Montana and North Dakota are huge ranching and farming States both presently and historically.
Teddy Roosevelt came to North Dakota after the death of his wife and mother on the same day.
A man not to stand still, but who was overcome with grief made the decision to become a rancher long before he was a Rough Rider and a President.
Charles M. Russells amazing paintings of Ranchers, Cowboys, and Native American cultures give great insight on what it must of been like a long time ago. Iconic and amazing glimpses into history.
The first rancher I met was in Montana. Actually it was his daughter on July 4th. Zeusy and I were looking for a spot to eat and sleep when two young ladies in a tandem kayak came down river. I had not seen people in well over a week.
Melissa Turnbull took an instant liking to the handsome one of our party, Zeusy. It just so happened Melissa had a German Shepherd and well once you are partnered with one everyone you see becomes special.
When I inquired if she knew whose land I had plopped myself on and if they would mind an overnight camper, she responded with a big “Oh yea, this is my parents ranch, and they would not mind.”
Melissa pointed further down river and a group of people gathered around a couple of boats. She said to come on over because her family and friends were celebrating the 4th of July as she and her kayak partner began paddling that direction.
I secured the canoe, an got into some dry clothes.
Soon a gentleman showed up on a quad runner. It was Melissa’s father, Mr. Elliot Turnbull.
We introduced ourselves and I soon learned that he had been originally ranching/farming in Taylorville, Illinois and he and his wife had moved here in the early 80’s to start the life of a Montana ranchers. He also said he had been to St. Louis often to watch baseball games he enjoyed.
I hopped on the back of the quad and he drove me over to the celebration. I was introduced to everyone, who showed interest in my journey. Little did they know I had a keen interest in learning about them.
I learned that they had been working hard collecting the hay so needed for their cattle in winter.
At this latitude the agriculture season is short with the first freeze of the season around September 15th.
I also learned that the Missouri river freezes solid around December 1st. The frozen river is then used as an alternative roadway due so few bridges that cross the Missouri in this part of Montana. Can you imagine?
He also spoke of the flood of 2011, and how it reshaped cutbanks, sandbars, and beaches.
Some losing land, others gaining many acres by the torrent of a flooding Missouri river.
Soon they were off to celebrate the 4th even further someplace else. I then retired to a stormy night with Zeusy on the Turnball ranch.
The next rancher was in North Dakota. The unfortunate event of Zeusy getting impaled led to my introduction to Mr. Herb Grenz on the Grenz Ranch.
Herb was one of the fine men waiting for us in the dark of the night as I landed on his ramp into the Missouri river used for pumps and pipelines for water so necessary to grow any living thing.You see a lot of these contraptions as you paddle this part of the Missouri.
Herb guided us into a safe landing using a flashlight. The area was full of dead trees and driftwood.
While riding out of the area I asked Herb how long he had been ranching. He chuckled a little as he said ” About 80 years.” He was not putting me on.
While Zeusy was recovering Herb moved the canoe weighed down with all our gear out of the water. The winds were high and Lake Oahe’s infamous waves could play havoc on the boat.
He even took the time to call Don’s motel to tell me not to come out because it was unsafe to paddle.
When Game Warden Erik Schmidt returned us to our canoe we met Herb again. A fun, firey conversation about politics and life in general was struck up.
Herb then described how he had fed a herd of 40 deer during North Dakotas serious winter. He also spoke of having to put down two fawns near a barn. The Winter had done them in. To weak and dying of starvation it was the humane thing to do.
But I sensed Herb’s dislike at euthanizing the fawns. An unpleasant experience I am sure.
I retrieved my canoe and gear but not after a friendly handshake goodbye.
I got the sense from these two men that little has changed since the time of Charlie Russell. The quad runner has replaced the horse but the honorable profession is still dictated by the angle of the sun. The change of the seasons, and the mood of the planet as they do the necessary work that feeds America.
And thank you both Gentlemen!