From 'Fanning the Embers', published 1971, Range Rider Reps, Miles City, Montana
John McKay was born in Filmore County, Minn., on Aug. 15, 1865, to Mr. and Mrs. Peter McKay.
He came to Montana in 1891 by Northern Pacific Railroad and located at Lee, Mont. He first worked as a hired hand at the Barringer Ranch on the Tongue River below the town of Ashland. He worked here until he decided for sure that Montana was a much better state, in his estimation, than was the state of Minnesota, because of the warmer winters and much less snow. He noticed that the snow didn't get deep enough to cover the fences and also that the Montana farmers were plowing their fields while Minnesota was still under a blanket of snow. He was also tired of farming and doing chores until nine o'clock at night. He decided that ranching, even with its' hazards, was the life for him.
He applied for a desert claim in Miles City in 1894 for the sum of 25 cents an acre.
In 1897 he was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the First National Guard and in 1898 he was mustered into the U.S. Volunteer Cavalry.
When he returned from the service, he had his two cavalry horses. He purchased a small ranch on the Rosebud Creek. The meadow lands with the exception of some fields were not cleared of the dense growth of rose bushes and box elder trees. He cleared enough land to grow alfalfa to feed his small herd of cattle. He and his neighbor guarded their herds of cattle together day and night to keep the Indians from slaughtering them.
A most severe winter came to Montana in 1911 and 1912, but he had little loss of cattle since he had a small herd and plenty of feed and shelter. The larger ranches lost heavily. In the spring of 1912 a terrible blizzard came in May. Birds flew to the house for protection and under the porch with the dog and cats. Neither the dog or cats seemed to bother the birds, all kept warm together.
Mr. McKay married Minnie E. Thompson, who was born in Alexandria, Minn., on July 7, 1877. They were married in Miles City, Mont., Sept. 14, 1900.
Minnie Thompson moved with her adopted parents to South Dakota where she attended school. They traveled by covered wagon from Sauk Center, S.D. to Deadwood, S.D., where they operated a hotel and cafe. They lived there several years until they came by wagon to a home on Rye Grass Creek. She worked in homes in the surrounding area until she married.
Mrs. McKay possessed a beautiful contralto voice and was often requested to sing at church and many gatherings. Had her voice been trained, she might have made a career of this before becoming a rancher's wife.
Their family consisted of six children, Kathleen, George (deceased), Fay, Margaret, Alice, and Marion. All were born at the ranch home except Marion who was born in Tacoma, Wash.
After World War 1, there was a shortage of men to hire and also a depression that followed. The five girls were called upon to help with the ranch work until their father could afford to hire help. Fay never married and is now living in Seattle, Wash. Kathleen married Don McRae, who is now deceased, and she lives in Miles City. Margaret married Ted Dahl and they live at West Fargo, N.D. Alice married Alton Sharp and they live at Hastings, Neb. Marion married Don Rash, who is now deceased, and she lives at Vancouver, Wash.
Marion says, "Down in my heart is a longing for Montana and all of my friends. My Montana heritage is something I don't aim to give up too easily." The others agree, including Kathleen, who has always made Montana her home.
When John McKay decided to go back to see his parents in Minnesota, he would ride his horse to Rosebud where he would tie the bridle reins to the stirrups and send his horse home. Then he would board the train for Minnesota. The county seat was at that time in Miles City. When he had county business to attend to, he would cut through the hills to Miles City, which was a good day's ride from home.
His ranch began to expand with the sections he bought. Many homesteaders who had proved up on their land wanted to sell, thus his holdings in land grew as did his herd of cattle and other livestock. He modernized his home, had furnaces instead of stoves and electricity for lights and bathroom fixtures, which made it much better for living even if it was the same old house. The ranch was self-supporting in many ways, timber for wood and a coal mine near by, posts for fences, gardens, wild fruit and tame, milk, butter, eggs
and meat. In the early days there was a miller at Lame Deer, who
ground the wheat into flour. The flour wasn't aged or bleached, but
it was more nutritious than that used today. Mrs. McKay found it
very difficult to bake good bread wit it and was always apologetic of
its coarse texture and yellow color.
Mr. McKay joined the Masonic Lodge in 1893 in Canton, Minn., and was honored in 1943 as being a 50-year Mason.
Mr. and Mrs. McKay retired in 1944 and moved to Billings, Mont., and bought a home. Here Mr. McKay lived until his death on Nov. 13, 1949. Mrs. McKay continued to live in Billings until her health failed when she came to Forsyth to the hospital to be near her relatives. She passed away there July 31, 1966.