Grant-Kohrs Ranch – History on the Montana Range

Deer Lodge, Montana.

We left I-90 at the Deer Lodge exit 184 to visit the Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site. Dedicated to the American Cattlemen of the 1860s through 1880s, the ranch is an example of a successful ranch preserved and commemorating the era of wide-open ranges, large herds, and cowboys. Once encompassing 10 million acres, the Grant-Kohrs Ranch was an example of the wealthy cattle ranches of an era that lasted only some 30 years.

The park area of the ranch is fenced, but looking past the fences to the west and north, one can get the notion of wide-open spaces. It is easy to imagine large cattle herds grazing on the lush prairie grasses. When one area became overgrazed, there was plenty of fresh grass just over the next hill.

It’s a bit of a walk (about a quarter-mile, 400 meters) from the parking area and visitor center to the main ranch buildings. There is parking available closer to the park buildings for those with handicap parking stickers. These days, a railroad overpass crosses the path to the ranch house and the other nearby buildings.

The era of the million-acre cattle ranches and open range ranching didn’t last long partly due to the large number of homesteaders heading west and staking homestead claims to 160-acre parcels, each fenced to mark the homesteader’s boundaries.

That railroad overpass is still in use today as we crossed under it, a Burlington Northern Santa Fe freight train approached. A closer view of the engine is included in the gallery at the end of this post.

There are over 80 outbuildings on the property, about a dozen or so are open for visitors to explore, some with equipment of the day, some with collections of one sort or another, yet others furnished as they would have been in the days when cowboys lived and worked the ranch. Guided tours of the ranch and tours of the house are generally available though they have been discontinued for the duration of the Covid-19 pandemic. You can find a map of the site with the location and function of each building here.

I regret not getting a better image of the large ranch house for this post, but that large brick structure in the image above is the western end of the 8,000-plus square foot (743 sq m) ranch house.

Park personnel, appropriately masked due to the pandemic, were available for some of the outdoor exhibits on the day we visited. A typical chuckwagon was manned by a park employee who answered questions and provided background on the functions of these portable “kitchens” and their deployment on the working ranches of the day.

The park still features a working ranch, now a much more manageable 1600-acre facility with a small herd of cattle and some working horses. On the day of our visit in late September, the seasonal park employees were coming to their last few days before the summer exhibits closed. The park remains staffed to support visitors who stop by during the winter.

In 1863, Johnny Grant began ranching the property, but by 1866, he moved to Canada, selling the ranch to Conrad Kohrs for $19,200, a princely sum of money in those days. Over the years, Kohrs expanded the area of the ranch and increased the size of his cattle herds. By the 1880s, Kohrs became one of the area’s wealthiest cattle barons.

One interesting piece of equipment is the haystacker shown in the image above. During the harsh Montana winters, cattle still needed to be fed. Ranchers cut and stored hay in large stacks to provide feed for the cattle during the long winters.

A miniature haystacking machine is available to show people how they work. As we walked by, a woman and two kids were “stacking” some grass that was cut and available for demonstrating the stacking operation. Those youngsters started with that sliding element at the base of the ramp. They piled loose grass on the ramp at the base of the slide and then used ropes to pull the pile of grass to the top of the ramp where it fell into the opening about half-way up the ramp. Lowering the slide then allowed them to put some more grass on the ramp and slide it up the ramp, making the stack a little taller.

In the 1970s, legislation was passed in the 92nd Congress that authorized the establishment of the Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site. The owner of the ranch at that time was Conrad K. Warren, a grandson of Conrad Kohrs. As the ranch was maintained in the family since 1866, and the owners kept historical records for the long-term, the property came to the National Park Service with a detailed history of the ranch operations over the years. 208 acres of land containing buildings and equipment such as buggies, sleighs, and other equipment were purchased, and a scenic easement that permitted the continuation of agriculture and ranching activities was provided for another 1280 acres.

I submit for your review a gallery of images captured at the Grant-Kohrs Ranch. Click on an image to enlarge it for better viewing and to scroll through the gallery.

John Steiner




Glacier National Park – A Tribute to Shrinking Glaciers

Glacier National Park, Montana.

Upon good advice, we decided to head to Saint Mary Lake Entrance on the east side of the park. We were given explicit options for sights with a couple of options for spectacular views as we approached the park’s eastern entrance. Fortunately for us, somewhere along the way, while looking for things to see in the park, we noticed that the eastern entrances were closed due to road renovations. Continue reading

Cellpic Sunday – 13 December 2020

Deer Lodge, Montana.

On our way to visit the Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site in Deer Lodge, we drove by the imposing gated facility at the south end of town. Just off I-90, the Old Montana Prison Complex contains five museums inside. Due to the pandemic, however, the facility is presently closed to the public as this is being written in November 2020. All I was able to do was capture some photographs of the walled exterior that was built by convicts in the late 1800s.

To be sure that the convicts knew how hard it would be to escape, they were made to build the 24-foot (7.3m) walls that were buried deep in the ground to prevent tunneling. When the museum is open, visitors can wander through the grounds, visit the cell blocks, and take advantage of the other museums in the facility. For a single fee, visitors can tour the Powell County Museum, the Frontier Montana Museum, Yesterdays Playthings, and the Montana Auto Museum. In 1979, work was completed on a new state prison complex about three miles (4.8 km) southwest of the town and all prisoners were moved there.

About the photo: The complex is a challenge to get an exterior shot from across the street. That sandstone wall is three blocks long. Capturing the entire east end of the facility required that I create a panoramic image. As you can see at the left end of the image, I wasn’t able to include the entire wall. I’d captured images from both my Nikon D500 and my Samsung S20U. I found the best images to stitch together came from the cellphone, only because I picked a better vantage point when I captured the cellpic images. I used Lightroom’s panorama stitching tool to create the image from two photos and then made the final tweaks in Luminar 4. Click on the image for a closer look (if your browser supports the function.)

John Steiner

Cellpic Sunday – 22 November 2020

Glacier National Park, Montana.

Our visit to Glacier was marred by heavy haze and smoke due to the many wildfires in our western states. As they say, “Make do with what you have.” I will admit that the normally clear views of the mountains have an air of mystery about them in the photos that I have processed so far from our journey on the Going to the Sun Road. Continue reading

Lindsay Montana – 20 Miles of Train Cars

Lindsay, Montana.

On our way to a family event in early summer, we headed to Glasgow, Montana. On the way, we passed through Glendive, Montana where we transitioned from I-94 to highway 200S. Soon after leaving Glendive, we noticed some grain cars on the tracks that paralleled the road. As we traveled along, we found the cars didn’t disappear after the usual mile or so that represents the typical length of freight trains in the upper Midwest. There were breaks in the line of cars all along the way, leaving enough space for a county road to cross the tracks. Continue reading

Wolf Point Bridge – Born out of Tragedy

Wolf Point, Montana.

On a July trip to Montana, we traveled through the town of Wolf Point. At the Missouri River crossing between Roosevelt and McCone counties, we passed by a small park that led to the original Wolf Point Bridge. On our return home, we stopped to check out the bridge. A placard posted at the site of the park described some of the basic details of the bridge which I will share with you in a moment. A search on the Internet, however, told a more somber story of how this bridge came to be. Continue reading

Cellpic Sunday – 16 August 2020

Fort Peck, Montana.

Awhile back, I featured an image captured just ahead of a storm that approached the Fort Peck Lake and Dam. As I noted in that post, the dam is the largest manmade hydraulic dam in the world. Constructed during the great depression in the 1930s, it was a WPA project. Montana is known as Big Sky Country. Looking in the opposite direction from the image I posted here on 26 July, the dramatic sky was clearly too big to include in a single exposure. Continue reading

Cellpic Sunday – 26 July 2020

Fort Peck, Montana.

The Fort Peck Dam is on the Missouri River in northeastern Montana. The dam is the largest manmade hydraulic dam in the world. Constructed during the great depression in the 1930s, it began generating electricity in 1943. A celebration of life for a family member brought us here on the Independence Day weekend. As we drove along one of the several lakefront roads, a view of an approaching storm brought dramatic skies. In less than an hour after the photo was taken, this area was hit by 60 mph winds, heavy rain, and hail. Continue reading

Fort Peck Lake – a Fisherman’s Paradise

Fort Peck Power Plant. The two powerhouses generate an average of 1.1 billion kilowatt-hours per year.

Fort Peck, MT

A family reunion brought us to the site of the world’s largest hydraulically-filled dam. At one time, the largest dam in the world, Fort Peck Dam is now the United States’ second largest dam, and the eighth largest dam in the world. Continue reading