Question about mega ranches
Posted by mule train (+1055) 9 years ago
So I have been watching the series "Last American Cowboy" on Netflix. I think it orginally aired on Animal Planet a few years ago. Good show. My question is...how is it possible for ranches like the Galt Ranch to be so big? 100,000 acres? WTF? How could a ranch ever get that big? Last I heard the homestead act was 160 acres per adult male (later 320). Am I wrong about that? How does a ranch get so big? On the show, it says the Galt Ranch has been that big for over 100 years. Fraud? Help me understand. Thanks.

[This message has been edited by mule train (4/3/2012)]
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Posted by Amorette Allison (+11757) 9 years ago
You buy the neighbor's land. Then you buy the land next to that. And it doesn't all have to be in one place. The XIT had land in several states and Canada. Homestead act has nothing to do with ranching. The reason all those little homesteads failed is because 160 or 320 acres might make a farm in the midwest, they don't feed enough cow calf units to be worthwhile in Texas or Wyoming or Montana.
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Posted by Richard Bonine, Jr. (+14950) 9 years ago
A 100,000 is large by some standards and small by others. The Vermajo Ranch, owned by Ted Turner is 588,000 acres. There are other huge operations like it. Each of them has a unique story as to how they grew to that size. A lot of them got that way through special land grants.
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Posted by MilesCity.com Webmaster (+10000) 9 years ago
My grandparents had perhaps 10,000 acres at one time. I don't know. It's measured by sections (640 acres, 1 mile wide per-side). They were also coop owners of Angela (and if you know what Angela was, well, it was the mega property of its time). They started out with nothing. Dirt poor, and worked to the bone for each and every acre. That was how you used to get it. God isn't making land any more now though, so I expect it's a bit harder ...
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Posted by Levi Forman (+3712) 9 years ago
About the only way it can work these days is the Ted Turner method of being obscenely wealthy independently. Thanks to him and other rich guys that want ranches for recreation it's no longer financially viable to buy land at market prices for the purpose of ranching.

Almost every rancher in the area could make more money by selling their place and collecting interest on the money than they can by running cattle on it.

[This message has been edited by Levi Forman (4/3/2012)]
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Posted by Cindy Stalcup (+586) 9 years ago
Wellington Rankin invested heavily in ranches. His widow married Mr. Galt. Perhaps the ranch featured on the show as being in family for 100 years was one of those.
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Posted by mule train (+1055) 9 years ago
Thanks for the info.
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Posted by Stewart (+149) 9 years ago
Super large ranches are sometimes the result of living in an area where land is poor. 1,000 acres in New Mexico is worth about the same as 40 acres in Iowa. Where this ranch is up in the mountains I'd be willing to bet that a fair chunk of that land is pretty worthless. At that size, though, I'm sure they have a lot of really good acres, too. I would guess the average ranch in our area is around 10,000 acres. And most of those have been built up over the generations by buying little bits of land as they came available.

The older the family, and the greater the dedication to the way of life, the bigger the ranch.
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Posted by Gunnar Emilsson (+17318) 9 years ago
I think most everyone here is missing the point of mule train's question, one that has puzzled me for years. I believe Richard's answer of "special land grants" is probably the best, but these are shrouded in mystery.

How did the first mega-ranch owners in Montana acquire their land from the Federal government? Here are some specific cases:

John Francis Grant in the Deer Lodge valley in 1857.

Phillip H. Poindexter and William C. Orr in the Beaverhead valley in the 1860s.

Nelson Story in the Gallatin valley in 1866.

Particularly Grant....did he just squat?
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Posted by Russell Bonine (+246) 9 years ago
It is kind of funny this topic came up because I have been watching this on Netflix as well.

I found this bit of information that I thought was helpful but it does not answer the question directly. I am assuming this is probably the same family.

http://nwda-db.wsulibs.ws...44/xv19856

It looks like one of the businesses that was owned was a bank which may explain how they could acquire such a large amount of land.
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Posted by Richard Bonine, Jr. (+14950) 9 years ago
I can tell you about Nelson Story because I dated his great-great-grand daughter Lisa at MSU. Most of his money came from business transactions he made. He found a gold mine, traded it for cash, bought some livestock in TX and trailed them to Bozeman. He sold beef to miners in the area and made a small fortune. He was the first millionaire in Bozeman. He opened a bank and a flour mill and sold flour to the Army at Fort Elis.

Looking back, if I had only been able to set aside the running "Black Angus -vs- Herford" argument, my life might have been quite different.

[This message has been edited by Richard Bonine, Jr. (4/4/2012)]
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Posted by David Schott (+17049) 9 years ago
Yes, Richard, but you might have wound up stuck in that God-forsaken Gallatin Valley vs. the oasis that is Campbell County Wyoming.
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Posted by Gunnar Emilsson (+17318) 9 years ago
Yes, Nelson Story made a lot of money....but how did he buy his land from the Federal government?

In 1803, all of what is now Montana became the property of the Federal government through the Louisiana Purchase.

Did Nelson just take a train to the General Land Office in Washington D.C., plopped down a sack of gold dust and say, "I want to buy 20,000 acres in Paradise valley," and the Federal government handed him a deed?

This has me curious. Sure, there's programs through which the government gave land to homesteaders, railroads, and the states, but the first big ranches had their roots going back before all this.
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Posted by Amorette F. Allison (+1916) 9 years ago
There are a lot of ranches in Montana, and I assume the rest of the west, that were either claimed through "squatters' rights" or purchased from the railroads that had land grants. There are places that have no 'original' deeds that complicates modern sales.
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Posted by Cindy Stalcup (+586) 9 years ago
This is a gross oversimplification.
In today's terms they were squatting, but the federal government always wanted settlement as way to hold new territory from others countries and to provide buffer between Indians and established civilized towns. There were many land grant programs usually in return for military service and pre-empted land acts to encourage movement West.
The early MT ranchers were squatting. When their areas were later opened for ownership they either filed or purchased the important parts.
The Montana ranches on western side were developed to sell beef to the gold miners in Bannack, Virginia City, and Idaho, later Last Chance Gulch.
Keep in mind that early land had value only if a crop could be grown, timber harvested, gold mined...the improvements of buildings and water developments were what "sold" on very early ranches along with the stock. Grazing lands were just used either by single ranch or group of ranches. (Taylor grazing act in 1934 put regulations on public lands in place and end of free grass.)

Johnny Grant was son of retired Hudson Bay Company employee Capt. Richard Grant and his Indian wife. HBC employees were supposed to return to point of engagement back in civilization and leave their Indian wives and children in the country. They referred to them as country wives. However many retired employees thumbed their nose and settled in valleys in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Dakotas, and Canada where they raised horses and a few head of cattle. They supplied HBC and others with horses. Some had ferry services or toll bridges.

Grant's family settled at Stinkingwater (Ruby River) which put them in right spot to sell beef to gold miners of Bannack and then Virginia City. They sought out more grass as they grew their cattle herd and range into Deer Lodge valley. Then sold out to Kohrs who vastly expanded and made fortune supplying beef. (He was one of few big enough to survive the 1886-7 winter.)

Storey and his family were used by McMurtry as basis for Lonesome Dove story.
Poindexter &Orr were about same as Kohrs supplied beef to gold miners using Centennial valley for grazing lands. They had first brand recorded in Montana the Masonic square & compass.
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Posted by Levi Forman (+3712) 9 years ago
It was literally the wild west back then. I don't think it would be unheard of for some of those places to have been acquired by intimidation and corruption. On the other hand, I think the more modern ones really were just accumulated over time from people who went broke or just decided to sell out and go somewhere else. Virtually every pasture on our ranch is named for some homesteader, some of which were gone before my grandparent's time. I think in the 20s there was a period of a lot of rain in this area and a lot of people homesteaded under the impression that you could make a living here farming a small plot. The 30s put an end to that idea and a lot of the homesteads didn't last long.
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Posted by Bridgier (+9193) 9 years ago
There was a belief that "rain followed the plow", with many theories proposed to bolster this belief. Turns out that rain follows a climate cycle, and has really has nothing to do with the plow.

Magical thinking regarding the climate has been around for a long time.
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Posted by Gunnar Emilsson (+17318) 9 years ago
Thanks for the explanations, Cindy and Amorette.

I think I will start a new environmental organization, seeking recompensation from the descendants of landowners who acquired their ill-gotten properties through nefarious shenanigans in the 1850s-1880s. I will then secure the monies my lawyers obtain from such lawsuits as a trust fund to help restore wolf habitat.
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Posted by Buck Showalter (+4460) 9 years ago
A most excellent idea.
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Posted by Richard Bonine, Jr. (+14950) 9 years ago
I think I will start a new environmental organization, seeking recompensation from the descendants of landowners who acquired their ill-gotten properties through nefarious shenanigans in the 1850s-1880s. I will then secure the monies my lawyers obtain from such lawsuits as a trust fund to help restore wolf habitat.


And I am sure that will give rise to yet another organization named: "Gunning for Gunnar".
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Posted by Cindy Stalcup (+586) 9 years ago
Here is an interesting read on Wellington Rankin. At time of his death land holdings were over 600,000 acres. Everyone remembers his sister but he was very powerful figure in Montana history.

http://www.greatfallstrib...ankin.html
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Posted by Connie Muggli (+98) 9 years ago
Thought I would join in just for the fun of it.

The term that comes to mind is "deeded acres". Our initial ranch consisted of 7,000 "deeded acres" all irrigated, and was supplemented by all of the integrated school and railroad sections that bordered the deeded acres which we leased from the government.

I realize that is not a mega-ranch by any stretch. But the method by which it was built was pretty standard.

The deeded acres were acquired during the depression. My grandfather, a ranch hand working for between $10-35 a month, never believed in banks and so saved his cash. My grandmother saved all of her salary as a school teacher - grandpa was determined to support his wife, so her money was not touched for living expense. When area ranches were lost and the cost of land went down after the crash, cash was king at the time, and he was able to buy the 7,000 acres at a dollar an acre.

He managed the ranch to become self-sustaining. He never borrowed money from a bank. He did not believe in "operating" lines of credit, a mortgage on the land was a sacrilege. He just saved and spent wisely, and over the years built a beautiful operation. His position was that regardless of the economic situation, our ranch would not be threatened by foreclosure, and his family would have a home that would sustain it.

We did border a couple of mega-ranches - and when visiting home last year I learned that those outfits have continued to grow. One was financed (and later fertilized) by a garbage hauling business in Denver, the profits from which were used to buy up land during the depression. The other was built by a "remittance man". There were several in early Colorado history -- an English Lord whose family back home paid him to stay away -- evidently they had committed some act that threatened the family's good name. Some continued the "rogue" behavior and lost their shirts in ranching -- others grew up so to speak and succeeded.

The point being that most mega-ranches were actually purchased initially by people with money from another businesses following a dive in the price of land. Some of those ranches were purchased solely to provide "tax deductions" for the other business. I remember one wealthy rancher glorying in his poor calf crop -- saying nothing creates tax deductions like a ranch. He was a state senator and also owned a meat packing business.

Anyway, often, the "deeded" land was augmented by leases of adjoining federal and state lands for pasture. When the government sold that land, which it sometimes did, area ranches bought it, and continue that practice today. Many of the ranches also relied on cash flow from the other business -- some were managed successfully, some not.

[This message has been edited by Connie Muggli (4/4/2012)]
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Posted by mule train (+1055) 9 years ago
$1 per acre? HOLY WTF? Where in the hell was that crash we all heard about? I never saw $1 an acre on any real estate posted...granted that would be around $12.93 an acre by today's dollar. 10,000 acres would have cost $129,300 in 2012...sold! I will take two. Recession my ass. Vote Romney...we need to f*ck this country once and for all. I want my 10,000 acres bitches! Now, who's selling?
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Posted by Bob Netherton II (+1904) 9 years ago
Shouldn't that be "I want my 10,000 acres, bitches!"?
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Posted by Don Birkholz (+1288) 5 years ago
I did not see a correct response as to how the XIT ranch got so big. The Texas Legislature made a deal with a group of British investors that if they would build a 3,000,000$ state capitol, Texas would give them 3,000,000 acres of land in Texas.

(one dollar per acre) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/XIT_Ranch

According to Bob Fudge (famous Texas trail driver buried in the Broadus cemetery) The XIT had their brand recorded in at least five states. This eliminated the necessity of putting an extra road brand on their cattle being trailed from Texas to Montana.

[Edited by Don Birkholz (5/10/2016 9:16:20 PM)]

[Edited by Don Birkholz (5/10/2016 9:18:07 PM)]
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Posted by Wendy Wilson (+6165) 5 years ago
You realize this thing is 4 years old.
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