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The Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site preserves an important piece of American Western history. The Open Range Cattle Era, from 1860-1890, gave rise to the legendary cowboy culture and helped to feed a growing nation.
Johnny Grant, a Canadian, first settled the land on which the ranch was built. His marriage to a Shoshone woman insured his peaceful coexistence with the Native Americans in the valley. He made a living driving cattle to market in Sacramento and built the original ranch house in Deer Lodge, Montana in 1862.
Conrad Kohrs moved to the territory in the 1850s without much besides knowledge of the butchering trade. He established himself and opened up several butcher shops where he bought cattle from Johnny Grant. In 1866, Grant sold his ranch and home to Kohrs and moved back to Canada.
Kohrs, along with his half-brother, built up a cattle ranching empire. By the 1890s, he was grazing cattle over 10 million acres and shipping 10,000 cattle a year to Chicago by rail. He became influential in Montana politics and played a part in the territory being granted statehood.
We’d driven a long way to visit the ranch and when we pulled into the parking lot in front of a tiny visitors center, I was worried we may have spent hours on the road for a 15 minute stop. Fortunately for the sake of marital harmony, there is much more to this park unit than meets the eye.
We signed up for a tour of the ranch house and explored the grounds while we waited for our tour time. In addition to the ranch house, there are several outbuildings to explore, livestock, and volunteers and rangers providing living history demonstrations.
We practiced our non-existent lassoing skills, sampled some ‘Cowboy Coffee’ made by the chuck wagon cook and watched the blacksmith make a gate latch out of a nail. My daughter got to make her own cattle brand out of foam.
The ranch house looks like an large, but unassuming country home on the outside. But once we stepped inside for the tour, we were blown away by the opulence. The docent explained that Kohrs would reward his wife with extravagant shopping trips in Chicago after enduring the annual cattle drive to the stockyards.
One huge marble statue in the living room was from the Egyptian exhibit at the Chicago World’s Fair. Everywhere we looked, there were ornate knick-knacks. The dining room table was set for 22 with fine china and silver that some hapless ranger has to polish on a regular basis.
Kohrs’ large desk had a unique hinged design that allowed it to be closed up and locked when he was away. There was a sort of press in his office that acted as a copy machine (I bet it was more reliable than the one in my office.) We weren’t allowed to take any photos inside the house.
Kohrs had expanded the house with a 5000 square foot addition, including a tub with running water and a flush toilet. Pretty unheard of in the wild west. Cattle ranching was lucrative for the Kohrs family.
I asked the docent how all of the belongings and furnishings had been so well-preserved. Most historical homes I’ve visited are partially restored with period-appropriate items that didn’t necessarily belong to the original occupants. After Kohrs’ death in 1920, the home and ranch passed to a trust company of which Conrad Kohr’s grandson was the head.
Conrad Kohrs Warren and his wife eventually bought the ranch out from the trust. They moved into a more modern house on the premises. In 1972, they donated the original ranch house and property to the NPS with all of the elder Kohr’s belongings intact.
Location: 266 Warren Ln, Deer Lodge, MT 59722
Designation: National Historic Site
Date designation declared: 8/9/1972
Date of my visit: 6/26/2018