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The Old West Ranch That Time Forgot

The Grant-Kohrs Ranch

When a Canadian trapper named Johnny Grant arrived in the Deer Lodge Valley of western Montana in the early 1850s he shared the land with Indians and buffalo. There were no other settlements along the Clark Fork River the day he hired a pair of carpenters to build a large ranch house in the French Canadian style of square-hewn logs covered with clapboard siding.

Grant was industrious, trading livestock with travelers on the Oregon Trail and bartering for furs with Indians at his home ranch. But while his herd of cattle soon grew to 2,000 head, he could scarcely have imagined the huge herds that would one day graze his pastures and the open range beyond. The frame house he lived in with his Bannock Indian wife and their children was once called "the finest in the Territory," but before the end of the century it would have a large brick addition and be surrounded by a dozen outbuildings serving a ranch spread across 25,000 acres.

Today the well-preserved home of Johnny Grant, and the ranch owners who came after him, is maintained by the National Park Service as the Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site.

The most impressive Montana ranch of the frontier days is now one of the cattle era's finest monuments. The open range still beckons from its horizons and the thunder of long-gone cattle drives echo down the valley. The whooping and hollering of roundup time continues to this day.

Located less than a mile off of Interstate 90 between Butte and Missoula, the Grant-Kohrs Ranch offers curious visitors a year-round living history lesson on Montana cattle ranching. The guided walk through the farm house is a step back in time, or onto what looks like the set of the old TV show "Wild, Wild West." Furnished much the same as they were in 1895, the house's 23 rooms contain a congenial mix of Victorian and frontier artifacts. Most of the furniture came to Montana via steamboat and overland stage.

The oak dining room table, now set for eight, has 18 leaves for banquets and other large gatherings. It rests on a hand-knotted Persian rug and is illuminated beneath some of Montana's earliest gaslight fixtures. The footstool in the parlor has legs of cattle horn offset with delicate needlework by Augusta Kohrs, the first lady of the house who earned First Premium at the 1870 Montana Territorial Fair for the handiwork. In the office there's a Moore's Cabinet Desk that folds up and locks away drawers and files when not in use, and a letterpress on a corner table that was used to make early-day photocopies. An ornately carved German barometer in the sitting room forecasts the ranch's weather

The outbuildings, numbering more than three dozen, contain old tools, horse-drawn wagons and buggies, and all kinds of ranching implements. While the cattle kings and their families lived in Victorian splendor the common cowboys ate, played cards and slept in the bunkhouse 50 feet away. Its spare rooms and modest trappings are quite a contrast  with the farm house.

Barns and stables and granaries and sheds are all being preserved and, in some cases, restored on the ranch, but the site is more than just a museum. A year-round ranching operation continues at Grant-Kohrs with a livestock herd of 24 head, four Belgian work horses, and several saddle horses. Herds of horses and mules from Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks also overwinter at the ranch.

Ranching two dozen cows on 50 acres is only a small-scale model of the big-time open range cowboying that made the Grant-Kohrs Ranch famous. 

Like the dining room in Augusta's well-kept house, the view across the ranch has changed little from Johnny Grant's day. The Deer Lodge and Flint Creek mountains still rise on either side of the valley and the Clark Fork River still courses through broad grasslands and pine forests. Cattle fatten themselves beneath a late summer sun and cowboys tend to fencelines as they did a century ago. The landscape and its residents remain the same; only the visitors have changed.

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Grant-Kohrs Ranch(NPS)
Going Back In Time To Grant-Kohrs 
(excerpted from A Field Guide to America's Historic Neighborhoods and Museum Houses: The Western States)

"The most magical part of a visit to Grant-Kohrs today is that it is still a working ranch rather than a static museum. One can wander through the corrals and feedlots filled with horses, cattle and chickens..

"On the excellent tour one also gains an understanding of how the cattle business evolved from open range to carefully controlled breeding herds during the many decades in which this pioneering enterpirse was operated by Johnny Grant, Conrad Hors, and Con Warren."

Depending on the time of year, visitors to Grant-Kohrs may watch the ranch staff grooming horses, rounding up cattle, branding calves or harvesting hay. 

On the second full weekend of July, known as Western Heritage Days in Deer Lodge, there are wagon rides, blacksmithing demonstrations, and a fully stocked chuckwagon is wheeled out for some authentic cowboy cookery.

Getting There
For more information, contact the Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site, P.O. Box 790, Deer Lodge, MT 59722; phone (406) 846-2070

A Field Guide to America's Historic Neighborhoods and Museum Houses: The Western States by Virginia and Lee McAlester. (Knopf, 1999) 

This excellent guidebook profiles 172 historic neighborhoods and nearly 200 museum houses like the Grant-Kohrs Ranch in 17 western states.

Deer Lodge
(excerpted from Roadside History of Montana

"The Deer Valley is a fifty-mile-long, high meadow bounded by lofty mountains. Many native tribes passed through here and hunted the deer who fed on the lush grasses. 

"The valley seemed ideal for raising beef cattle when John Grant, the son of a Hudson's Bay Company trader, arrived here in 1859. At the western end of the valley, near the confluence of the Little Blackfoot and Clark Fork Rivers, Grant erected the region's first cabin... He found a big market for his beef in the new gold camps springing up throughout the region."

Roadside History of Montana
by Don Spritzer
Mountain Press, 1999

Dividing the state into six geographic-historical areas, Roadside History of Montana follows main highways to reveal the stories hidden within the vast Montana landscape. Spritzer writes about the struggles of dryland farmers, rowdy antics in the early mining camps, and the heroism of smoke jumpers and park rangers.

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