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Life and livestock on the Little Snake

Wyoming man a fourth-generation rancher

Dan Olsen

— Montgomery Livestock has been operating on the Little Snake River near Dixon, Wyo., since founder Ike Montgomery came over from Northern Ireland in 1886 and purchased homesteads from early settlers.

The cattle ranch that exists today has come a long way since Randy Montgomery’s great-grandfather arrived in America.

Ike Montgomery raised Per-cheron workhorses on the Wyoming ranch.

For a number of years though, it was wild horses roaming the valley that brought income to the ranch.

“My grandfather, Milford, and Ike first caught wild horses to sell to the cavalry,” Randy Montgomery said. “They would drive them from here to Texas, and break them along the way.”

Gathering horses for the government was a year-round process, with each animal required by the U.S. Cavalry to be at least 16 hands tall.

Once 200 horses were rounded up, a group of four men would drive the herd south.

“They would run horses all summer, and then head for Texas,” Montgomery said. “Then they would catch the train and come home.”

Montgomery was seven years old when he began helping his grandfather gather horses. He recalls getting a nickel a pound for the animals, with a large mustang bringing in $50.

Montgomery ran horses until 1971 when President Richard Nixon signed the Wild Horse Act, a law that governed the management, protection and control of wild horses and burros.

That didn’t sit well with his Ike Montgomery.

“Granddad said, ‘This will be the ruination of this world,’ when the wild horse act passed,” Montgomery said.

The world survived, and the ranch that was home to 700 cattle in his grandfather’s day is scaled down to about 300 head today.

The hay crop is irrigated with Little Snake River water, and even in the best years, excess hay is held in reserve for tough times.

“Oh, we don’t sell any hay,” Montgomery said smiling. “Hay is better than money in the bank if you have a long winter.”

Learning that lesson the “hard way,” Montgomery said he sold hay for $60 per ton before the hard winter of 1983 and 1984. He wound up buying the same hay back at $80 per ton, and also had to haul it back from Meeker.

“That was a lesson we learned,” he said.

Grandfather Milford Mont-gomery was able to cut and store about 25 tons of hay for the winter back in his day. Today, the ranch harvests 900 tons of hay each season, feeding the herd, keeping some in reserve, and always ready to help out a neighbor.

“People borrow hay from me, a bale here or there,” Montgomery said. “They bring it back when they get their next hay crop.”

Randy Montgomery met his wife Nona in high school.

She attended Encampment High School, and he went to school in Baggs, “Just over the mountain,” she said.

A dozen years slipped by after high school with Nona living in Arizona before Randy “Went and brought her back,” on a cold winter day.

“It was 45 below zero when she came back,” he said. “I went out to feed the cows, and she had the cabin up to 100 degrees when I got home.”

Nona is an artist, painting and making leather-craft and spinning pottery on a wheel. She will spend six weeks on some projects before firing them in her kiln.

She has always been into crafts, and has her pottery on display at the Artisan Center in Baggs and the Little Snake River Museum in Savery, Wyo.

Randy’s artistic talent lies in his welding abilities – skills he picked up while attending school in Baggs.

“I learned to weld in Bud Willie’s vocational-agriculture class,” he said. “If you can’t weld, you maybe shouldn’t have a ranch.”

The couple raised three daughters on the ranch, and found the valley to be ideal for raising families.

“The Little Snake River Valley is unique,” Nona said. “It’s full of good people that take care of each other. If you need them, they’re here for you.”

Her husband echoed those sentiments.

“I love this valley,” Mont-gomery said. “It’s been good to me and my family. It’s a good place to grow up.”

Dan Olsen can be reached at 824-7031, ext.207, or dolsen@craigdailypress.com


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