Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 12-2-2004


Two dominant trends characterize the ranching enterprise in the Mountain West during the twentieth century: the long-term continuity of ranching practices, families, and cultural habits on the one hand, and the volatility of the powerful structures that shape ranching, including economics, the environment, and political and social dynamics, on the other. This study describes the history of livestock production in the Upper Yellowstone Valley of Park County, Montana, focusing on business practices, land tenure patterns, ranch work and the environment, and on ranchers’ relationships with wildlife. I found that land ownership change and economic volatility have characterized the ranch landscape since the late nineteenth century. From the late nineteenth through the mid-twentieth centuries, continuity on the ranch landscapes of the Upper Yellowstone benefited from an interlocking constellation of cultural narratives and material and financial practices that enabled ranchers to react to and accommodate change. A focus on the potential for economic prosperity, frugality and self-sacrifice, and neighbor-to-neighbor cooperation helped to sustain roughly three generations of ranchers in the Upper Yellowstone Valley despite ongoing financial and material hardships and regular land ownership change. However, three factors converged in the second half of the twentieth century to undermine the systems that had previously operated to encourage continuity: the mechanization of ranch operations, the post-war recreation boom, and the expansion of a wildlife conservation imperative beyond the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park.