Montana Historical Society

Big Sky ~ Big History

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Montana: Stories of the Land

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Chapter 8 - Livestock and the Open Range, 1850-1887

Learning From Historical Documents

Letter from Albert Ronne to James Fergus, November 1892. James Fergus Family papers, 1857-1971. Manuscript Collection 28. [Box 2 Folder 5]. Montana Historical Society Research Center. Archives. Excerpted in Not In Precious Metals Alone: A Manuscript History of Montana (Helena, 1976): 102.

Context for Albert Ronne's Letter:

After 1887, Montana's livestock industry gradually changed character. Cattle raising returned to more local ownership and reduced herds. Cowboys who once served large companies either departed Montana, changed their life style or ventured out on their own. No longer "riding the line" for $40 a month, those who remained became range managers on their own spreads. Albert Ronne, one such cowhand, started anew at Woody Island creek on recently opened Indian land. A remnant of the open range still remained north of the Milk River and he took advantage of the opportunity. His operation also incorporated techniques that became increasingly accepted by the industry including cutting hay and irrigating land.

About Primary Sources:

Letters, diary entries, census records, newspapers, and photographs are all examples of "primary sources," material created at a particular moment in the past that has survived into the present. Primary sources can provide clues to the past. They are our windows into an earlier time. The Montana Historical Society contains thousands of primary sources. In the 1970s, archivists collected just a few snippets into a book, which they called Not in Precious Metals Alone: A Manuscript History of Montana. That book is now on the web in its entirety. The above sample from that book relates directly to this chapter.

Bronc to Breakfast
Detail, Bronc to Breakfast, C. M. Russell, Montana Historical Society Museum
Cheyenne Cowboys
Detail, Cheyenne Cowboys, William Gollings, Montana Historical Society Museum