Yellowstone Genealogy Forum


Yellowstone County Livestock History


Revised 20 November 2002

There many claims that the ranchers in Yellowstone and neighboring counties established leasing arrangements with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, at the Crow Indian Reservation, to take advantage of the massive land area that was essentially wasting away. This article summarizes the livestock trade during the early years prior to the eventual closing of lands in the South Hills area of Yellowstone County by homesteaders. Prior to that time, wagon roads had to be created to support this vast trade. However, just how large was that trade?

Most researchers believe that one sheepherder can manage between 2,500 and 3,000 head of sheep. In the local area it was stated that one sheep needed five acres of rangeland to exist[1].


Montana State Vital Statistics

Heads of Livestock in Tax Year

Tax Records for Year





























Some of the major Sheep men of the times were CM Bair, Charles Severans (Lake Basin), TA Snidow, Lee Simonsen, George A Martin, the Thomas Brothers, Rudolph Mott, Jim Elliott, George Perrie, Millard Trask, Louis Lehfeldt, Gus Evers, the Rea Brothers, Charles McDaniels, Charles Watkins, and Dan Slayton. Virtually all the land around Billing’s was devoted to the stock business and large herds of sheep roamed on lands that were later irrigated. One wagon could carry 6,000 pounds of wool. Four to six oxen were used to pull each wagonload. Much of the wool that was shipped back east came from ranches in the Lake Basin and Livingston areas. At one time, NPR shipped 13,000,000 pounds of wool[6]. The territorial auditor in 1865 stated that there were 1,796 head of sheep.

During this same time period literally hundreds of ranchers held grazing rights leases on the Crow reservation. ID O’Donnell, in 1905 discovered that nine ranchers had vast holdings, which they held for several years: Hysham Cattle Co, Paul McCormick, Will Rea, Harry Snider, Heinrich, EL Dana, CM Bair, Kendrick and Spear Brothers[7]. Numerous trails and support systems had to be setup to handle all the work required to maintain these vast groups of animals. [CM Bair was the only one to have vast holding of sheep on both domain land and the reservation land during these early years. His leases ran from 1902 to 1910[8].] The reservation was opened to grazing lease rights running from fine to ten cents per acre. Additionally many ranchers leased private holdings directly from the Indian landowners, and purchased extra forage if needed. The reservation land could support 2,700,000 head of sheep[9].

After the South Hills area was opened for homesteading Gus Barth, Johnny Ross, Jimmy Ash and John Clanton managed sheep herds in the area.

In 1905 about 250,000 head of sheep were wintered near Billings, and fed alfalfa. Before this time, they were wintered on the open ranges, and many died due to the extreme cold.


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[1] ID O’Donnell and Agnes Jones “Crow Country”, land leases, undated.

[2] Excerpts from MARVELS OF THE NEW WEST by William M. Thayer.

[3] Century of Politics on the Yellowstone “Small

[4] Excerpts from MARVELS OF THE NEW WEST by William M. Thayer.

[5] [Disclaimer Accepted]

[6] Landmarks, pg 24, Volume I, 1975

[7] ID O’Donnell and Agnes Jones “Crow Country”, land leases, undated.

[8] Bair Museum history site information. [Managed a total of 300,000 head of sheep on both domain land and reservation lands.]

[9] ID O’Donnell and Agnes Jones “Crow Country”, land leases, undated.