Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site
Wide open spaces, the hard-working cowboy, his spirited cow pony, and vast herds of cattle are among the strongest symbols of the American West. Dreams of wealth lured the first cattle men to Montana. The range was open and unfenced, and they could fatten their cattle on the lush bunchgrass and push on to new pastures when the old areas were overgrazed.
The main obstacles were buffalo and Indians, and by the 1860s, both were fast being overcome. The herds grew as westward-bound emigrants gladly traded two or more trail-worn cows for a single well-fed one. And cowboys, seeking better grazing lands, also greatly added to the herds by driving herds of rangy longhorns from Texas to Montana. By 1885, driven by investment from foreign and eastern speculators, cattle raising was the biggest industry on the High Plains. But overgrazing and the fierce winter of 1886-87 caused enormous losses, estimated at one-third to one-half of all cattle on the northern plains. This was the beginning of the end. These losses, plus a multitude of newly created 160-acre homestead claims, enclosed with barbwire, put an end to open-range ranching.
The open-range cattle industry never recovered, having lasted only three decades. But from it evolved the more scientific ranching of today, with its own risks and uncertainties. That is the legacy of Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site, former center of a 10-million-acre cattle empire, now a working cattle ranch that commemorates the role of cattlemen in American history.