9/7/16 (Wednesday) in Deer Lodge, MT (Indian Creek RV Campground – Good Sam)
On our way by 8:45 am Mountain Time. Sure glad we went to bed according to MT, because our bodies were still thinking it was 7:45 (PT). Like yesterday we were on I-90 E the whole way, although this time it was for 3 hours instead of 2. It was even all cloudy, with chance of rain as well. Still on a curvy Rocky Mountain road with lots of pine trees, lovely river views, and horses and cattle in the valleys. Arrived at 11:50, with no adventures!
A word about Montana: Justin and Jamie lived here while she attended the University of Montana in Missoula. He commented then that it seemed strange that you could drive east (from Spokane) to end up further west (as in culturally). The Silver Dollar Bar was certainly indicative of that culture, filled with cowboy and cowgirl items, with western music guiding you along. Their cafe had a lot of that home cookin’, chuck wagon feel also. Unlike the wagon trains of old, the new Montana gives you 80 mph speed limits (65 for trucks). There was a time when there were no speed limits, as I recall.
Once we were checked in, we had lunch (Silver Dollar Cafe leftovers-still yummy).
Next we took off for the Grant-Kohrs Ranch NHS, which was nearby. The story starts with Johnny Grant (French Canadian) who would sell one of his fat, strong cows in exchange for 2 worn out, skinny cows to the settlers headed for Oregon. Over several years he doubled his herd each year, fattening them on the verdant grasses in Deer Lodge Valley. Apparently he even founded that city. Meanwhile another immigrant, Conrad Kohrs (German) had come west in search of gold but found his skills as a butcher paid better. Soon he was looking for a source of cattle to work with. Thus each man found the other a perfect fit for their needs. In time Conrad accrued enough wealth to buy Grant’s Ranch (really consisting of a small house he’d built on fertile land). At that time (1859) cattle roamed the open range, so he didn’t own the land his cattle pastured on. Once Conrad owned all that cattle and the small house Johnny had built, he grew the business even larger. He met Augusta in Chicago and married her in 3 weeks. He had known her in Germany, so you could say it was meant to be. They were tall people for the time, building a large ranch house fit to their height and filled with fine furniture from Chicago which they visited each time they took their cattle there. I have photos of the ranch, but I wasn’t allowed to take any inside the ranch house. All those furnishings were the actually possessions of the Kohr family over 150 years. They liked keeping track of things and eventually donated (plus sold some of) the place to the NPS.
Conrad’s half brother, John Bielenberg was a full partner in their business interest, sort of the Operations Manager. Augusta and Conrad had 3 children, 2 girls and a boy. The boy, William, went to college in preparation for taking over the ranch but he died of appendicitis, so those hopes were dashed. Thankfully, Katherine’s son, Conrad Warren, took to the ranch and carried on for it’s remaining years.
They exhibited quite a few forms of transportation; buggies, wagons, surries, and sleighs. I’ll just share the picture of the “Fifth Wheel Wagon” that they used for parades and advertisement. It was pulled by draft horses. You can almost picture those horses pulling in the harnesses. Next you see a poster showing the different size breeds of horses. They kept their Shire horse in his own building!
We even got to enjoy real “cowboy coffee” at the chuck wagon. I liked it!
A little further on, in the town of Deer Lodge, is the Old Montana Prison. There was an entrance for $12 (with Good Sam discount) each. Personally, they seemed to have left this prison to deteriorate since they abandoned it in 1979. Much of it just crumbling and peeling away. Very depressing and ugly. Since I like things to look nice I’ve chosen photos of the nicer images.
The chapel is pictured below. Notice the gun port in the wall at the left. The next photo is of the tunnel that’s behind that wall, where the guards could walk and observe (or shoot into?) any disruptions on the other side. The last images are of their TV room and mess hall.
We saw this old car with actual floor boards! Then John went to see the Auto Museum on his own. I was exhausted, so I headed for our car, to rest.
Needless to say, we took it easy when we got home, enjoying a simple supper. Travel again tomorrow-this time to our Yellowstone campground.