Mission Ranch History:

Located 10 miles east of Livingston, Montana, at the base of the Absaroka Mountain Range, the Mission Ranch Beef Co. specializes in raising tender, high quality, All Natural, Certified Black Angus, Montana Beef.

What is Beef?1

The domestication of cattle for food dates to about 6500 B.C. in the Middle East. Cattle were not native to America, but brought to the New World on ships by European colonists. Americans weren't big eaters of fresh beef until about 1870, due to the enormous growth of the cattle industry in the West. The introduction of cattle cars and refrigerated cars on the railroad facilitated distribution of the beef.

The Mission Ranch

The Mission Ranch was established as a ranch at the turn of the century (1900). It was originally a dairy ranch. In fact, the Mission barn was a milking barn, and the milk it produced supplied the development at Yellowstone Park, less than an hour to the south. In 1944, our grandfather Almon Walborn was looking to buy a new ranch. Almon and his wife Florence owned and operated the Jean’s Fork Cattle Company, a successful cattle ranch outside of Hardin, Montana. But their property was so far from town, and the travel to town so treacherous, that Almon decided to try to buy a ranch closer to a town. Almon traveled around the state looking for the right piece of property, and in 1944, he finally settled on the Mission Ranch.

Almon and Florence ran the Mission Ranch until 1990, when Almon’s age and health prevented him from doing so. The ranch was taken over by his daughter, Zena. Zena passed away in 2003, and Zena’s children, Rob Stephens, Darcy LaBeau, and Zena Dell Lowe became the new owners, placing the daily management of the ranch into the capable hands of their ranch foreman, Rich Phillips.

The Mission Ranch is now, as it has been essentially since Fort Parker times, a working cattle ranch known for raising high quality Black Angus beef. After learning the cattle business for several years, Rob, Darcy and Zena Dell made a decision to bring Mission Ranch beef directly to the public.This website is the fruit of their efforts. Now everyone can enjoy high quality all natural certified Angus Montana beef. To order, click here.

Montana’s Early Cattle Industry2

The cattle industry began in Montana around 1850, when Captain Richard Grant and his family were living at the junction of the Ruby River and the Beaverhead River near present day Twin Bridges. Captain Grant was a former agent for Hudson's Bay Company. He maintained a trading post there, exchanging trade goods, trinkets and whiskey with Native Americans for horses, furs and skins.

Occasionally, gold-seekers or trappers wandered through the area. Quite by chance, some trail-weary, worn-out oxen were abandoned and left to perish in the Beaverhead Valley. Captain Grant’s sons, Johnny and James, found the oxen in the spring, fully recovered and fat. The oxen had wintered well on basin wildrye, rough fescue and bluebunch wheatgrass, which grew abundantly in the mountain valleys of Montana.

That same year the Grant brothers journeyed south to old Fort Hall on the Oregon Trail near the present site of Pocatello, Idaho. They traded dressed skins, furs, moccasins and other Native American-made apparel for worn-out oxen. They trailed the weary oxen back to Beaverhead Valley and turned the cattle out on grass to recuperate. In the spring, they returned to the Oregon Trail once again with fresh, rested oxen. These were traded for more played-out cattle. The going rate soon became one strong, fat work animal for two thin, trail-weary critters. This was probably the earliest cattle operation in what was to become Montana.

At the same time, Father DeSmet, a Jesuit priest, had come to the Bitterroot Valley west of the Continental Divide in 1841 to establish a mission with the Flathead Indians. He moved to the Mission Valley in 1850. Four years later, Father DeSmet had built a herd of 1000 cattle, most of which had been trailed in from Oregon. The herd was to feed the Indians and keep them from traveling east of the mountains each year to hunt buffalo and make war with enemy tribes. Father DeSmet's cattle did not stop the Indians from engaging in their favorite pasttimes of hunting and fighting, but they probably did eat better!

Between 1862 and 1864, gold was discovered in several places in southwest Montana. Prospectors came in droves and mining camps sprung up everywhere. Soon, there were thousands of miners to feed. Cattle ranches sprouted up all over western Montana to supply mining camps with meat. Most of the cattle were trailed from Oregon, and many were descendants of the early Spanish cattle that had come from Mexico and California. Conrad Kohrs started as a butcher boy in a camp called Grasshopper Creek. When the rush to Alder Gulch began, he followed and established a beef market there. Kohrs eventually controlled and supplied the beef for nearly every gold camp. In 1866 he purchased the Grant ranch near Deer Lodge. He became the largest cattle owner in Montana and the entire Northwest.

By 1880 the census recorded a population of 39,159. The population was growing and a new era of settlement was beginning. The lush prairie grass was inviting to cattlemen. Free government land made possible the great expansion of the cattle business. There were few Indians left now to challenge the trailing of cattle. The railroad, completed in the early 1880’s, made it possible to market cattle. Roundups were planned to gather the cattle into groups for branding. Similarly, roundups were made to choose animals to go to market. The Montana Cattle Industry was born, and has been an integral part of Montana’s economy ever since.

Other Interesting Historical Facts:

The heroic Lewis and Clark expedition spent more time exploring Montana than any other state. Clark had been particularly curious about the Yellowstone River ever since his expedition had passed its mouth on the way west in 1805. On the way back east, Lewis and Clark split up so as to explore more ground. Clark took the southerly route along the Yellowstone River. When he and his men passed the present day Mission Ranch, they were mounted on horseback and moving fast to locate cottonwood trees large enough to build a flotilla.  Clark camped in our river bottom directly across the Yellowstone River from us on July 15th, 1806.

Gold! And the Bozeman Trail:

In the 1860's, over 100 placer gold strikes were made in the gulches of southwestern Montana.  One of those, Emigrant Gulch, was located just south of Livingston.  The Bozeman Trail, an Oregon Trail cutoff, offered the fastest and easiest route for gold seekers coming to Montana.  Pushing through the last of the great Teton Sioux hunting grounds, however, it was also the most dangerous---hence the name, the "Bloody Bozeman."  Forks of the Bozeman Trail crossed our ranch and also the area across the river from us.

Fort Parker:

The Mission Ranch is the site of historic Fort Parker, a true frontier fort and the first Crow Indian Agency.  Fort Parker was referred to as "the Mission" by locals, even though there was no mission there.  Nevertheless, that reference is the source of our name "the Mission Ranch."  Built as a refuge for the Crows (Children of the Raven) from their enemies (the Sioux, Cheyenne, and Blackfeet), the government attempted to encourage the Crows away from nomadic hunting and into the more sedentary lifestyle of agriculture.  Understandably, farming held little appeal for the Crows.  As the government began to reduce the size of the Crow Reservation, the fort was moved to a location on the Stillwater near the town of Absorkee in 1875. It was later moved still farther east to Crow Agency, south of Hardin, where the agency is located today.

1 Information on the history of beef in America taken from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Fact Sheet on beef, at http://origin-www.fsis.usda.gov/Fact_Sheets/Beef_from_Farm_to_Table/index.asp

2 Information on Montana’s early history taken from the State of Montana’s website for kids at http://montanakids.com/agriculture_and_business/farm_animals/History_of_Cattle.htm