John Bielenberg

Image of John Bielenberg.

"Any man who would lie, cheat, or steal, isn't a man."

John (Johney) Bielenberg, Conrad Kohrs' younger half-brother, was born in Holstein, Germany, in l846. Like the rest of his family, he emigrated to America in the l840s. He was eighteen when he came to Montana Territory in l864 to assist Kohrs with his gold camp butcher shops. It was the beginning of a partnership which lasted for over a half-century, and encompassed a vast cattle empire, highly productive mining ventures, advances in horse breeding, and a mutual commitment to public service.

Those who judge a book by the cover might dismiss his contribution to the Kohrs & Bielenberg operation, but Kohrs never did. Johney had no time or patience for the outer show of wealth. His dress was that of an outdoorsman who preferred comfort to style.

His contributions to the livestock industry were many. Among them was his development of the Big Circle horses. Breeding thoroughbred studs to hardy native mares, Bielenberg bred cow ponies which could do a twenty-mile circle in half a day during the roundup. This was a huge territory to cover in trailless, broken country, where cattle scattered over two million acres within a single grazing district.

These forerunners of today's quarter horses were in high demand throughout the territory. Johney occasionally raced his thoroughbreds against those of other prominent breeders, including copper king Marcus Daly.

Kohrs and Bielenberg made copies of all their outgoing correspondence. Though Kohrs was popularly known as "the cattle baron," nearly all the hundreds of letters about cattle were in fact written by Bielenberg. Ironically, more letters written by Kohrs involved mining ventures and investments than they did cattle. The two men complemented each other. Their mutual trust was implicit and abiding.

Together they ran a mainly steer operation, buying and grazing two-year-olds on the open range, before shipping them to market as three- and four-year-olds. With the close of the open range, Johney oversaw the gradual transition to a cow/calf operation, with a breeding herd providing new stock to replace cattle shipped to Chicago. In a 1900 letter, Johney correctly predicted "Herefords are the coming breed for Montana."

His correspondence written prior to his death from cancer at age 74 show he was still actively engaged in marketing and sale of Kohrs & Bielenberg cattle.

Like his brother, Bielenberg was active in Montana territorial and state legislatures and the Montana Stockgrowers Association. With his death in 1922, the last tie to the open range was cut. The home ranch entered an uncertain caretaker era, managed as a component of the Kohrs Trust.

Last updated: February 24, 2015

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266 Warren Lane
Deer Lodge, MT 59722


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