"They were a rugged set of men, these pioneers, well qualified for their self-assumed task. In the pursuit of wealth a few succeeded and the majority failed,...the range cattle industry has seen its inception, zenith, and partial extinction all within a half-century. The changes of the past have been many; those of the future may be of even more revolutionary character." —Conrad Kohrs, 1913
|Conrad Kohrs and his friends in the parlor of the main ranch house.|
Once a sprawling 10-million-acre cattle ranch, the Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historical Site is now open to the public to explore. It is not a petting zoo for cows and horses, nor is it a dude ranch. Nope, it’s a working cattle ranch where cowboys still have chores and work hard every season of the year. The ranch is a unique opportunity to take a glimpse into an important period in taming the Old West.
The Montana gold rush of the 1860s lured many a man to stake his claim, but few realized the lucrative potential of selling beef to the miners in butcher shops at the camps. Miners would pay in gold for a nice, juicy steak after eating beans morning, noon, and night.
Carsten Conrad Kohrs, an immigrant from Germany, may have followed his gold fever from California, to Canada, and finally to Montana in 1862, but he soon discovered the motherload of gold on the hoof and became one of the first Montana cattle barons. He had learned the butcher trade from relatives in New York and Iowa and set up a butcher shop, at first taking advantage of the herds of longhorns driven up from Texas.
|The main ranch house was built in 1862 by Johnny Grant|
and known as the most beautiful home in Montana Territory.
Conrad Kohrs bought the property in 1866 and added a brick addition in 1890.
Starting small, Kohrs purchased his first ranch in 1866 from Johnny Grant near Deer Lodge in Montana Territory. At first, he only grazed the cattle sold in his butcher shops, but then his business grew until he was shipping 10,000 head of cattle every year to the Chicago stockyards that supplied beef to most of the country. Eventually, he amassed a cattle empire that ranged over four states and two Canadian provinces.
The range was unfenced, and by the 1870s, the bison had almost been wiped out, and the Native Americans couldn’t fight the onslaught of settlers and cattle ranchers. Cattlemen bred the longhorns that came from a Spanish strain with English shorthorns and helped multiply Kohrs herds.
|Cowboys herding cattle on the Kohrs Ranch in 1910|
The open grasslands of Montana Territory offered unlimited grazing land. Once a herd overgrazed an area, the cowboys simply moved the herd to new pasture. Feed was plentiful.
By the mid-1880s, raising cattle was so lucrative that foreign investors and Eastern opportunists rushed to Montana to make their fortunes. Raising cattle was big business. Ranches multiplied and herds grew larger until there was not enough grazing land to feed them all.
Then came the deep snows and bitter-cold winter of 1886-87 that wiped out almost half the cattle in Montana. When homesteaders started fencing their 160-acre plots of land with barbwire, it was the beginning of the end for the cattle barons.
Even though the cattle “gold” rush only lasted less than half a century, the pioneering spirit of the cattle ranchers changed the industry forever. Much like small farms, there are still cattle ranchers in Montana who take the risk of making money off the range, but there are none who can rival the cattle barons, especially Conrad Kohrs.
All photos in this post are courtesy of the
National Park Service and are public domain.
Will my hero Buck McKean in Dreams of My Heart become a cattle baron in The Reluctant Brides series? Stay tuned for book 2, Love of My Heart, that releases February 1, 2019.
My feisty Irish bride Kate O'Brien McKean asks her Texas cattleman husband Buck for an annulment in Dreams of My Heart, book 1 of The Reluctant Brides series, setting off a chain reaction of events that endangers them both. The historical romance set in 1875 Montana Territory releases April 1 from Mountain Brook Ink. The e-book is available for preorder on Amazon.
After a career spent acquiring and editing books by numerous bestselling Christian authors, Barbara J. Scott has returned to her true love—writing. Barbara and her husband Mike live in the Nashville area, with their two Chihuahuas, Riley and Sissy, both rescued from puppy mills. Reading, writing, and research are her passions. Want to know more? Connect with Barbara at www.BarbaraJScott.com.