wanted to strike it rich in the oil business. Who wouldn’t? We’ve all shared the fantasies of having wealth beyond imagination. But for Leonard, it was an obsession that he fed with literally every cent that the farm made. Any loose money was invested in drilling operations or in leases or in any way possible that would get him closer to being intimately involved with the mistress of black gold. He scoured Kansas looking for crude.

And every night when he lay down to sleep inside these walls that no longer exist, oil was the last thought on his mind. And when he awoke in the morning, oil was the first thought on his mind.

But alas, the obsession took its toll. Leonard lost the ground in foreclosure—unable to keep up with land payments that, instead, disappeared into a dream.

Returning from WWII, Rod eventually rented the land, then bought it from outside Eastern investors who had acquired it only to grow weary of owning land half a continent away for which it had become very difficult in getting regular payments on. 

As Rod and I stood there looking at the last of the rock foundation that was fading into the yellow dirt, I lifted my gaze across the saddleback to the shale hills on the other side. And I saw everything between here and there. So I asked Rod: “How many oil wells you got here…on what used to be Leonard’s ground?”

Rod pointed to a nearby well that was drilled in the mid ‘80s. The black pump was less than l00 yards from where we were standing. “That was the first. Then there were, well, let’s see….there were 5, 6, 7, 8 more. A total of 9.”

But, of course, Leonard and his dream of finding the Cities of Gold had both vanished. He never knew how close he had come. He never knew that sometimes what you want, you’ve already got.