The Bledsoe Ranch
The Bledsoe family purchased the Zeta White ranch on the north fork of the Moreau river, southeast of Buffalo in 1980. The Bledsoe Cattle Company headquarters are located at Wray, Colorado. There they ranch, farm and run a private feedlot to feed and finish their own cattle. Currently there are four generations actively involved in the operation ranging in age from 99 to 12. They converted some of their Colorado pastures to irrigated farm ground in the late 60’s so they needed to expand their rangeland. After looking in Montana and South Dakota, they purchased the ranch from Mrs. White. Later, the Bledsoes expanded the ranch by acquiring the Schmaltz Ranch. Tom and Madonna Costello moved to the ranch in 1982 and are still there today. They manage the day-to-day operations along with their son Jake Costello, his wife Holly, and children Kelsi and Cade. Dakota and Morgan Seymour and children, Remuda and River are also involved.
Bledsoes purchase weaning calves every fall to winter and run as grass cattle the following year. Most calves are owned over one year and have just about tripled their weight at slaughter. All cattle are owned by Bledsoe Cattle Company. They stock the South Dakota ranch to best utilize the forage conditions. They have purchased the calf crop of some ranches for over 30 years. They have also been fortunate to buy great calves from SD neighbors for many years. Over 2000 head are taken to the ranch in South Dakota where they are wintered and then summered. In the fall, yearlings are shipped to the Bledsoe feedlot and fed to a finished weight. They have been marketing all their cattle through Cargill. They have been able to keep their costs down by owning cattle longer and using compensatory gain in their favor. Their goal has been to come off grass with over 900# steers and 800# heifers. This is a business model that has been fairly successful for them.
Over the years, they have improved their water systems by adding submersible wells, pipelines, and using solar units on some of their wells. This has improved cattle grazing distribution and increased stocking rates. Most all the cattle movement is still done with horses. They do use side by sides to go around fences (Which is hard for a cowboy to do!) Besides being a little more mechanized now, mainly tractors pulling bale processors and cake feeders on pickups, life on the ranch is just about the same as it always was.
The ranch amazes the Bledsoes. Even in times of low rainfall, the grass produces a lot of pounds of beef.
Bob Bledsoe says they are so blessed to have the Costellos and Seymours caring for the ranch. They are wonderful people. Also, Bob says they are privileged to ranch in an area with such great neighbors.
For 40 years, Tom & Madonna Costello have lived on and managed the Bledsoe Ranch southeast of Buffalo.
Tom grew up between Scenic and Interior, SD. His Dad had a ranch in the Badlands and Grandpa had a ranch on Elk Creek near Piedmont. They ran both ranches at the same time. Madonna also grew up down on Elk Creek. They both attended High School in Sturgis. Tom graduated one year before Madonna. They were married five days after she graduated in 1973.
They ran the liquor and grocery store in Piedmont for two years. The two ranches were sold in 1975 and they moved to Montana. Tom worked on a ranch near Winifred along the Missouri River for three years. Tom and Madonna moved to Belle Fourche and Tom worked at the sale barn and American Colloid for a couple of years.
Bledsoes bought the ranch southeast of Buffalo in 1979 and Tom & Madonna moved there in 1980. They have three sons: Jake, Tommy and Matthew. Jake and his family are also on the ranch. Tommy and his family live in Sundance, WY. Matthew and his family live in Rozet, WY.
Tom and the Bledsoes run yearlings and take them to the feedlot in the fall. They start buying calves in October and then ship August through October. They buy a lot of contract cattle each year out of Wyoming, South Dakota and Montana. They buy from the sale barn in January and February after they’ve been weaned.
Tom and Madonna also run their own cow/calf operation on leased ground on the east side of the Buttes. They sell to Bledsoes and keep replacement heifers.
Bledsoes have expanded the ranch buying more land and now put up a lot more feed. They summer between 2800 – 3000 steers and winter 1500 – 2000.
They have put in a lot of wells over the years. The Moreau River runs all the way through to the north end and never goes dry. They run one yearling to 9-10 acres.
Tom has been very active in the community. He was on the High School Rodeo Board for 14 years, President for three years and on the Board of Directors. He helped the kids in bronc and bareback riding any chance he had. He’s been on the Board of Directors for the Western South Dakota Buckaroos and President for a term. Tom is also a member of the South Dakota Stockgrowers, R-Calf and Cattle USA. Bledsoes and Costellos provided the cattle for cutting events for many years.
Tom says the last 40 years went by too fast. It’s been a good living there on the ranch and was a great place to raise kids.
The Grubbing Hoe Ranch
Charles and Kate Matson started the Grubbing Hoe Ranch in Harding County in 1885 or 1886. They settled about 15 miles southwest of present-day Buffalo near Jerry Creek. Charles and Kate had seven children: Albert, Jennie, Ernest, Sandy, Amanda, Elmer and Ted. In 1904 or 1905, the Matson family moved further south to the North Moreau area, where the ranch still operates today. In the World War I days, the Matsons raised remount horses for military use. They also ran some cattle.
Ted Matson took over the ranch in the 1930’s and began running sheep. He added a herd of cattle along with the sheep in the 1940’s. Ted married Bertha Fowler in 1940. Bertha was previously married to Charles Fowler and they had five children: Marion, Charles Jr. “Chuck”, Eleanor, Phyllis and Leet. Charles Fowler owned the first Standard Oil business in Buffalo. He freighted between Buffalo and Bowman, ND with horses and later with trucks.
Ted and Bertha had a son name James “Jim” in 1941. Chuck, Leet and Jim all served in the Navy.
Leet married Maurine Brengle in 1961. In 1971, they moved to the north part of the ranch. That ranch was traded in 2006, for the Junek ranch near Redig. The Junek ranch had already joined the main portion of the Grubbing Hoe Ranch. Leet and Maurine have three children: Ty, Aaron and Teddi.
The Matsons and Fowlers expanded the ranch several times, including part of the old Ward Van Horn Ranch which is where Ty Fowler lives today and also the former Jeckell ranch in the East Short Pines.
Ty has two children: Kendall and Logan and Melissa has a son, Kane Hill. Kane is married to Victoria and they have a daughter named Poppy.
Leet and Maureen are still part owners of the ranch, but now reside in Belle Fourche, SD. Ty and Melissa manage the Grubbing Hoe Ranch along with having two full time employees.
By 1996, the sheep were completely phased out and more cattle were brought into the operation. The ranch currently runs a cow/calf and yearling operation. The mature cows calve unassisted on the range in May and June. They do not sell any calves and sell them all as yearlings. The goal is to sell the steers weighing over 1,000 pounds and some spayed heifers that usually weigh over 900 pounds. Occasionally, they buy feeder cattle to put with their own herd if the grass conditions warrant. They raise their own replacements. Ty and Melissa only use horses to work their livestock.
Rotational grazing has really helped to keep grass. There has been a lot of cross fencing done on the ranch. They have ran a good amount of water line which they believe has helped increase their calf weights. They rotate pastures every couple of weeks and still leave grass behind.
Ty and Melissa are traditional but progressive, too. They hope to keep moving forward by raising better cattle and growing their operation.
When asked about the best part of living and ranching in Harding County, Ty said, “We neighbor and work with people a lot from Harding and Butte County. We are so lucky to be amongst some of the greatest people. We wouldn’t be able to manage without the help of these neighbors. The best way to have good neighbors is to be a good neighbor and we have awesome neighbors! Another benefit to living here is the short strong grass that helps the cattle do so well.”
Both sides of Ty’s family started out very early on in Harding County – the Matsons and the Brengles.
2021 marks the 135th year for the Grubbing Hoe Ranch in Harding County and also Leet and Maurine’s 60th wedding anniversary. The Fowlers plan to have a celebration in June. (1/13/21)
The Price Ranch
Long Pines Land & Livestock
Near Camp Crook, SD lies Long Pines Land and Livestock, owned and operated by Deb Brown and Larry Licking. Deb grew up on the nation’s largest purebred Rambouillet sheep ranch in Northwestern South Dakota which is where her interest in using production records and genetics started. She has an eye for photography and captures beautiful images of life on the ranch.
Larry grew up on a ranch near Mullen, Nebraska. In 1956, his family purchased a ranch near Buffalo, SD and moved to Harding County. He has raised commercial Angus and Hereford cattle and owns a trucking business. Larry is happiest when in the saddle on a good horse watching his cattle graze!
Deb and Larry bought the ranch in January of 2000. Deb’s son, Sterling is also an active part of Long Pines Land & Livestock. They started with a commercial cattle herd but later turned their focus to registered cattle, including Irish Black and Irish Red females, replacement heifers and registered bulls. They offer purebred Irish Blacks and Irish Reds cattle through bull and semen sales, and female and embryo sales. Deb and Larry also raise registered Quarter Horses that have been successful in the National Reined Cow Horse Association, roping, speed events and everyday ranch use.
Over time, Deb and Larry have increased their overall carrying capacity by developing water resources, implementing rotational grazing systems and improving the genetics in their cattle herd. Their ranch straddles the Montana/South Dakota border with the ranch house being a stone’s throw from the state line. The Long Pines offer protection from the north west and adds to the beautiful landscape. The unique drainage from the Long Pines feeds a century old irrigation system of dykes that waters hay meadows and feeds sub-irrigated fields on the ranch. (12/17/20)
The Painter Ranch
In 1895 Lewis Levi Painter trailed in a herd of cattle with the CY Cattle Company from Wyoming to South Dakota. The CY headquarters were on the West side of the Little Missouri River. Lewis homesteaded on 160 acres on the East side of the Little Missouri River which is where the Painter Ranch headquarters are to this day.
In 1902 Lewis married May Bovell. They had three sons: Joe, Fred and Preston. Joe married Mildred Ellis and they had four children: May Ruth, JoAnne, Dolly and Paul.
Lewis Levi and family made a living by running a few cows and breaking horses which they sold to the army during World War I. It wasn’t until the 1930s when cattle started playing a larger role on the ranch. He would feed with a team in the morning until about noon, then would spend the rest of the day riding horse twelve miles, spending the night in a cabin to get up in the morning and feed another group of cattle with a team. Then ride the twelve miles back home to do it all over again. The cattle weren’t worth much, so they shot rabbits and sold the fur to help buy groceries!
In 1955 Joe and Paul bought out Preston’s share of the ranch and ended up with two places. Paul married Marilyn Scott in 1956 and had four children: Laurie, Cindy, Joe and Judy. Joe’s family remains on the homestead today.
Joe met Cindy Schutt while attending BHSU. After graduating in 1983, they married and had three children: Jessica, Paul Jay and Joey.
In 1975 Paul married LuAnn Evridge. They ranched with Joe and Cindy until 1992 when Paul passed away unexpectedly. Several years later, Joe and Cindy were able to purchase Painter’s, Inc.
Today the ranch consists of Black Angus cow/calf pairs, grass yearlings, quarter horses, sheep and buffalo. The Painters raise replacement heifers and bulls that are sold to the public and they also keep many for themselves to ensure a great herd. Joe and his family continually work on improving the ranch from hay fields to water tanks to stockades. They have cross-fenced many pastures to improve grazing management and practice proper rotational grazing.
The Painters acquired more land whenever given the opportunity. Over 100 years and 6 generations later, the Painter Ranch continues to grow.
Joe and Cindy hope that at least one if not all their grandkids will come back to the ranch. They feel the main reason to stay in the business is to keep passing it on to the next generation. Joe says the highlight of his childhood was working every day on the ranch with his Grandpa, which is what his grandkids do now.
When asked about the best part of ranching in Harding County Joe says, “The best parts are the people – your neighbors. When you meet someone on the road, they wave every time. You won’t find that in the cities. We are pretty blessed to live where we do.” (12/10/20)
The Gilbert Angus Ranch
The Gilbert Angus Ranch was homesteaded in the late 1800s and now has its 6th generation involved in ranching operations.
The Gilbert family was one of the first families to settle in Harding County. Riley Gilbert and his family rode the immigrant train from Iowa to Deadwood, SD. After arriving in Deadwood, the family trailed cattle across the gumbo of western South Dakota to soon end up in the “Short Pines” of Harding County. Riley’s son, Parker Gilbert, went on to start his own headquarters place—the place Ray and Linda Gilbert now call home. Parker Gilbert had five boys who moved to various areas of Harding County. One of the five sons, Frank, moved to his own place just across the highway from his dad's. In late 1894 Frank and his wife Louise took out a land patent on the headquarters place and their own place across the highway. The place Ray and Linda call home was a Desert Claim that Louise was able to take out to help combine the two places. Between the two places they were able to run about 5,000 head of sheep.
Ray Gilbert’s parents, Lloyd and Helga lived on the headquarter place and transitioned from sheep to Angus cattle. After Lloyd Gilbert passed away in 1962, Helga, Ray, and Ray’s sister Helen operated the ranch. In 1970 Ray and Linda Gilbert came back after college to take over the ranch and start their own family of next generation ranchers. Ray and Linda went on to have two children, Lloyd and Andrea.
After taking over, Ray and Linda continued to run Angus cattle. The couple began to focus on grazing systems, increasing carrying capacity, and developing water. Over the years the ranch has been able to triple its carrying capacity with the grazing systems and now has over 20 miles of water pipeline. In 1984 Ray and Linda added a new place to their ranch and in 2001 this place became the home of their son Lloyd and his family. Lloyd’s children, Sawyer and Grey are now the 6th generation of Gilberts to help on the ranch. Ray and Linda’s daughter Andrea, an assistant superintendent, also remains an active share holder in the ranch.
Ray and Linda continue to look at the future of their cow/calf operation by staying up to date with ranching operations, genetics, and marketing. They describe it as a “numbers game” with the ranching expenses, and try to be as efficient as possible to get set up for the next generation. Linda said, “When you have a family corporation you’re never really the boss. You’re the caretaker for the next generation. I think if you don’t view it as that then it’s hard to keep things going.”
One thing Ray and Linda feel very strongly about is giving back to their community. The two agree that a community is only as strong as each individual person. When asked about the best part of ranching in Harding County they said, “Definitely the support. Even if you feud with somebody, they’re going to be there when you have a prairie fire. Everybody keeps an eye on everybody. There are a lot of old families and those bonds remain between the old families.”
Ray and Linda are excited to see the young generations coming back to ranch in Harding County and are most excited to watch the 6th generation take over the Gilbert Angus Ranch. (12/3/20)