Established by Canadian fur trader Johnny Grant and expanded by cattle baron Conrad Kohrs, the Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site commemorates the Western cattle industry from its 1850s inception through recent times. The park was created in 1972, and covers 1,500 acres (6.1 km2) and 90 structures. The site is maintained today as a working ranch by the National Park Service. The ranch was designated a National Historic Landmark on December 19, 1960.
Johnny Francis Grant was born at Fort Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. His mother died when he was only three years old, so he was sent to Three Rivers, Quebec to be raised by his grandmother. His father was a Hudson Bay Company employee, and therefore, in his mid-teens, he left for Fort Hall, Idaho to meet up with his father. There he learned the trading business. However, in the 1840s the fur trade was dying out, so Grant turned to trading with emigrants traveling west. He made a considerable profit by trading travelers one healthy cow or horse for two trail-wearied ones. He then fed and rested the tired animals and the following season traded them again. This is how he got into the cattle business.
Grant started using the Deer Lodge Valley in 1857 to graze his cattle during the winter. In 1859, he decided that the area was a good place to permanently locate a ranch. The ranch house was built by 1862 to be Grant's permanent residence. He convinced traders to settle around him, forming the town of Deer Lodge. Johnny was initially successful, but found that when gold miners arrived in the area, he was at a disadvantage, because he spoke French and the newcomers spoke English. He was taken advantage of in contracts and felt that he could no longer be successful in the area. In 1866, he sold his ranch to cattle baron, Conrad Kohrs, and returned to Canada.
Conrad Kohrs was born on August 5, 1835, in Wewelsfleth, in Holstein province, which was then a part of the German Confederation. At the age of 22, he became a citizen of the United States. He went to California during the gold rush days. He then moved on to Canada and arrived at the gold camps of Montana in 1862. He never struck gold, but he became wealthy by selling beef to the miners. Kohrs built his cattle operation until he owned 50,000 head of cattle and had grazing pasture of 10 million acres (40,000 km2). However, he had a setback when the severe winter of 1886-1887 left over half the cattle population in the northwest dead. Most cattlemen went bankrupt, but Kohrs managed to receive a 100,000 dollar loan from his banker, A.J. Davis. While the open range era was ending, Kohrs adapted successfully and was able to pay off the loan in only four years.
Kohrs and his half-brother, John Bielenberg turned to more modern methods of ranching, including buying purebred breeding stock, fencing his rangeland and raising and storing fodder. His became known as "Montana's Cattle King." Bielenberg helped Kohrs to run the Grant-Kohrs ranch. He originally came to Montana at age 18 in 1864 to help with the butcher shop that served the mining camps. Bielenberg had a lot to do with the horse side of the Grant-Kohrs ranch. He bred what were called the “Big Circle” horses, reputed to be able to cover twenty miles of country in a half a day; a trait useful when gathering cattle spread over a very large area. Together, Bielenberg and Kohrs made a most successful team for over half a century.
The Grant-Kohrs National Historic Site today is r.an by the National Park Service. It is a major tourist attraction in Deer Lodge, Montana, and the tour is free. The National Park Service runs it as a living history ranch, using draft horse teams to hay the land, and blacksmiths on site make horseshoes for the horses. They keep all operations as close to how they would be in the 19th century as possible.
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