This wasn't a terribly exciting day we had planned. Our next BIG stop is Glacier National Park, which is at least 8 hours away from Gardiner, MT. We decided to break it up into two days of driving. After checking one of our ~10 books on National Parks we saw there was the only working ranch in the National Park system right on the way: The Grant-Kohrs National Historic Site in Deer Lodge, MT. That is where we were going!
We made a rare stop at a Wal-Mart in Bozeman, and it felt extremely odd to be in the midst of such a huge amount of people! After days of little to no cell phone coverage and NO internet…Wal-Mart?! Amazing! $200 later (the minimum amount I always seem to spend in there for some reason), we were four fishing rods heavier and had restocked our toiletries.
The kids were really dreading the Grant-Kohrs ranch, expecting it to be very boring. We were all very pleasantly surprised! The ranch was founded in 1862 by Johnny Grant, and originally consisted of ~10 million acres. More than four times the size of Yellowstone! He sold it to Conrad Kohrs and it was ultimately handed down to his grandson, Conrad Warren. Conrad Warren had three children, and none of them were interested in being ranchers. He personally LOVED the ranch, and wanted to see it continue, so he sold it to the National Park Service. He achieved two goals: his kids would inherit the $$, and the ranch would continue ad infinitum. The total acreage remaining is just ~1000 acres.
We were extremely lucky to get the ranch Blacksmith, Lyndel, as our tour guide. She came to the ranch in 1976 in a dual role as Park Ranger and Police Officer. The previous blacksmith retired in the mid-80's and she thought maybe she would try her hand at it. As we learned, this was VERY unusual, because almost all blacksmiths are male. As part of his deal with the NPS, Conrad Warren and his wife were allowed to continue living at the ranch until their death. I asked Lyndel how Mr. Warren felt about a female in this role, and she practically waxed poetic about what a wonderful man he was and how he was not chauvinistic at all. She went on further to say that there would never be a movie made about this ranch because the people involved with it were all to honest and hard-working to make for an interesting movie.
We got to tour the main ranch house with her. The house has 9 bedrooms and 5 bathrooms. Seems like a lot until you hear that Johnny Grant had 32 kids!!!! Four times as many as my brother Rob! However, many of Grant's kids died in infancy and they did not all live there.
Many of the original furnishings are still in the house and were fascinating. Even the kids thought so. It was wonderful from my point of view for the kids to hear what life was like back in the 1800s and what would be expected of children. Did you know that little boys wore dresses until they were ~5? Young boys were expected to join the cowboys working the ranch at about age 11 or 12. Their day would start at approximately 4 a.m. They would work a full day, which could range from a few hours to a full day long. They wouldn't stop to eat until their work was done. It might be ALL daylong! They would bring snacks with them to tide them over until the final meal.
The girls were a different story altogether. They also wore dresses, but continued to wear them for the rest of their lives. Specifically, their "limbs" must be covered at all times. They weren't even allowed to refer to them as arms or legs…it would be scandalous! As the girls grew up, they were expected to learn all the things you would expect…piano, needlepoint, etc.
My favorite thing Lyndel told us about little children is that if the parents were entertaining guests, the children would be brought in in their best outfits and seated on little chairs. They were expected to remain sitting there throughout the visit, and just look cute. They were not supposed to move around, speak, anything! Hands in their laps, smiles on their face, "be seen and not heard." As you can imagine, this was quite a tale for our kids!
Finally, Lyndel took us out to her smithery and made the girls a pick for horseshoes. They all loved watching it. We even got to keep one as a souvenir.
As we left, we learned from Lyndel that when Conrad Warren passed away in 1993 at the age of 93, she basically made a deathbed promise to him that she would not leave the ranch. That she would continue to work for the NPS and be the expert on the ranch to continue its legacy. She actually had tears in her eyes as she told us this, and reiterated what a wonderful man he was.
All in all, this visit was such a surprise treat! All kids admitted that they enjoyed it. The girls really loved stopping by the working part of the ranch to see the eight-week old twin longhorn calves. We couldn't get too close, because the mother was nearby and would charge the fence if anyone came too close. We could still see them! They told us that if we could feel them, their horns were already starting.
After we left the ranch, we headed to our new favorite campsite. We camped at a KOA in Deer Lodge that was right alongside a river. Perfect for our new fishing poles! The camp host was so nice and friendly…even personally delivering our firewood for our evening s'mores. We got all set up, and then had to put together the fishing rods. We had NO CLUE of what to do! Our neighbor happened by, and we asked for a little help. Turns out he was retired from the Navy and an expert fisherman! He got all four kids set up with their poles, taught all of us how to tie the hooks on, and then continued to offer advice even though his wife and friends had dinner ready and were waiting. Such a nice guy!
After a perfect evening of fishing, ramen noodles and s'mores, we tucked in for another cold night. We are all surprised that we are sleeping MUCH better in the pop-up than we did in the hotels. Not only is the sleeping better, but the kids just love being able to get out into the fresh air and putz around. I am personally not a fan of trying to cook there, but this is no surprise since I don't cook much at home either! LOL!