Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site

The Visitor Center at Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site

Once upon a time, the Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site was the headquarters area of a 10-million-acre cattle empire. Grant-Kohrs Ranch today is still a working cattle ranch, just not as large. This is a place that preserves the symbols of the hard-working cowboy (the wide open spaces, the spirited cow pony and the vast heads of cattle) and commemorates the role played by the cowboy and cattlemen in American history.

Grant-Kohrs Ranch was founded in the days of the big cattle drives from Texas to Montana. As the cows couldn't be moved more than 10 or 12 miles a day, the trip from Texas could take up to five months. So Kohrs would buy two-year-old steers in Texas and drive them to Montana where they could be easily fattened on the rich grasses of eastern Montana. There was a period of time when cattlemen in Montana raised sheep (because the cattle market had collapsed) but when cattle became profitable again, they switched back to cattle. Unlike Wyoming, there were no range wars in Montana...

An interesting bit of info: When the Kohrs had a brick addition built on the main ranch house in 1890, they had the whole house wired for electricity. The electricity didn't arrive until 1892...

Between the end of the Indian Wars, end of the great bison herds and the arrival of masses of homesteaders coming to collect (and fence) their 160-acre land claims, there was about 30 years of the real, wide open grazing life. That time period was also broken up by the extremely harsh winter of 1886-7, which destroyed between 1/3 and 1/2 of all the cattle operations in Montana. Many cattlemen never recovered but those who did survive quickly gobbled up all that newly vacant land and increased their holdings even further. It was the arrival of the homesteaders that really ended the open range era... although that had little effect on the cattle operations that were already well established.

Mt. Powell from Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site

John Grant began wintering cattle in the Deer Lodge Valley in the mid-1850's. Deer Lodge Valley was especially good for wintering cattle because the vegetation was very lush and the surrounding high mountains captured most of the snow. The area only receives about 10" of precipitation per year and if it weren't for the runoff from those mountains, the valley would be almost a barren desert. Conrad Kohrs arrived in 1866 and bought out Johnny Grant's ranch and 365 head of cattle. Kohrs knew what he was doing (and had the wherewithal to do it) and quickly expanded his operations to other ranges in Wyoming, eastern Montana, Colorado and Canada. He made a fortune on the open range, then invested his profits in buying land, mining interests and banks. When he died in 1920, the major part of his estate was transferred to the Kohrs Trust.

Another interesting bit of info: The vast majority of cowboys were young and about 1/3 of them were African-American. By the time they reached their mid-20's, most had become ranchers on their own or had found less strenuous ways of making a living. There are far more old cowboys in the movies than there ever were in real life...

Conrad Kohr's grandson, Conrad Kohrs Warren, worked as the ranch manager for several years, then bought the core of the ranch from the Kohrs Trust in 1940. He actively managed the ranch for 20 years and lived on the property until his death in 1993. During his most active years, he had a major influence on the cattle industry in areas like purebred stock, public livestock auctions, livestock health programs and government regulations and support of the industry. He sold the core of the home ranch to the National Park Service in 1972. What the National Park Service also got in the deal was 120 years of meticulous documentation of the rise and fall of the cattle industry in Montana, spanning those years between the mountain men and their fur trade and the advent of modern, mechanized feedlot operations.

Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site is open every day of the year except Thanksgiving Day, Christmas and New Year's Day. Summer hours (Memorial Day through Labor Day): 9 am to 5:30 pm. Rest of the year: 9 am to 4:30 pm. There are no fees involved in visiting the ranch. It is highly suggested that groups call ahead and make reservations. To get there: exit Interstate 90 at exit 184 and follow the signs 1/2 mile to the property. Or get off the Interstate at exit 187 and enjoy a drive through Deer Lodge: Grant-Kohrs Ranch is located at the north end of town.

Sheds and the stream at Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site
Sheds and the stream at Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site
Photos courtesy of the National Park Service