Paradoxically, SYL Ranch doesn’t really exist. However, since the 1930s, the SYL livestock brand has been in use in South Dakota. Owned by Sylvia Davis Stone, the stylized SYL has appeared on cattle raised on the banks of the Cheyenne River, some fifty miles north of Wall, South Dakota for nearly three quarters of a century.
Sylvia Davis Stone was born and raised on a small homestead on the Cheyenne River in South Dakota. Originally registered when she was a girl, the brand appeared on her cattle in this area. She married my grandfather, William Stone, Sr. The couple ultimately moved to Pedro, South Dakota, some seven miles from where Sylvia grew up. Together, they ran a cow-calf ranching operation from the 1940s until their retirement in the early 1990s. These cattle all bore the brand SYL.
Technically speaking, Pedro, South Dakota isn’t a town. Rather, it is the remains of a town. The majority of Pedro burned in a fire in the latter part of the 1800s. There are, however, a number of historical buildings, including a fairly well-maintained log cabin still standing on the property.
William and Sylvia had four sons and a daughter, as well as numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren. These include myself (William Stone III) and my daughters.
From age five to fifteen, I spent two weeks to a month nearly every summer on my grandparents ranch. I would help Granddad with things like running and repairing fences, checking and herding cattle, and the various chores involved with running a cattle ranch. This typically left plenty of time for yard work with “Nanny” (my family’s nickname for Sylvia), walking along the banks of the Cheyenne River, and horseback riding.
Understand that at no time was my grandparents ranch ever referred to as “SYL Ranch.” It was generally called “Pedro.” When her father died, Sylvia Stone and her siblings each received a portion of their father’s land. Sylvia, in turn, deeded her portion to each of her five children. This land, which holds a small cabin among other things, has come to be referred to as “Pedro” by those of us who care to visit it.
The Pedro property is extraordinarily remote given the degree of development in America’s megalopoli. When I attempt to explain it to urbanites, I often get a blank stare accompanied by outright disbelief that such a place could exist in the 21st century. I have occasionally given thought to the viability of photo-safaris or an authentic “dude ranch” for the children of wealthy urban dwellers. Fortunately, it’s not even remotely viable.
The nearest road is a pair of ruts through the property. The nearest gravel road is several miles away; the nearest paved more than thirty. In periods of inclement weather involving any sort of precipitation, the grade of the breaks into the river valley makes the property utterly inaccessible. If you have the misfortune to be present when a blizzard hits, you may well be there until the spring thaw. One of the major jobs in the near future is to convince a neighbor to allow us to construct a bridge on his property that would allow access virtually year-round.
The property hosts a small, nominally two-room cabin. There are few modern amenities: it was only ten years ago when a bathroom and plumbing came to the house. Heat is provided by a wood burning stove and air conditioning consists of a window air conditioner and a series of manually-placed fans.
In short, it is one of the most peaceful places on planet Earth. I treasure my brief, infrequent visits to the property, the one place in the world where the stress of 21st century life simply does not exist.