Grant-Kohrs Ranch
Cultural Resources Statement
NPS Logo


A. Establishment and Development Limits

Congress authorized the Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site on 25 August 1972, in Public Law 92-406, in order "to provide an understanding of the frontier cattle era of the Nation's history, to preserve the Grant-Kohrs Ranch, and to interpret the nationally significant values thereof for the benefit and inspiration of future generations." A total development ceiling of $1,800,000 was established as well as a total ceiling of $350,000 for land acquisition, to encompass not more than 2,000 acres in the Deer Lodge Valley, Powell County, Montana, where the park is located.

1. General Site Description

The site consists of 214 acres held in fee simple and 1,394 acres in scenic easements limiting utilization of surrounding lands to the traditional uses of haying and livestock grazing. The site is located just on the north edge of the town of Deer Lodge, Montana, and is roughly rectangular, with small irregular southern and eastern portions. The eastern edge of the bulk of the property is flanked by a double railroad line, running north-south, which separates the historic ranch from the modern facilities of the Con Warren Ranch, part of the scenic easement. The scenic easement also covers lands adjoining the park boundaries on the north and west. The land on the south is city owned. One parcel of fee simple land to the east of the tracks is owned, and is used for a visitor contact station, restrooms, and parking.

B. Historical Structures

The historical site consists of thirty-four buildings and twenty-one other structures, which are dominated by the ranch house, built in 1862 and added to in 1890. Close to the ranch house on the north is a bunkhouse, with small barns situated close to it. West of the ranch house lay the west feedlot and corral. North of the bunkhouse and the other nearby buildings are two fenced fields, the northernmost of which is dominated by a cow shed. The total number of existing Structures, including feed bunkers, squeeze chutes, and buildings, is fifty-five. At least twelve ranch structures are either no longer extant or have been moved from their original locations. Most of the buildings are clustered close to the ranch house, the front of which is on a generally equal level with the twin rail road tracks. The rear of the ranch house, which is the 1890 addition and is attached at right angles to the original 1862 dwelling, rests on lower land, often poorly drained. Many of the barns and other structures sit on this lower elevation as well.

1. Site Evaluation

The ranch is unique as a park for a number of reasons. It is the first historical site set aside by Congress to commemorate the cattle industry and its history in America. Too, it is unusually complete, with many of its original furnishings in place: the ranch house still contains much of its original furniture and other furnishings, and much of the horse equipment and many ranch vehicles are still stored in the barns. The documentary story, too, is intact because the last owner of the ranch, Conrad Kohrs Warren, a grandson of Conrad Kohrs, permitted the papers—most of which are still in his private custody — to be microfilmed for use by researchers at the park. Because of this integrity, the ranch presents an almost unparalleled opportunity for thorough research and interpretation.

C. Terrain

The terrain of the park varies only slightly, but even the relatively small differences in elevation make a profound difference in the ground. The small parcel of land across the tracks—east of the ranch house—on which the visitor service development is located, is relatively well drained and open grassy land. Across the railroad tracks to the west, and on a generally similar elevation, are the older part of the ranch house, the bunkhouse, and a few other ranch buildings. But the rear of the ranch house, as has been noted earlier, rests on a lower elevation, as do many of the ranch service buildings, corrals, and sheds. This lower ground is poorly drained, and presents serious problems in structural care and preservation, which will be discussed in detail later in this report (Architectural Data section of the Historic Structure Report). A small but generally active stream named Johnson Creek runs through the lower level of the park, as does another, closer to the ranch house, called Fred Burr Creek. They join and flow into Deer Lodge River, the west boundary of the park, through the west corral and feedlot.

The grounds adjacent to the streams are often soggy and waterlogged, and throughout the lower elevations in the park the groundwater always remains close to the surface. An irrigation ditch, the Kohrs-Manning Ditch, runs through the park on an irregular north-south line and carries water during the summer months.

D. Visitor Services

Visitor services are presently located on the eastern parcel of land across the railroad tracks. They are housed in two refurbished log structures removed from the "upper ranch" and now in different hands. One is a small visitor contact station, the other a restroom building. A parking lot has recently been paved on the eastern side of the open field in which the two log structures sit. A walkway begins at the visitor contact station and ends near the front of the ranch house. This is intended for visitor entry. However, the two railroads—the Burlington Northern and the Milwaukee Road—who own the twin tracks separating the ranch buildings from the visitor contact area have not yet constructed the underpasses, and until this is done, the visitor pathway cannot be used.

(The overpasses are to be installed by May 1977.) The visitor contact area also possesses some foundation and rubble remains of a few structures associated with the ranch history. These remains comprise the Tom Stuart Cabin site. These have been avoided in emplacing the two log structures and the walkway.

E. Historical Summary

The history of the ranch spans the period 1862 to 1972, embracing the range cattle era from its beginning to the current stock-raising and marketing system in America. A fur trapper turned cattle buyer named John Francis Grant—"Johnnie" Grant—had the main ranch house and the bunkhouse built in 1862. An entrepreneur named Carsten Conrad Kohrs—"Con" Kohrs—purchased Grant's ranch in 1866, including buildings, improvements, and stock. This ushered in the dynamic era of the ranch, and Grant's brief tenure there pales in comparison to it.

Con Kohrs had entered Montana in 1862, the year Grant built the ranch. Kohrs became a butcher employed by a local businessman, but soon owned the operation, and within three years operated as the owner of numerous small cattle and sheep herds and four butcher shops. He purchased the Grant Ranch to centralize and graze his herds more efficiently. Kohrs continued to develop parallel business ventures, concentrating on mining and stock raising. By 1871 Kohrs and his half brother John Bielenberg had increased their range cattle herds to a considerable size, and that year began to introduce high quality registered stock— Short Horn cattle—into Montana to improve the quality of the herds. They directed the growth of the herds as the range cattle industry grew following the Civil War, and were among the very first to graze cows east of the divide on the rich grasses of the Montana plains and river valleys, as well as being among the initial breeders to introduce Hereford cattle into Montana late in the 1870s.

In 1883 Kohrs and Bielenberg purchased a large part of the growing DHS ranch in what was then the largest single cattle purchase in Montana history. The disastrous winter of 1886-87 followed, hurting the Kohrs-Bielenberg herds as badly as those of other Montana ranchers. But the partners, using credit readily advanced to the well-known and successful business duo, managed to recover from the large cattle kill of the bad winter and soon reaped good profits in the Chicago cattle markets.

In the 1890s Kohrs and Bielenberg grazed ever growing numbers of cattle, while in Deer Lodge the home ranch of the wide-flung cattle domain grew larger as well. By the turn of the century the ranchlands, both those purchased and those leased, totalled about 27,000 acres. By that time Conrad Kohrs had become one of the best-known men in Montana, serving in the state legislature, helping to form the Montana Stockgrower's Association, and acting in numerous other ways as an "elder statesman" in the eyes of his business and political peers.

In 1900 Con and his wife Augusta moved to Helena, leaving John Bielenberg at the Deer Lodge home ranch. Then in 1915 Kohrs and Bielenberg began selling off their huge holdings: the DHS in central Montana, acreage they had purchased about 1900 in Dawson County in eastern Montana, and finally, most of the home ranch. By the early 1920s only about 1,000 acres remained, that part of the home ranch containing the ranch house and ancillary buildings. Kohrs died in 1920 and John Bielenberg in 1922. The Kohrs-Bielenberg interests then came under the capable guidance of Augusta Kohrs, Con's widow, with immediate control and operations conducted by the directors of the Conrad Kohrs Company, which by this time owned all of the Kohrs interests.

Beginning in the spring of 1932, Con and Augusta Kohrs's grandson, Conrad Kohrs Warren, took over the management of the ranch, which had shrunk to no more than 1,000 acres. Rejuvenating the old place and adding to its boundaries, Con Warren soon had nationally famous herds of Hereford cattle and Belgian horses, which he sold to much of the northwest United States. Warren continued this activity until 1958 when he dispersed the registered Herefords. He had sold the Belgian horses in 1940. The old home ranch of Kohrs and Bielenberg, now the Warren Ranch, then produced commercial cattle until Con Warren sold the historic portions of the ranch to the National Park Foundation, and they, in turn sold it to the National Park Service after Congress established Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site in 1972.

F. Historical and Cultural Themes

1. Historical

The major historical theme concerns the range cattle industry in western America. This is the focus of the entire site, and the reason for its inclusion among National Park Service-managed areas.

Subordinate themes within the range cattle industry include the cattle trails; the grazing, roundup, transportation, and marketing of the animals; breeding to improve the quality of the cattle; time effect of the winter of 1886-87 on the range cattle industry; the closing of the range in the early 20th century; and old (19th century) ranching and stock-growing practices as opposed to modern techniques. Subordinate themes within the general history, of the site include the daily life and use of the furnishings at the various structures; family life at the ranch; and the cowboy culture associated with it.

2. Architectural

The architectural theme is unified only in that all of the structures— some are buildings, some are cattle feeding and handling devices—are tied to the ranch operations in one way or another. The site contains three architectural themes: a utilitarian and vernacular design theme in most of the working buildings; sophisticated log construction in the older part of the ranch house traceable to techniques used in eastern Canada; and mid-Victorian design elements in the brick addition to the ranch house. The mechanization of farming as it influenced farm structure design is reflected in the structures erected in the 1930s. The overall theme is one of continuity according to the operational needs of a western Montana ranch.

3. Archeological and Anthropological

Cultural remains of the American Indian are present at the park, but are removed from the public eye because of their size and location. They appear to be less than important, and only one archeological site is on National Park Service-controlled land; the others are in the scenic easement areas. There were virtually no subsurface remains at the one location tested archeologically in 1975, and none of the sites present any unified cultural or historical theme.

Historic Resource Study | Cultural Resources Statement | Historic Structure Report

<<< Previous <<< Contents >>> Next >>>

Last Updated: 28-Aug-2006