TOP > HISTORY > STORIES > FANNING THE EMBERS

RANCHES IN MONTANA
By Dale Wilder
Fanning the Embers, ? 1971, Range Rider Reps, Miles City, Montana

The XIT Ranch

The original home of the XIT was at Dalhart, Tex. It was owned by the Capitol Land and Cattle Co. In Montana the headquarters were on Cedar Creek near Fallon. At one time it was the largest cattle outfit in the United States, and the company's holdings covered ten counties in the Texas panhandle. It was given this land for building the capitol at Austin, Tex.

The company built miles and miles of fence, then stocked the ranch with cattle that were trailed in. Ab Blocker was the trail boss. He was asked about the brand. He studied a bit, then with his boot heel he marked out an XIT in the dirt. He said, "That would be a good brand. Get branding." Old Ab began roping. He was one of the best ropers in Texas.

Bob Fudge said of Blocker, "Ab and his brother, John, were the best ropers that ever hit the trail from Texas to Canada. Ab was also named the best 'trail boss' ever to bring cattle up the trail."

The Blocker Loop was used in catching cattle by both front feet, throwing them to the ground and holding them there. It was invented by Blocker and was a certain way of twisting the wrist as the rope left the hand. It was famous along all the cattle trails to Montana.

The horses which our outfit sold to Cheetum were also branded over. They were held in bunches by us cowboys. Then Ab Blocker roped them around the neck or by the feet. He roped by the hind foot. That took daring and skill but he had lots of both. Some of the horses which he roped were heavier than the horse he was riding. The horses would be thrown to the ground and branded in the same manner as cattle were branded.

When the XIT ranch was fully stocked, the cowboys had branded 65,000 head of calves. A lot of men were employed by the company. Each unit had a boss. Some of the wagon bosses were Bob Duke, Ab Blocker, Scandlas John. and Milt Whipple. More range was needed. Like other large southern spreads the company began trailing cattle to Montana. The trail was long, dusty and sometimes treacherous. It took real cowboys to make that trip successfully. The herds of about 2,500 head would leave Texas in early April. Usually they got to the Montana headquarters north of Fallon about the first of July.

Four herds of 2.500 two-year-old steers came over the trail in 1895 or 1896. They were the last cattle trailed north by the company. The trail bosses were Gene Ellison, Tom Skenes, Milt Whipple, and Scandlas John. The northern range foreman was 0. C. Cato. This range was between the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers and east of the Musselshell River in Montana.

For many years the company ran two roundup wagons. Henry Ross was one boss. Rufe Morris, Bob Fudge and L. D. MacMakin were others. Different times my work as a rep was with those men. One time I recall Rule's wagon and my work with other reps, Joe Darcy, Bill Haley, Gill Fukay, 'Possurnface' Jack Lennon, 'Whiskey' Dick Howden, 'Teepee' Dick Tepole and George Twible. John Williams was the cook.

Working with Fudge's wagon were Charlie Clements, John Marsh, Al Petit, Ed Valentine, N----- Newt Glendenning, Ben Bird, Skion Robinson, Emmet Glidewell, Andy Jones, and 'Montana Bill' Roberts.

With MacMakin's wagon were Billy Sanders, 'Smoky' Nichols, 'Black' Lee Warren, Frank Evans, Al Petit. Smith was the cook.

Other cowboys with whom I worked with the XIT wagon outfits were Jeff Nicks, Lou Wesner, 'White' Lee Warren, Dan Garrison, Tommy Garrison, Smith White, George King, and Jesse Slaughter.

When working the range, Rufe Morris generally worked from the mouth of the Yellowstone to the Redwater, Cherry and sometimes Custer Creeks. Fudge would work up the Yellowstone to Muggins Creek, then down to South Sunday Creek, Custer Creek and then get the Little Dry, Big Dry and finish on Hungry Creek Shipping was over Northern Pacific from Fallon and Miles City. After the Milwaukee Road was built in 1908 shipping was from Saugus, too. We liked that very much, as we no longer had to swim across the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers.

The best beef herd that I ever saw was when the -X- outfit closed out. They throwed all their cattle on the general roundup on Cherry. Custer. and Cedar Creeks. The first roundup was on Cedar Creek. We cut over a thousand Black Angus steers from one roundup outfit. They were five years older or more. At that time the "X" outfit year-branded all their calves. The year figure was put on the right hip just below the X. Thus the age was told at a glance. Many steers were more than eight years old. The year had been good. They were all fat. They were mighty waspy to handle. too! They would often stampede, day or night! Over 16.000 cattle from the XIT were shipped that fall.

We hated to see the wagons pull in that fall. We knew that was the end of one of the best cow outfits that ever ran cattle on any range. It was time to say goodbye to cowboy friends, a sad time.

The W Bar Ranch

That ranch was at the mouth of the Little Dry. It was owned by Pierre Wibaux for whom the town in eastern Montana was named. He established the State National Bank in Miles City. C. W. Butler worked there as head cashier. Once the ranch had over 50.000 cattle on the north side range. They were mostly steers that Jack Serruys bought in the south and shipped to Miles City.

That company ran two roundup wagons. Bill Case bossed one and Henry Coleman bossed the other. Once at the Leighton Hotel in Miles City, Bill Case put on a big feed for the W Bar cowboys. When all were seated, Bill rose to the occasion and said, "This feed is on the W Bar, so help yourselves to the Olivers. There are plenty more in the Panther." He was quite a cowboy and boss' Ile had helped trail several herds to Montana. He worked for the W Bar until it went out of business. Other cowboys on this outfit were Jack Serruys, 'Long' Henry Coleman, 'Pecos' and 'N-----' Bob Leavitt.

The N Bar N Ranch

This ranch was one of the first range outfits north of the Yellowstone. It ran over 100,000 head of cattle and four roundup wagons. One year they moved over 5,000 steers to Canada with only one roundup wagon on the trail. It was owned by Neidringhaus Brothers of East St. Louis, Mo. The men that I knew who worked for them were Ernie Hollinghead, Charley Apelser and Kid O'Malley, who was known as the 'N Bar N Kid.'

The ranch headquarters were on Flatwillow. Thomas Cruse was the owner. Oscar Dougherty was range boss. Other cowboys were Ben Winn, Howard Snooks, and one called 'Puzzle Face.' Jack Milburn afterwards owned that ranch and operated it for several years.

The CK Ranch

Headquarters for the ranch were on Prairie Elk Creek. Owners were Conrad Kohrs and John Bielenberg. A few others held small ownership parts in the ranch. It was once called the Pioneer Cattle Co. The range was northern Montana and the area south of the Missouri River. It ran over 30,000 cattle. Some of the wagon bosses were Dave Clare, Glen Hollinsworth and Bob Shannon, Cowboys were Bill Gady, Orin Miller, Ed Payne, 'Buttons' Earnest Blevins, Billy Crowder, Claude Clark, 'Swede' Hardin, Dan Garrison, 'Kansas' and 'Night Hawk.' J. M. Bordman was range manager. Cooks were Jay Case, Gotch, 'Froggy' Furgerson. He was also called the 'Frog Faced Kid.' Others were Ben Vandeberg, Scotty Embleton, Charley Oliver and Oscar Hunter.

After the XIT closed out, the CK ran a wagon for two years. During that time they shipped the remnant of the "X" cattle over 5,000 head.

The Pioneer Cattle Co. first ran the D Bar S brand and operated north of the Missouri River. They worked with the Circle Diamond and N Bar N wagons from mouth of Milk River up the Missouri to Ft. Benton. From there they went north to Havre, then down the Milk east to the Dakota line. Sometimes they worked north into Canada. I worked with the CK wagon between the Yellowstone and Missouri two years. Glen Hollinsworth was the boss one year, and 'N----- Bob' Shannon the other year.

During the winter of 1886-1887 Conrad Kohrs claimed that he lost over 20,000 cattle.

The ranch shipped mostly from Oswego on the Great Northern railroad, but after 1908 they shipped from Saugus on the Milwaukee Road. Also shipped from Galbraith and Bascom stations on that railroad.

The Bow and Arrow Ranch

That ranch was operated on South Sunday Creek at the mouth of Louie and Scottie in 1895. It was owned by the Rea Cattle Co. The manager was Loring B. Rea. Big Dick Ingersoll was the boss. Guy Whitbeck was another boss. Some cowboys were George Whitbeck, Lee Warren, George Lowry, Millard Trask, Jay Ernest. The range boss was Bob Martin. Jim Davis and Lou Curl were reps.

The Hat X Ranch

That ranch was at the mouth of the Little Dry. It had a horse camp at the old rock house on Nelson Creek. Hugh Wells was the boss. Cowboys were Frank Evans, Stuttering Bones Rix, Charley Bell, Lon Stewart, Josh Stewart and a man named Powers. The brand was on the left ribs.

The H Cross Ranch

That ranch was at the mouth of Squaw Creek. Joshuay McCustian was the owner and wagon boss. Cowboys were Berry and Zeke Roberts, Jim Wright, Bill Mason, Jack Richardson, Kennedy, Ely McCustian, Wes Huston, Vivian Hooker and George Curry. Later the ranch moved over on Rosebud Creek south of Forsyth.

The 79 Ranch

That ranch had headquarters on Flatwillow. also at Sand Springs on the Big Dry. The owner was John T. Murphy. Wagon bosses were Walt McCool and Mat Rope. Cowboys were 'Rawhide' Dan Geib and 'Porky' Reynolds. Both later homesteaded near Sand Springs. Other cowboys were Bill Cherry, Bill Sutters, Sid Armatige, 'Nosie' Cowen, 'Cheyenne' Bill Felling, Delos McBride, Paul Case, Bill Hoffman, Rolla Heron, Ed and Lou Tripp, Brim Barrett, 'Big Jim' Haney and many others. The ranch ran over 10,000 cattle on the north range. They were mostly steers that were bought in Oregon as two-year-olds and shipped to Montana to run on the open range until they were four and five year olds.

The L U Bar Ranch

The ranch was on Phillips Creek in the Little Dry. The manager was L. W. Stacy. Wagon bosses were Lawrence Higgins, Mike Dodge, Perry Jones, Ben Flemming. They ran over 30,000 cattle between the Yellowstone and Missouri. They operated three roundup wagons.

The cook, (Old Butch) E. B. Butcher, was just as cranky as any old roundup cook ever could be.

The ranch ran mostly steers. They shipped in 10,000 head over the Northern Pacific railroad in the spring of 1903. They were unloaded during a late storm. The loss was heavy. The little steers had to swim across the Yellowstone and be trailed to the Little Dry where they were turned loose on the open range.

Gill and Harry Dodge, Bill Combs, Rusty McNab. Ole Olson, Perry and Jim Weaver, Jim McNanie, Bob Leavitt, Ole Lund and many more cowboys worked on that ranch.

The smaller ranches were called the 'small punkin roller outfits' and there were many of those in addition to the big outfits that I have mentioned. Wilder was one small rancher who ran over a thousand head. I have seen four wagons all working together on the general roundup. There would be over 600 head of saddle horses. George Weaver, who worked the year round for my father on the Wilder Ranch, worked for the L U Bar on roundups. I didn't work much for that ranch.

The ranches were large and few between those two great rivers, the Yellowstone and Missouri, in the days when I worked as a cowboy. Then came the 'dry land farmers'. the 'nesters,' the 'homesteaders,' the fences. The big cattle outfits were finished, and the open range was gone. Memories linger still.

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