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Saturday August 13- Travel day, Garrison & Deer Lodge MT- Grant/ Kohrs Ranch

We pulled out of the Columbia Falls RV Park at 8:20, driving east on Rt. 2, 1 mile, then turning south on Rt. 286. After about 10 miles, we turned left onto Rt. 35 and went about 7 miles, then turned west for 4 miles to Rt. 93 south. The speed limit was 60 for trucks, so we always stick with the truck speed limit. We drove through the valleys between the mountains all the way, passing through some small towns. A few miles north of I-90, we drove past the National Bison Free Range. That would have been interesting if there had been any bison visible. Unfortunately, they must have all been grazing on the other side of the range.

We turned east on I-90, stopping for diesel( $ 3.84) just east of Missoula. Missoula looked like a nice city, and we could see a large farmers market from the interstate. We stopped at a rest area for our picnic lunch, then continued on to the town of Garrison. There was not much to this town; but it had an interesting interstate ramp. The ramp just went on and on, for 1 mile, into what was the town. It consisted of a gas station and restaurant. Then we turned towards the entrance to I-90 east, and the campground was just before the interstate entrance. There are two interstate exits and two entrances, but each one only has one entrance and one exit. Hard to explain, as they are 1 mile apart, but you can only get on the interstate going east at exit 175 and only get on going west at 174. The same for getting off; you can only get off from the east at 175 and only get off from the west at 174.

We arrived at Riverside Campground about 1:30, after a 196 mile drive. We pulled in and I hopped out of the motor home to go to the office to check in. Bernie, the owner, showed up in his golf cart and told me to just follow him to the site. This is the first time that we have ever been checked in at our site. This it is a nice little family campground. We have 50 amp, full hook up, for $26 with our Good Sam discount.

There is a historical sign, right outside the campground, which states that Johnny Grant set up a trading post on this site. His first home was a teepee, which he received in a trade, from an Indian, for a horse. I had asked Bernie if there were any historical sites in the area, and he said to go to Deer Lodge, 10 miles away, to visit the Grant-Kohrs Ranch. The Grant-Kohrs Ranch is a National Historic Site, National Park Service, US Dept. of the Interior, but run by the Department of Agriculture. If I had not asked, we would never have visited one of the most interesting places that we have been so far!

The Grant-Kohrs Ranch,

was put into the National Park Service as a Historical Site in 1972 as a working cattle ranch. These are examples of the three kinds of steers that they have on the ranch. 

We are not talking dude ranch here, we are talking a real working cattle ranch.  Johnny Grant was a very busy man.   These pioneer men arrived in the area, and to make sure that they got along with the Indians, they married squaws in each tribe; he had 7 wife’s. Grant had 32 children, 6 were adopted. If he found a child on the trail, he just added the kid to the family!

Conrad Kohrs set up his first butcher shop  in what he called a ‘brush shanty’! Kohrs was born in Germany in 1835. He left Germany at age 15 and sailed the world as a cabin boy. In the quest for gold, he went to California, then Canada. In 1862, that part of the Idaho Territory became southwest Montana. He never made his fortune panning for gold, but became the ‘Cattle Baron of Montana’. Kohrs arrived with just the clothes on his back and what he could carry in a bedroll. Since he had learned the a little bit about the butchering business from relatives in New York and Iowa, he quickly found work as a butchers assistant. He rapidly learned the business and then went out on his own opening a chain of butcher shops in many of the gold camps, at one point owning all the butcher shops in Montana. Johnny Grant sold him cattle to supply his shops and in 1866, he sold his ranch( with a 4000 sq ft house to shelter all those kids) to Kohrs. Grant then moved to Manitoba, with his brood. Kohrs began building his empire at this ranch in Deer Lodge Valley. He acquired 30,000 acres of land where he raised cattle and horses, not including using the free range. He helped to found the Montana Stockgrower’s Association in 1884 and was a delegate to Montana’s constitutional convention in 1889.

This picture is the front of the original house. 

He decided it was time to settle down and get married. He remembered his childhood sweetheart, August Kruse in Germany. He found that she had moved to Iowa, so he hunted her down and courted her for 3 weeks, then married her. She was afraid that she was going out in the middle of no-where, so she asked him, prior to marrying, if his ranch was close to the railroad. He assured her it was! Needless to say, his idea of close, and hers were completely different!  The closest railroad, at that time, was in Cheyenne WY, 700 miles away! It arrived in town in 1909 and ran right past the house. 

So poor Augusta, ended up a pioneer bride, having married February 23, 1868. The 4000 sq ft. house, was large, but her husband’s half brother and all of the cowhands lived in the house with them. She  was from an affluent family and  she wasn’t prepared to be a pioneer wife, but ended up as one. This included milking cows, making soap and candles, cooking and keeping the house for everyone! Not to mention, having and caring for babies. The house had bare floors, spittoons, and an old bed strung with rawhide in place of springs, and a straw-filled sack for a mattress infested with bedbugs. She began the ‘war of extermination’, killing them with boiling water and kerosene!

As the Kohr’s became wealthy, they added 5000 sq ft to the house, in 1890. This is the picture of the back of the house, and the extra 5000 sq. ft. that was added. There are 9 bedrooms upstairs!

Eventually the ranch had 90 buildings! They also added a governess to care for the kids and a cook. They had 3 children. Anna, Katherine and William. Katherine’s son, Conrad Warren, saved the ranch. Conrad married Nell, who began recording the family history and cared for the antiques and documents that the family collected over time. Conrad continued the ranching tradition, buying out the rest of the family members, who were included in the family trust. Nell Warren was the one who encouraged her husband to contact the National Park Service to preserve the ranch beyond their lifetimes. When the National Park Service took over the ranch, they received it as is, which meant they received all the original furniture and documents, which included enough historical documents, that they built a climate controlled building ( it looks like a barn) to house all this paper, including letters from various presidents! The family had copied every letter that they sent, so the Park Service inherited both ends of the written conversation, making this a real historical find.

Augusta bought a lot of furniture from Chicago. Since they sent the steers to Chicago, they would return with furniture. There were beautiful antiques in the house. I was drooling over the china cabinet! In our tour of the house, we were not allowed to take pictures. People would back up to take pictures and bump into the glass in the cabinets, so they stopped allowing pictures inside.

Our tour guide, Lanilla, is from the area, having grown up  just over the mountain. She is also a female blacksmith!

She trained under Conrad Warren, so we consider ourselves very lucky to have had such an interesting guide.

Since this is a working ranch, they really do all the ‘ranching’. She told us a story of how they brand the cattle. The brand is a G with a lazy K( this means the G is on top and the K hangs on the bottom). Woops, one time they branded a new calf, with the brand upside down. They had to call in the ‘brand inspector’ who had to look at the momma and baby, agree that the mistake was made, then he had to send a letter to the ranch that has the K with the lazy G. If the other ranch wanted the calf, they could have claimed it, as it has their brand. She said that the worst part is that he teased them about this every time he visited for 25 years!

She also told us a lot about being a female blacksmith. The first female blacksmith was in the 1800’s, in Maryland! The gal who started the Girl Scouts was a female blacksmith. While she was talking, she made a ‘horseshoe stone pick”. She teaches kids how to be a blacksmith, ( field trips), and this is what they make. To give it away, she asked ‘does anyone know who the current Attorney General of the US is? “. Bob correctly answered, the question, so he is now the proud owner of this item!

She also branded some pieces of wood and gave one to each of the 3 kids who were on the tour.

She told us about the cattle. When a calf is born, they dry it off and give it back to its mother, outside, even in the middle of winter. The cows are very smart. Two mothers will lie down on the ground, with their shoulders together, making a ‘V’, and placing the calf’s in between them to keep them warm! This valley gets very cold, but rarely receives a lot of snow. The wild rye that grows in the area, grows higher than the snow, allowing the cattle to winter outside. Evidently the cattle generate a lot of heat. The snow hits the mountains, but the valley gets the cold weather; temps can be -35 to -45 for weeks on end. She said -20 is manageable, since the cattle generate a lot of heat.

Most of the buildings are open to tour. We visited the Blacksmith shop, the Thoroughbred Barn, and the Bunk houses. In the Thoroughbred Barn, they have their display of the families carriages and sleighs.

They were very interesting! This wagon was set up with the rigging for the horses, which made you see the horses in your mind.

The bunk house, had the original stove from the house and the original beds.  There was a cowboy stationed all day on a horse to talk with the kids.

We continued into town and drove past the prison. This town was chosen to the Montana Territorial Prison. We were hot and tired so we did not visit this museum.

We stopped at the Safeway. This was the smallest Safeway that I have seen since I was a kid. It was tiny, and had been in this town since the early 1900’s.  We stopped at the McDonald’s at the interstate for a 50 cent ice cream cone, as they were a special. We returned to the motor home, exhausted!

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