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HISTORY OF THE RANGE RIDERS
By Lucy Jones
Fanning the Embers, ? 1971, Range Rider Reps, Miles City, Montana


The First Get-together of The Range Riders with their cardboard badges.

The open range, the picturesque cowboy and pioneer conditions were a thing of the past by 1938, but the glamour of life on the range remained with the riders. There was a need to perpetuate these memories and to honor the men who rode the range.

Four top hands decided to do something about honoring these pioneers who made history in the Old West when the course of the empire was lit by the fires of sagebrush at the rear of chuckwagons. Dale Wilder, Charley Wiley, Montana Bill Roberts and Harry Reed were just sitting around one sunny, December day in October of '38 in the Bullard Block in Miles City. All four agreed: "It's much later than we think and we've got to have a cowboys' get-together." They hurried over to Montana Lou Grill, editor of the Miles City Star, and told him their story. He immediately started the publicity rolling.

All four men dug up the addresses of every cowman, cowboy and cow outfit they ever heard of and invited them all to saddle up and come to town for the very first roundup of riders of the range. They were busy for months planning and discussing the possibilities for this great reunion.

The first informal get-together of the riders was held in Miles City on January 10, 1939. It later developed into the present Range Riders Inc. The response to the invitations was heartening with cowboys and ranchers coming from every direction and registering in the lobby of the Elks Home. The men in charge of registration were: Dale Wilder, Newt Perkins and Alva Hiers. The scene of the first meeting was the third floor of the Wibaux building. 

The evening dinner was served under the capable direction of George Helm. T. W. (Whit) Carolan of Forsyth delivered the principal address during the program. He reviewed the colorful events of the days when cattle roamed the open range and stressed the need of an organization for the vanishing race of cowboys. The arrival of Judge 0. F. Goddard of Billings added historical significance to the meeting since he was one of the three surviving members of the Constitutional Convention of 1889 in Helena.

The following is the First Roster of cowboys attending the First Cowboy Reunion of the Range Riders, and the outfits they worked for.


Dale Wilder, 1st President

More than 150 Range Riders took in the meeting and they all were enthusiastic and expressed a desire to' have a permanent organization of their own. They voted to name the organization RANGE RIDERS and elected Dale Wilder as their new president. The first directors elected were Charley Wiley, Montana Bill Roberts, Harry Reed and Sid Vollin. The chairman, Lou Grill, called the president and directors to the front of the meeting room and charged them with the responsibility of keeping alive the idea of an annual range rider's roundup each summer. They accepted the challenge and assured the group that plans for the next roundup would be announced later.

Two old time cowboys, Ben Woodcock and George Twible, were appointed to question the applicants about their qualifications. They decided on one requirement: "The applicant should be a cowboy working with a cow outfit prior to 1910." The foundation of the Range Rider's organization today is made up from the complete roster at that charter meeting. Identification badges showed the imprint on cardboard of the individual brands of the cow outfits of each cowboy.

As the cowmen saddled up for the home ranch their goodbyes included good wishes and promises to attend the next meeting. They all declared the reunion was a "high, wide and handsome gesture."

The cowmen who came from all corners of the great rangeland recalled and revived the good old days when they were the pioneers who made history in the day before the plow turned up the finest grasslands in the world. They lived in wide open country without wire fences, paved highways and electric telephone wires crisscrossing the landscape. These men had fought their battles against drought and depression and many had tragic stories to tell. Many came up from Texas in clouds of sun-lit dust behind bawlin critters. Their trail is now a highway and their branding fires, though corralled, still smoulder.

A man also qualified for membership by the area of land on which he ranched. This area was extensive and included the block for Garfield County and points in all directions from the Musselshell region over from the Porcupine up and over from the Big Horn mountains. It also included Ashland, Otter Creek, Ekalaka, Carter, Wibaux County, the lower Yellowstone, Red Water country and points east and west. Areas out of Montana included Wyoming, Dakotas, Washington, New Mexico, Nebraska, Idaho, Alaska, Canada, California and from other states of the Middle West.

These men were all comrades of the wind and sun and their lives were like the plains when the west was new. They rode in the evening light and were guided by the stars throughout the dark night. They performed all their many tasks usually for a forty dollar paycheck.


Dedication of the Range Riders Museum

Before the days of barbed wire and the railroad the cowboy's grub was beef, sourdough biscuits and bread, beans and coffee black as ink.

The cowboy's breed of horse was raised in wild freedom. He doesn't like to be tied, shut or fenced in but he likes the home ranch and will always return if he can.

More than 400 gathered for the second annual reunion of Range Riders in Miles City, Montana, the "cowland capitol." They came from all directions: top hands, foremen, bosses, circle riders; a galaxy of rangemen who rode the range before 1910. On every corner hotel lobby, restaurant and other meeting places they gathered to reminisce.

The committee again reviewed the qualifications for membership and set the birthdate around the year 1895. To qualify a cowboy should have worked with some cow outfit that operated a range wagon or repped for himself in the years 1910 to 1939.

The cowboy's stories, when collected, make up the history of the great range country from about 1875 to 1910. They cover the wagon days, chuckwagon days, trail drives and open ranges. The younger cowboys mixed and mingled with the oldsters at this meeting, They exchanged experiences; some good and some peculiar to their calling.

The directors decided unanimously to build a cowboy's memorial building at the yearly meeting in 1940 and they began to take donations for the building. It was finished and dedicated in 1942. The proposed museum was to house contributions from the Range Riders and the public. It was designed as a public building for use by the general public.

The museum is a memorial to the Range Riders of the open range. The need for a building had long been established since there were thousands of valuable relics and mementoes available for display. These are now housed in the Museum. It also serves two other principal purposes: A meeting place for cowboys and a headquarters for the annual reunion. The members were satisfied that it was a fitting memorial to an industry in which the raising and furnishing of livestock needed to be preserved for future generations.

A most historic site was chosen for the museum building. The log building is across from Miles City on the west side of the Tongue River where it joins the Yellowstone river. The Indian tribes councilled here and Captain William Clark stopped briefly in the vicinity. Fur brigades anchored at the mouth of the Tongue River and bugles echoed over these sage brush flats. Trail herds crossed here and trainloads of cattle unloaded and rested on the grounds. There is no place in the state of Montana where so many outfits set up chuck-wagons.

The recorded brand of the Range Riders is an R R <not computer printable>. The badges at the second annual reunion were of bronze with a picture of the first Range Rider's President, Dale Wilder on his horse Traveler on one side and the setting sun on the other side.

The museum is a fitting tribute to those especially who are going down the back trail to the last roundup and to those pioneers who have passed over the Greater Roundup.

In the Range Riders record books of charter members, those joining in 1939 through 1942 of which there are over 400, is recorded their qualifications for membership. Anyone wishing this history of relatives and friends is welcome to look over these records.

An annual reunion of the cowboys under the auspices of the Range Rider's Inc. has been held each year since 1939. This organization is governed by a board of directors elected from the paid up membership at the annual roundup or reunion. The meeting is followed by the annual dinner.


This cowboy and horse was designed and painted
by Casey Barthelmess, an old time cowpuncher
and range rider.

The Range Riders are now incorporated under the laws of the State of Montana as a non-profit organization maintained by yearly dues, contributions and from fees paid by non members visiting the Museum. The first curator of the Museum was Montana Bill Roberts. The present curator is Louis Niedgie. The building is now called the Range Rider's Museum. The president of the Range Riders for 1970-71 is Allie Bradshaw.

A women's auxiliary organization was formed and called the "Range Riders Reps." They are of great assistance in all projects undertaken by the Range Riders. They recently celebrated their thirtieth anniversary.

Both groups realized the building was too small and an addition was needed to house the many pictures of pioneer Range Riders. They wished to have uniform pictures which contained a bronze tube for individual histories and brands. They decided a plaque was needed for the inscription of the name, birthdate and date of death of each member.

Frank Bircher, a member of the Range Riders, financed the additional building which was called Pioneer Memorial Hall. He was later repaid in full.

Pioneer Memorial Hall, which is dedicated to all pioneers, seats approximately two hundred persons. Banquets are served here and there is a fully equipped kitchen, dishes, tables and chairs. The formal dedication was held on June 15,1961.

The members now feel that the Museum is too crowded and there is a need for another addition to house early day vehicles, machinery, etc., which has been donated for historical display.

On display at the Museum are many antiques of great value today. It houses one of the finest collections of Western lore to be found anywhere. There are fossil exhibits, pre-historic Indian relics and artifacts and relics from the later Indians of beaver trapping and buffalo hunting days. There are personal effects that belonged to General Miles. The subject the Museum was built to portray was the life of the cowboy and cattle. This was after the Army and buffalo hunting era.

The Range Riders feel that the historical artifacts are appreciated much more in their home setting than if they were moved from their origin. Many treasured and valuable articles have been kept in this area by placing them in the Museum.

Millions of people visit Museums each year and the attendance is expected to increase. The Museums are considered historical institutions and are valuable to students, teachers, writers, etc. The Range Riders Museum is opened in the spring and closed in the fall. Public officials now worry that public demands will exceed the present capacity since more space is needed.

Besides the annual dinner meeting there are many social functions during the year. These include steak frys, potlucks, picnics, card parties, etc. The members all enjoy these get-togethers and once again it is time for old time visiting and remembering.

Young folks with ranch backgrounds are joining the Range Riders and the Range Riders Reps. They will keep the organization alive and growing just as those of us today took the place of early day pioneer relatives and friends. As the years pass they are realizing more and more the value of this organization and what it stands for. They also realize what the Museum means to them, their children, the town, the surrounding area and the United States. It is the hope of both organizations that the future generation will not let it disband but keep it in repair and growing as a valuable institution in this country.

This friendly, western "Howdy," greets visitors entering Miles City from the west in front of the Range Riders Museum or from the east at the junction of Highways 10 and 12, near the Crossroads Inn.

The old-time cowpuncher mounted on his faithful horse is a fitting tribute to the memory of the early riders of the open range. He beckons visitors to look around the old cowtown which was the former horse capitol of the world. He also reminds them of the vital part the cowboy played in early western history which is perpetuated in two outstanding attractions: the Range Riders Museum an'. Pioneer Memorial Hall.

Casey's tribute to the memory of our old time cowboy.

It was President Theodore Roosevelt who said: "The best heritage the pioneer can leave to future generations is the simple yet powerful story of his life; of the hardships endured, of dangers passed, and the final victory over wilderness and desert plain."

The following are their stories.


"Shooting the Breeze" at the 1964 Annual Meeting of Range Riders. L. to R. Sam Shy, Dale Wilder, Harry Brown, Paul Young, Newt Perkins, Ed Gunderson, C. M. Allen, Casey Barthelmess, Carl Wohlgenant, Allie Bradshaw, Orville Halsey and W. B. Clarke standing.

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