posted: September 27th, 2007 | by:Bert
©Bert Gildart: “Don’t go anywhere,” said the ranch hand, “I can get those big Belgian horses here to the barn. They’re so easy to work with and they just love the attention.”
Janie and I are back on the road again, traveling throughout Southwestern Montana for the next few weeks, camping in our Airstream as we continue our work gathering material for various magazines. Stop one required a four-hour drive south of our home in Bigfork, Montana to Deer Lodge, site of the Grant Kohrs Ranch, renowned for its living history programs on the life of the cowboy.
An Historic Ranch: The ranch is under the auspices of the National Park Service and it preserves a significant slice of the Old West. Johnny Grant first owned the old ranch but shortly after the Civil War, he sold it to Conrad Kohrs, and today the living ranch not only raises cattle, but interprets life on a ranch reminiscent of the period when cowboys were driving cattle from Texas into Montana. For Old West enthusiasts and movie watches, it interprets the period that picks up from when Gus and Call drove cattle into Montana in the classic movie Lonesome Dove.
Horse use is one of the aspects interpreted at the old ranch and it hard to imagine a more beautiful setting. Several horses trotted to the barn where we stood with the ranch hand. They stuck their heads through the window–all back dropped by Mount Deer Lodge. But soon we moved on for there was so much to see.
Walking around we gravitated toward an old Chuck Wagon. Allen Vaira was interpreting the setup and as he began his narration, I realized I had photographed the man in another setting, in Death Valley, where he worked as a ranger in the late 1990s. For us, that was one of the joys of RV travel, constantly running into people we’ve previously meet but in different and sometimes, exotic, settings.
Chuck Wagon Changes Cowboy’s Life
Though time and distance had altered the substance of what Allen interpreted, his information was sound. He talked about the history of the Chuck Wagon, which he said had been developed by Charles Goodnight. “This wagon improved the cowboys life,” said Allen. “Food was carried in the back of the wagon and was available shortly after stopping. It improved the moral of the cowboy because it maintained his energy level.”
Allen poured us a cup of coffee and then served us some beans he had specially prepared, adding bacon bits and several types of spices.
Grant Kohrs Ranch is extensive and also houses about 30 old wagons, one of which attracted our attention because it was once used as a Civil War ambulance. The old wagon was brought up the Missouri River to Fort Benton, Montana, on the Steamboat Emily. Later the wagon was used to transport soldiers wounded in 1877 at the battle with the Nez Perce at what is now Montana’s Bighole Battlefield.
The wagon was owned by Johnny Grant who initially established what is today the Grant Kohrs Ranch as a trading post. In 1867 he sold the ranch to Conrad Kohrs who became one of Montana’s first cattle barons. As a wealthy cattleman Kohrs added to the home begun by Johnny Grant, and the home remains a lavish repository of elegant living.
Bob George, a retired army officer, fulltime RVer and volunteer (VIP), has immersed himself in the history of the old ranch, and detailed the origin of the various pieces of furniture. He explained how an old chair was developed for the dual use of sitting and help as a step stool. The chair has attracted much interest and you can purchase plans from the Grant Kohrs Visitor Center.
We spent the entire day at the old ranch, also visiting the blacksmith shop and the pasture which corrals long-horn cattle. Indeed the ranch is a window on Montana’s past, and as our trip progresses you will see how this ranch also links to several of Montana’s other historic settings.
But first, a stop at West Yellowstone and the interior of Yellowstone National Park, now hosting some of fall’s most spectacular dramas.