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This report is an overview and assessment of the cultural landscape of the Tongue River Valley, its historic themes and cultural resource site types. Designed to accompany other project deliverables (the video documentary and map-based digital archive), the goal of the project is to demonstrate the national, state and local significance of the layers of prehistory and history located in one small corner of southeastern Montana.

Information collected here minimally defines broad historic themes and contexts, delineates cultural landscape types, and anticipated property types found within the Tongue River Valley. While beyond the scope of this project, this information can readily be expanded to analyze National Register individual properties and historic districts, National Historic Landmark significance, produce detailed historical contexts for the Tongue River Valley and create evaluative tools for documenting sites, assessing significance and formulating preservation strategies within this cultural landscape.

The cultural resource information included here was gathered through interviews, GLO records, literature searches and sites currently on file with the Montana State Antiquities Database. Information discussed here is linked to maps using GPS recordation techniques (i.e. the digital archive). The digital archive is a resource for recording and formulating a comprehensive overview of the cultural resources in the valley and patterns of their distribution. This visual and informational record now holds information on some 125 known sites and can provide a baseline for analyzing the kinds and extent of historic landscapes and potential National Register districts that exist in the drainage. Inquiries regarding this resource may be directed to Montana Preservation Alliance.

The research collected during this project will be on file and disseminated through the entities below following protocols for restriction and protection of sensitive cultural and site information. All recorded site information will be assigned Smithsonian numbers and filed with the state’s database through the Montana State Historic Preservation Office and the University of Montana. Copies of the data will be archived onto CDs and DVDs and housed with the Montana Preservation Alliance, and the Montana State Historic Preservation Office.

Copies of the report and documentary DVD will also be made available to the Birney community, as well as regional repositories such as the Fullmer Public Library in Sheridan, WY and Western Heritage Center in Billings, MT.

VIDEO – Stories Long Remembered: A Ranching History of Birney, Montana


Birney, Montana is one of the West’s most historic and well-preserved ranching communities.

Located in the upper Tongue River drainage, Birney is a place where families still raise horses, ranch cattle and grow hay, remaining on land settled by their ancestors four and five generations ago.

Settled in the early 1800’s, after the U.S. Army’s war with the Sioux and Cheyenne Indians had ended, the upper Tongue River valley is also a landscape filled with ancient archaeological sites and traditional places important to the history and culture of the Cheyenne, Crow, and Lakota people.

This documentary tells one piece of the Upper Tongue River story, the history of the Birney ranching community in the words of the people who call Birney home. We thank all the people who made it possible to collect and tell this story.

Kay Lohof of Quarter Circle U Ranch

My grandfather George Warren Bruster came to the Tongue River Valley to look for the last herd of buffalo. Found the heard and got himself a buffalo but in the mean time he found a place he really liked along the river and built a cabin here and settled and started ranching.

Married my grandmother Grace Sandboard was a friend of Ms. Kendrick’s that lived in the area. She had come to visit her. And they had three sons George Warren, and Burton, and Limon. And my grandfather died when the boys were just young, right after the house had been enlarged. So my grandmother ran the ranch after that. And they had good years, and bad years, and took in dudes during the bad years.

Jay Nance of Nance Cattle Company

I guess it probably started with Powell’s family who – Mr. Powell and his wife – who owned a merchant stores in Mississippi and they had three daughters. And two of those daughters, probably in the early 1900’s, came to this area and all of the Latoo sisters married two brothers. Their names were Joe and Albert Brown. Joe and Albert married Willie B and Anna Mae. They entered into the ranching business here in the Tongue River Valley and formed what later became the Round Cattle Company.


Unidentified male speaker

I think we’re probably the last undiscovered area put it that way. It is a unique area but we meet a lot of people with our horses and so forth and they say but where are you from? We say Birney, Montana and everybody has the mind set that Eastern Montana is flat it is this type of country and it isn’t it is very diverse.

Kay Lohof of Quarter Circle U Ranch

Just three of us three of the generations have lived right here in this house. I am the third generation, but there is five generations of us here, so…

Ann McKinney of 4D Ranch

Well my family in this country started with Captain Brown and Captain Brown was in the military. He came through this country and liked it. And so he homesteaded it, but he still had two years in the service, so he sent his brother out here to hold the lease on it. In 1886 my great great grandfather got out of the service, so he came back to here and started the Three Circle Ranch. And the Three Circle Ranch was down the river from where it is now.

There is a cross fence there that goes down to the river and you can see where the buildings were. It is kind of interesting that the Quarter Circle U, the Bruster took the main house of the Browns and made a bunk house out of it. And that’s what their cook house is now. It is the old Brown house.

Kay Lohof of Quarter Circle U Ranch

Apparently the original log cabin was right here in this yard somewhere. I am not sure where. Then, after he got married, he built a two story log cabin. And that’s part of this house. This was the original homestead here. And they lived here from about 1884-1904.

Art Hayes Jr., Brown Cattle Company

You can’t see it from the trees there but there is a big flat, about 200 acres of ground, right there on the other side.

According to what my grandfather told me, the old Indians told him that that was their favorite winter camp grounds because you couldn’t see it from a distance. It was down on the river with hills all around it and you go up there is some tipi rings back on this hills.

This is where my great grandfather originally started him and his brother homesteaders. They came up here in 1884 and they settled right here in this spot. His brother Ed stayed here and my great grandfather went back and assembled the trail herd and brought it back up in 86. And that was kind of a new start. And he made several other trips up here with new cattle from Texas. My grandfather said the first stop was in Montana.

He said he was just a boy, but he overheard his dad say I am not sure how many cattle I have but it is somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000. They ran from the Big Horns to the Yellowstone to the Little Missouri. They actually went down as far as the North Platt to get cattle. In that fall he watered his horse in the Yellowstone right up there. So you can imagine the amount of ground they covered.

Jay Nance of Nance Cattle Company

The father of those Brown boys Joe and Edward was a fellow named Captain Brown and he had been a surveyor for the railroad in Texas. And when he came up here and started the ranch and had his family going and whatnot. Since he had surveying expertise Scott and Hank hired him to survey this irrigation ditch on this ranch. And the irony of all that is that they built the ditch in 1886 or 1887. Gravity flow irrigation ditch that runs the entire length of the ranch. Surveyed by Captain Brown for Scott and Hank’s. That ditch ultimately ended up having the first water right on Tongue Valley River in Montana, which I still have.

Kay Lohof of Quarter Circle U Ranch

The Brusters came a little before the Browns, I think. I know Ms. Brown was the only white women in this country for a long time. The ranchers all, except the Brusters in this area, are all from the south and were all related. You don’t want to say anything about anybody in our community.

Irv Alderson, Bones Brothers Ranch

The first people came here for the grass, by Captain Brown, came up here first in about 1883 and saw that the grass was here and an opportunity. So in 1886, he brought the Three Circle Cattle up from Texas. He drove them out here and then started homestead. And that’s how my grandmother and her sister Ms. Cox happen to come. Because they were first cousins to Catherine Brown and they came up to visit. Subsequently my Aunt Mae, she was Mary Roberts my grandmother’s sister, met Mr. Cox and my grandmother met Lou Alderson who was a cowboy. And the Aldersons came up from Aitches in Kansas and I think my great uncle Walder Aldridge came up with a trail heard first and then my grandfather came up with him to Mild city and then they homesteaded and my great Uncle Walter Alderson, his story is told in his book “A Bride Goes West.”

My grandfather homesteaded down here where Birney is now, that was his homestead. It was grass and cattle at that time and my grandmother died when my father was about six years old. So my Great Aunt Mrs.Cox, my grandmothers, sister took my father and his two brothers to raise and she had four boys of her own. So seven boys were raised on this ranch and when they would get big enough to ride horseback real well and why they would go to work for the Brown Cattle Company as horse rangers to wrangle horses. They would be about twelve or thirteen and the first one to go was of course Percy Cox. He worked there and then when Floyd, my uncle, was big enough to wrangle horses, he went to work there. He was a little skinny little kid from Side Creek and they called him skin and bones and then the name changed to Bones. They called him Bones. Then when my uncle who was Allen Alderson, he was the next in line, and when he came to work there he was the huskier lad and they called him Big Bones and then when my dad came along they called him Little Bones.

There is a lot of history in these old rocks and a lot of the rocks out around here will have some stuff carved in them too. So I find new carving every year or so. When I am riding out here and you will find some old names and stuff.

Art Hayes Jr., Brown Cattle Company

Originally this plat was homesteaded by the Hooks and the Aldersons and then in about the 1890s or early 1990s. My great grandfather, Captain Joseph T. Brown, bought it and he started building this house in 1903 or 1904 it was completed in 1904 and the stonework is amazing. The amount of work that went into these houses is really a fantastic thing, but they didn’t build this house out of frame because it was more expensive to haul the lumber from the mountains than it was to carry the rock. That is how come they made it out of rock.

It is the old southern style, ’cause they all came from Mississippi. Big house, high ceilings and lots of windows. It was Claire’s house for the time. It had 13 pot belly stoves. The kitchen stove, which took one person all winter to keep the fire going, to keep it warm, of course there is nothing like installation or anything.

My grandmother said the bread would still freeze in the pantry.

Sue Nance Bodecker, Nance Cattle Company

At that point in time the girls were out here. Me and Elly Mae and my grandmother were still in Mississippi. Married and then lost her husband and then the financial difficulties were developing out here. So I think I assume a point in time came where she was a widow and she had a small child. The father, their father, was a very astute businessman in Mississippi and they just made a decision, as my brother said, for whatever reasons to combine their resources and their finances and all come.

My great grandfather William Powell, W. B. Powell they called him, dressed in a three piece suit with a gold pocket watch every day of his life. He never, to my knowledge, I never saw him anywhere near a horse or ever in anything but a three piece suit. He was the financial manager. He would go out in the morning and inspect and he had the old adding machine. He kept everything on ledgers and he ran all of the financial aspects of these ranches. So when he came with his money, he came with his money.

Jay Nance of Nance Cattle Company

Most of the financial difficulties occurred before 1949 and before the split up. So, it was all held within the Brown Cattle Company, but I think the Brown Cattle Company actually went totally broke three times. Of course one of them was, well I shouldn’t say totally broke, but they got into serious difficulty with price of cattle. Terrible winters killed hundreds of thousands of cattle and in a bad winter and then have prices go (down) and then have droughts or fires or whatever. They just weren’t capable of absorbing all of those issues at once, or whatever. I don’t even know what all the financial conditions were that existed that caused them to have such difficulty, but I think whatever they were they occurred three times.

At one point, obviously, Mr. Powell came to the rescue, but even when he was here involved they went broke again. I know he went out and essentially sold stock to…there is a prospectus on the Brown Cattle Company. Stock that was out in the world in the 20’s or 30’s. So he was out selling stock in the Brown Cattle Company to try to revive it. Each time he was essentially successful in doing it.

Art Hayes Jr., Brown Cattle Company

The barn wasn’t built until 1918 after my great grandfather had died. My brother, well my grandfather and his brother, built the barn and everybody said “well they built that big expensive barn and went broke in 1921.” Well, the winter of 1919 is what finished them off. They lost everything because all the stock died and stuff, but it wasn’t because they built the barn.

The barn cost $10,000 in 1918. This little barn is really unique and there is a lot of history carved in the barn. You know I guess what really makes the barn is the buffalo skulls. Those as you can see they designed them right around them and I don’t think you could get another buffalo skull to fit the hole that those buffalo are in. I mean, they were designed into the barn. I mean, we would like to restore it. It is such a neat barn, but it is totally out of times now. We use it to saddle our horses in and store our saddles and that is about it. But it is huge for a barn built in 1918. It took 3 years to build the damn thing, so they had a lot of country.

They ran a lot of cattle her,e but of course there were a lot of other people who ran cattle too, in the open range. But my grandfather, when he was a boy, would leave here in May to go to the Cattle River and rep. He would ride with those ranchers over there and brand the Three Circle Cattle with the following symbols and start moving them back this way. In fall if there were 5 or 6 year old steers that had to go to market, he would take them to Bell Fulish or some place where there was a train and market them. But he would start them back to this range over here. But he would leave here in May, but he said he would always try to make it home for Thanksgiving dinner.

Unidentified male speaker

They had what they call round up pools. Those round up pools would consist of four or five different drainages that would encompass maybe 30 miles. They would centrally locate the round up wagon. In fact we have pictures of four different outfits that had the round up horses and their whole camp and everything. It was about five large ranches that were depleted and it was probably 500 or 600 head of horses that was with them, probably a radius of a half a mile along this big flat. But they would go out there and they would brand. They would have two or three fires and they would brand.

One person would get the cows and work all the cows in the pairs out. They would go in and rope the calves and they would get the certain brand. When they got done with those, well, they would put them, throw them, in an area and then they would get the next and they would work through that. So everybody would get their cattle branded and as a result it meant that it was free labor. You did things in a neighborly fashion to get your work done and then you would furnish help for the other parties to get their cattle branded.

Kay Lohof of Quarter Circle U Ranch

Our cattle where usually over here, on this Indian reservation, during the summer time. They would sort the two year old steers off and take them along towards Reno Creek over to the rail yards at Benteen.


Bill McKinney, 4D Ranch

The two drainages of Cannon Creek and from four miles north and south fork the Canyon and this is one fork. As you go on north as you head to Prairie Dog and that is where you know most of the homestead areas were. They were probably in within a 5 or 6 mile radius. My mother said there were probably about seventeen families.

Margie Fjell Knobloch, Knobloch Ranch

I was just talking to my cousin who has been digging into the family history and she said that the Salvinstons came and worked in the mines in Wisconsin and Minnesota. They were indentured to come and worked in the mines. Tom Salvinston was the first one who came to Birney. He ran into Mr. Bruster in Mild City and Mr. Bruster invited him to come out. Tom, who would been my great uncle, came with three other young fellows from Norway. My grandfather bought the ranch that Tom started. Tom helped him build a house on it, I guess, and then he went back to Norway and brought back his parents and the gal that he married. She came over and was cooking at Quarter Circle U just long enough to pay off her steamboat passes. Then they got married. So there are a lot of Thompsons and Salvinstons that came and kind of homesteaded up the river. In fact I think all those people up there on up the river were Norwegians that kind of came from the same part Norway and all settled up there.

Butch Fjell, Avon Fjell Homestead

When he came over from Norway, he was in Wisconsin, I think maybe in Minnesota a little, he had friends back there and how he got from there to here I don’t know. I don’t know what possessed him to come out here, but everybody was coming out here then. A place where the country was opening up and things were taking off and there had been people around here about thirty years by then. Well, not quite twenty five, maybe, but it was getting pretty well settled by then. Wild stuff was over with by the time he arrived.

Actually, the big Norwegian colony was on Tongue River down there. My other grandfather, Toby Salviston, was the last one down the river. They were all from there on up past the dam. It was kind of a Norwegian community up there. He was assigned to Captain Brown’s troop, evidently, but that is how they met each other. There is always a connection somewhere.

Margie Fjell Knobloch, Knobloch Ranch

Tom Sal helped Toby build their house and I don’t remember who built the rock. It was going to be a rock barn and I don’t think they ever finished it as far as I know. But it was really kind of a neat house and it was built like they build the houses in Norway.

1902 or 1903 they started building out and they did all this rock work. There were lots of Scandinavians that had moved in the country about the same time and they were really good at rock work. The old Salverson’s place they even did their chicken house in rock and they have the little things were chickens go in and lay their eggs and it was all done in rock.

Butch Fjell, Avon Fjell Homestead

My mother was raised up there on Salvason’s place. My dad was raised at the Quarter Circle U and they were 8 miles apart, or something like that, and they never met each other until they were 20 something years old. They never laid eyes on each other. The communities were that separate, but that was a Norwegian speaking community up there.

Margie Fjell Knobloch, Knobloch Ranch

My grandmother had her cattle and she had her own sheep. Grandpa made her keep her money separate and she was to use that for what she wanted to. They had enough for both of them to run a cattle on it and make a living and they always had extra people at their house. It was kind of the gathering place.

She sheared the sheep. She guarded the wools. She made her own yarn and did her own knitting and all of that. Mom said it was fun to watch her do it. Mom said she was wonderful at whenever they butchered. Grandma always did the cutting up of the meat and stuff. She really knew how to do that. She must of learned that in Norway before she came.

Butch Fjell, Avon Fjell Homestead

Well you had to live on it and stay alive basically is all you had to do and that could be pretty hard. This country the soil tests were good and it is good soil. But what they didn’t bother to tell anybody was the amount of rainfall. There is not enough moistured farm.

Bill McKinney, 4D Ranch

For whatever reason, some of the homesteaders would leave or they would move to a different location. It would be most of the kids rode horseback three or four miles to go to school. In winter and summer. And of course in the winter time, a lot of times they would take a bobsled. If it got too bad, they wouldn’t have school, but basically they would move the school house to where the most of the closest proximity for everybody to go. Kind of like the hub of a wheel, you know? They would move it over here so that everybody would come from different directions, the shortest amount of distance to get to school.

Margie Fjell Knobloch, Knobloch Ranch

Mom said she didn’t learn to speak English until she started school. They talked Norwegian at home and she said that the reason that they did was because with her grandma and grandpa living there. They didn’t talk English because then grandma and grandpa thought they were talking about them. So they spoke Norwegian all the time, but mom could understand a little. But then she couldn’t remember how to talk it, but she said it didn’t talk long after she went to school to pick up on the English. But yeah, I think up there they talked Norwegian most of the time.

Grandpa told me he had a pretty good ranch going up there and when he sold out, he sold half of it to Ned Cox and half of it to Buster Brown. The east side of the river went to Ned Cox and the west side went to Buster Brown. Grandma and grandpa tried to get my folks to take it over and mom would have liked it very much, but grandpa Avon talked them out of it told them that they couldn’t make it. Mom was always mad about that. I think they would have done just fine. It was a pretty nice place.

Art Hayes Jr., Brown Cattle Company

Like this little building here that was someone’s homestead cabin. If you could imagine living in a place like that. That was if they move it the homestead would closed down and they would gather up the log buildings and bring them in here and make a chicken house out of them.

Irv Alderson, Bones Brothers Ranch

My dad and his brother, Big Bones, who was Allen Alderson. They were able to, when somebody wanted to sell their little place, they were able to buy it. They were able to give them cash, so they could leave with something. You know most of them, you know, you couldn’t make a living on a hundred and sixty acres which was the original homestead. And then 640 a section you still couldn’t make a living on it. The only way the people that are still here were people that used the grass and didn’t try to farm.

Butch Fjell, Avon Fjell Homestead

When the big crash in ’29 happened Kay’s grandmother called Avon and Annie in and said she said I can’t pay you. She said I have no money. She said you can either stay here and work for board and room or you can go try to find a job. And they liked to stay and they worked all through the depression for no money. Then when it was all over with and the ranch got back on their feet and things were going pretty good again, Ms. Arnold wrote them a check for all of their back wages, the whole works. So it was pretty nice, but they were almost like family then. They integrated that close.

Hard Times: Horseraising

Unidentified male speaker

Winter 1919 really hurt a lot of people. My family had four ranch in the area at this time. They had a big ranch in South Dakota and they had borrowed three quarters of a million dollars in 1918. That winter wiped them out. They managed to keep three of the ranches, but they were clear up until the late 1940’s paying off that debt.

Butch Fjell, Avon Fjell Homestead

It was during 1919 when everyone went broke and did anything they could. The government furnished real good pedigreed stallion thoroughbred horses. Everybody raised horses. They used them on the round up and if they fit the criteria for the government, that was the source of income, to sell horses for the Boer War and for military purposes.

Unidentified female speaker

This was a horse ranch from the very beginning. Somebody called Whiley, was his last name, owned it before the Humphreys bought it. So it was a horse ranch even before. That time they had a lot of horse ranches around. The SH was a horse ranch and they ranched with Fort Keo down there and there is another horse ranch down there by Mild City. They had those studs that they use to breed.

Jay Nance, Nance Cattle Company

This particular ranch was owned by Scott Hanks which were Englishman and the folks that the SH brand is fashioned after named Scott and Hanks. There was this ranch. There was one on the Powder River and there is one up from mile city around 30 miles. Fairly large ranches.

Unidentified male speaker

We sold horses to the army. We had a remount stallion here from Fort Robinson, some good ones, thoroughbred stallions that we crossed on our own range mares and we sold horses. The remount would send a buyer here, an army officer, that would approve the horses and buy them. They would give us 165 dollars a head for a horse that was sixteen hands tall and had good confirmation and that was a lot of money. If they had a few horses, they could litter on that.

Unidentified female speaker

Of course in War World I they had a lot of horses. They rode horses in the Army, so everybody raised horses. Not only that, we all needed a lot of gentle horses to ride, for the dudes to ride. They would take the dudes, like go to Poker Gym and up to Lookout or they would go to Kirby or they, you know, they all had their round up outfits, their tents and their flies and all their tipis. And they just used them in the dude business too.

I think people, a lot of people, like my family went broke in 1920 because of the droughts and the bad winters. So they, that’s about when they started their dude ranching.

Unidentified male speaker

Cattle industry was not very lucrative at that time. People didn’t have much. So they did they started their own dude business taking eastern guest and stuff in about 1923, and as I said before 1923. This carried on until I think we quit the business in about ’63 and went to just straight cows and calves.

It is not by any means the oldest dude ranch in the country, because there is Eatons and Hortons, but it was one of the oldest here. Other ranches around like Kay’s Ranch, the Quarter Circle U, a lot of these ranches took eastern people to supplement their income and get them through those tough years. So, it was a way that they could survive those hard times.

Unidentified female speaker

In those pictures you could see the tent houses around the back yard where the guests lived and in the house, they lived in the house, dudes as many as they could put in there. In fact they made some of the larger bedrooms into smaller bedrooms during that time. That went on for at least ten years, maybe a little longer than that, and a lot of the dudes that came out got to be close friends.

Social Life in Birney

Unidentified male speaker

History has different facets of what the cowboys were like and I know my mother said that she grew up around cowboys, especially when they were up around the river. There was probably 10 or 12 hired men who were good people and good hands. And she had never heard a man swear until after she left home. I mean, they were really gentlemanly and very seldom… I think history depicted them a little different then they actually were. But they were really honest down-to-earth kind of people, hard working and enjoyed dances and fun and that sort of thing.

Unidentified male speaker

They had a big pool table in there. In the winter time my great aunt and grandmother said that they would all come in after supper and they would play pool. They had a piano and would sing and dance and had a great time – play cards and stuff.

Margie Fjell Knobloch, Knobloch Ranch

It was wonderful, absolutely wonderful. We grew up at the Three Circle, where we lived there for ten years. I think I was two when we went there, and so there were lots of people. We always had lots of people. Our house was like grandma Molly and grandpa Toby’s house. It was always other people. We had lots of fun, lots of relatives, and lots of just people around Birney. We had, of course, our community center was the Corell Bar. We had movies and dances and any social gatherings – that is where they did it. And they had wonderful dances. People came from all over the country to come to the dances at Birney.

There where a lot of people around then a lot of people working around the ranches, so there were a lot of kids. Our school – we had two rooms and both of them were full. It is not like now with six kids. Three Circle was a wonderful place to grow up because Joe and B Brown were kind of like grandparents.

Kay Lohof of Quarter Circle U Ranch

Every ranch had a lot of people. And all the homesteaders that bought the homestead moved down here and went to work at the ranch and became good friends of the family, plus doing all the work, helping with all the work. And two sisters and they were married and had families and there was always lots of extra help. There was ten or twenty people working here and every ranch had a lot of people. So there was a big dance at Birney. Every Saturday got dressed and went down there.

Unidentified female speaker

They had dances and they had baseball games. I mean you wouldn’t think anything of driving over to Lindeer in a buckboard wagon for a dance and a baseball game the next day.

Unidentified male speaker

We had baseball teams uniforms, hardball teams. Good one. We would play different other ranches and we played the Indians. The Cheyennes always had a hard ball team and they were excellent. They loved baseball. The baseball diamond was in front of that hall, the old hall that’s up there.

There was a bucking horse chute. On Sundays they had a string of bucking horses and they would bring them in Sunday morning and they would ride bucking horses. And they would have a baseball game. Some team would come. Some people would come play baseball and some cowboys would come around and ride bucking horses and then somebody would rope the milk calves, if there was milk calves, and they would have a baseball game. Then they would eat fried chicken and ice cream.

A lot of these boys not only were they baseball players, but they were polo players and horseman. They had a polo team at one time. They played with the Big Horn team and Sheridan and it was an exciting time for young people. We trained hundreds of jumpers that we sold back east. We showed them horse shows and they would have local race meets.

We had race horses. My dad had race horses. So there was a lot going on here. It was a fun time.

Unidentified female speaker

When I was growing up there was two bars in Birney and a dance hall. Every Saturday night there was dancing and people from all over would come. They had a wonderful time.

Unidentified male speaker

There was a lot of social activity. People visited a lot, you know? If someone went to town well they would find out the news was and shared it. Who had babies last fall, if they never saw. Church activity was very important to a lot of folks.

Sue Nance Bodecker, Nance Cattle Company

I think the thing that as a women is incredible to me is what the women brought to the community.

They – I can recall my grandmother and my Aunt B. they subscribed to the fashion magazines and my Aunt B was quit a seamstress. So whatever the latest fashions was, they managed to get into Sheraton. Buy fabrics and whip up the dress without a pattern. They simply created their own. They were very conscious of fashion.

All of my life growing up both with my parents Three Circle and every ranch I knew, none of the women worked in the fields at all. Most of the ranches, including ours, had a cook. We our cook was in the house across the road there. So we ate our meals over there. The women were always dressed in dresses at five o’clock. They subscribed to all of the major news publications. Even though we didn’t have television, I don’t believe until I was thirteen. They were extremely knowledgeable of world affairs and throughout the community.

Margie Fjell Knobloch, Knobloch Ranch

At the Quarter Circle Q above their dam the ice would get really thick and we would have big skating parties up there. The whole community and staff and that is where they would cut ice. They still cut ice. Yet when I was a kid they filled the ice houses and stuff. It was fun.

Kay Lohof of Quarter Circle U Ranch

When something like that takes place around upper branding, everyone gets together and helps.

They didn’t do that so much way back in the olden days, because they had the help to do it themselves when they branded. But the ice cutting was just kind of a community adventure.

We had a place over here. We had a dam in the river and behind that dam is where they cut the ice. It was very thick there. It was great, great large things of really pretty ice, just crystal clear gorgeous ice.

Art Hayes Jr., Brown Cattle Company

That was according to my grandfather. One of the major concerns was whether they could get enough ice.

There was certain winters he said, ice went out of the river give times one year. They had hell of a time getting enough ice. It was a major concern because they didn’t have any — that was their only way of keeping anything in distance like milk or meat for more than a couple days was in the ice house.

Jay Nance of Nance Cattle Company

Originally, Jack, who was my neighbor, lived up the river from me. He still owns that piece of property and his son lives there. He moved down the river, so he has a ranch down the river from me now which he acquired in the 60s. The line of the Burnam community was immediately below his ranch and it goes no farther. You enter Vernon community when you cross that line and the other line is right below the Tongue River Dam at Bill Musgraves’ probably ends at the mouth of Four Miles Creek. Oxford would be in it and that’s the extent of it. Perhaps part way up Odale Creek include Gary Bold. I could draw it on a map very definitively and write do not cross this line.

Modern Day Ranching

Unidentified male speaker

I think somebody figured out it took 35 acres to run a cow here . So and right now today they said to sustain a family and someone said a few years back to sustain a family it took 500 cows. That figure has changed since then. At one time a cow could support dead on land. She can’t and hasn’t been able to for a long time.

Ann McKinney of 4D Ranch

There was lots of homesteaders and people working. All the ranches had lots of help. Now we are help. I feel like I am awful close to the land. I like Indian relics and I like the Indians. I have a lot of good friends that are Indians. I just think it has made me a more tolerant person. I like ranch and I like ranch life and I like horses and cows and I am definitely one of the ranchers. We sell at sales. At the end of this month we have a sale at Mild City. I have the colts in the barn getting them ready.

Unidentified male speaker

Water is the key to this country. It will do anything if you have water. It will grow grass if it rains and it will raise beef and everything, but it takes water. Methane is going to pull a big hole in that water. I don’t know if the government will replace it. If they pull the water out from under this forest are the tax payers going to build wells here?

I think the wildlife…you know that spring we pass that tanks runs every day of the year. It stays fairly open in the winter. You know deer and elk can come down and get a drink. If we have to pay for a well who is going to pay to pump that well in the winter? Nobody.

Will they do that in the hiking area? I doubt it. It will just become kind of a desert. So, it is not being well thought out by our politicians and the BLM and not looking down the road.

So as a business person we own a lot of minerals. We could probably make a lot of money off of the methane and some day we are going to have to deal with it because we are going to be forced to lease like everybody else. No one owns enough minerals where they can keep them off. No one has enough money to take them out and take them to court and keep them off. You are going to have to deal with it and you often wonder what the hell is going to happen to your business afterwards and whether you can survive. I don’t know. It is going to be tough.

Ann McKinney of 4D Ranch

I am very fond of this area and I just hope we can keep it, but I am pretty sure in the future we are not going to be able to with all of the things that are threatening us like the methane and the coal mining lining and the big ownership of lots of land.

Jay Nance of Nance Cattle Company

We have always been able to raise enough hay here to support whatever cattle of grass we carry. We irrigate. That is all I do is raise hay. I don’t raise anything else. It would be very difficult without the irrigation though.

Some days you would get a lot of hay and other years you wouldn’t get any. But I am grateful for that – it’s a gravity flow irrigation system. It has no pump. So I can go open a head gate and have water. Now I have to put some money into the ditch.
The upper part of it especially, to keep it clean so that it will come out of the river even when the river is low.

Kay Lohof of Quarter Circle U Ranch

Well nobody wants railroad to come through, but I just don’t think that it is going to happen. I don’t know what they are going to do about the methane and I think that this ranch could stand some methane money pretty easy, but I don’t — also it could interfere with these artesian wells that are up here. I don’t like the idea of that. We have got a lot of artesian wells, which are really just methane water, all along the river to water all of our cattle. And I think that that could be a problem.

It is really very important. It looks kind of good this year because there is snow on the big horns and they have a lot of water I think for a while.

Unidentified female speaker

There is a lot of springs that for some reason now have dried up. Personally I think it is the severing of the aquifer for the cold mine cause I think that was the year that the springs started to dry out. There is a lot of money to be had in the coal and there is a lot of people with a law out into in coal but I don’t think that we can ranch and coal mine at the same time. They are using most of everything that we want to use too. The air and the water and the people.

The coal mining and the coal fire generators cause a lot of that the big split in the people in the valley. You are either for it or you are against it and it is still that way. It split up families and there is not half the closeness that there use to be, say when I was growing up.

Bill McKinney, 4D Ranch

The state is in kind of a flop right now with the methane development. That they haven’t changed. They haven’t changed their philosophy as far as the care for the land is concerned. But I think from a monetary standpoint people have been divided because it means quick dollars in this sense but you know you have to stand back and look at the broader picture and say, well what is this going to do to my grandchildren? You know it might not affect me greatly right today, but next week or next month or next year.

I might be able to circumference some of the negative connotations that might come from that, but are the long term effects going to affect my grandchildren if they going to stay on the property and do what we are trying to do now? Are they going to be able to carry on that tradition? That is kind of a scary thing to think about.

Jay Nance of Nance Cattle Company

Most of the people that grow up on these ranches and make a living off of them are, I think, we all have to learn how to accept change. And we also have to learn how to accept that we are not in control of everything, for instance the methane or coal or even any of that. We all may have our wishes about it, but we are not in control of it and we may even be delusional enough to think that we can control it. We may be delusional enough to think that we may steer it a little bit, but ultimately we don’t control it and so we all have to learn how to accept change and go with it.

At least that is my philosophy. Others don’t often look at it that way, but I do.

Kay Lohof of Quarter Circle U Ranch

It is just hard to tell about the future. Both of my sons, well one of them is in his 50s, and Tim is getting close to being 50, and without a help or getting kind of old and crippled, which you do early in life around here. So I don’t know what will happen down the line, whether they will keep the ranch or let it go. It is getting hard again to make a profit.

Cattle prices are good, but the price of fuel and the price of machinery and the price of new water wells on your hill – all those things will eat right into any profit you might have.

Sue Nance Bodecker, Nance Cattle Company

I see change coming as my brother said and as he said it is out of our control to a large degree, particularly methane gas because of the checkerboard of the land. I do not know if you know what politics, and it will be politics, that will determine that and if that does happen that certainly will impact the area. But the area has changed already. I think that as I explained my sense of what the cultural sense of the community has dramatically changed in my lifetime, so yes the area is much the same and yes the families are much in place, but don’t mistake that change hasn’t happened because it has and it will continue. We would all just hope to adapt to it and try to maintain this wonderful sense that we have on a place like this that we can come out and feel the privacy and the isolation that is so attractive out here.

Art Hayes Jr., Brown Cattle Company

The families that have been here have stayed here. It is not like a lot of places where there has been a lot of turnover. Someone asked me a few years ago, “Well what is land bringing down there?” I said well I don’t know. No one has sold. Every now and then one sold for 15 to 20 years so we don’t know. Now some places are starting to sell but not many not many of the old ranches and some of the old ranches are selling but not real many you know most of the families are pretty committed to staying here whether the next generation will or not well I don’t. There is a lot easier ways to make a buck.

Bill McKinney, 4D Ranch

I have never requested that any of my grandchildren or my son or my daughter seek what I felt was important for me. What I felt was important might not have been important to them, but as it turns out that is what they have enjoyed the most.

Kay Lohof of Quarter Circle U Ranch

I have just been here and I feel lucky to have been here most of my life and I still enjoy it.

Jay Nance of Nance Cattle Company

We are not getting rich but we are still here and I guess that is as good as it gets as the movie says.


This film was made possible by the generous cooperation of the People and Families of Birney, Montana.

Bones Brothers Ranch: Irv Alderson, Jr., Jeanie Alderson and Terry Punt, Gerritt and Carson Punt

4D Ranch: Anne and Bill McKinney

Butch Fjell, Birney

Knobloch Ranch: Jack and Margie (Fjell) Knobloch

Quarter Circle U Ranch: Kay Lohof

Nance Cattle Co – UCross/SH Ranch: Jay Nance, Brett and Sue (Nance) Bodecker

Three Circle Ranch: Art and Marilynn Hayes, Art and Susan Hayes

Project Direction: Montana Preservation Alliance, Jim Jenks, Chere Jiusto, Christine Brown

Videography and Film Production: Helena Civic Television, Steven Maly, Kristen Faubion, Jeanie McLean-Warden

Light Sensitive: Lee Buric

Research support: Birney School District, Bureau of Land Management (Montana Office), Flumer Museum (Sheridan, Wyoming), Robert Hawks, King Saddlery, Montana Historical Society Library, Montana State Historic Preservation Office, North Cheyenne Sand Creek Committee, Northern Cheyenne Tribal Historical Preservation Office, Western Heritage Center, Kate Hampton (State Register Coordinator)

Lodging: Bones Brothers Ranch


The Tongue River Digital Archive Project was made possible by grants from the National Park Service and the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training, and Montana’s Lore Kann Foundation.

Project support also provided by the Montana Preservation Alliance and Helena Civic Television.

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7 Responses to Cultural Landscape of the Upper Tongue River Valley in Rosebud County, Montana (2007-12)

  1. Rob Nicholson says:

    Good Afternoon:

    I certainly enjoyed reading this post. I was wondering if you know anything about a fellow named Robert Allan Brown. Apparently Robert Brown moved from Montana, Butte I believe, to Grand Forks, B.C. in the early 1890’s. He was friends with the Averill family.
    I look forward to your reply at your convenience. Thank you in advance for your time and consideration.

    Rob Nicholson

  2. Doug Skiles says:

    I really enjoyed the video. I have lived close to this area for almost 30 years, and am just now discovering what this area has to offer. I’ve been spending a lot of time walking from the forest side of the valley over to the boundary that runs along the Tongue River, and I am seeing some really neat country! There is quite a view of the valley from the top of Brown’s Mountain.

  3. Renee Flood says:

    I enjoyed hearing the stories. In Nannie Alderson’s book, A Bride Goes West, she talks about a half breed family, the Rowlands. The father was William Rowland Sr. He was a white man who married a Cheyenne woman and they raised a large family. Nannie’s children played with the Rowland children. Does anyone remember hearing about them?

    • Gerry Robinson says:

      Renee, I am a descendant of William Rowland and was raised very close to where the Alderson cabin was built, near where Alderson Gulch empties into Lame Deer Creek.

      • Forest Dunning says:

        I am writing a historical novel featuring Willis Rowland, son of William Rowland. While the book is a novel, I am attempting to tell the history of the settlement of the Tongue River Valley, Rosebud, Otter Creek, Hanging Woman, and associated creeks. I am using actual historical figures and events and would like some input from a member of the Rowland family to insure accuracy. Would you be willing to help me?

    • Forest Dunning says:

      Strangely enough, I am writing a historical novel about Willis Rowland, one of William Rowland’s sons. “Bill” had eight sons and two daughters and was a Cheyenne/English interpreter for Gen. Nelson Miles. He was one of the interpreters who negotiated the surrender of Two Moons’ Band in 1877. He retired in 1880 and was the first white man to settle in the area that became the Northern Cheyenne Reservation. Willis Rowland was the First Sergeant of the Cheyenne Scouts at Fort Keogh (Miles City)when he was just 17 years old and was a major interpreter for George Bird Grinnell’s history of the Cheyenne Tribe “The Fighting Cheyennes”

  4. Sam Alderson Hill says:

    In researching my Alderson family roots, I came across the book “A Bride Goes West” by Nannie Alderson, thoroughly enjoyed it. Glad to see it referenced here. I am now trying to prove my Alderson roots from England are the same as the the Alderson pioneers in Montana. Thank you for a wonderful history lesson!

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