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J. K. Ralston

AIR #137
1969

With today's emphasis on 'tell it like it is' all kinds of experts on every hand can do that, but few and far between are the individuals who can 'tell it like it was' - like it was, that is, sixty years ago on Montana's ranges. J.K. (Ken) Ralston of Billings is one of the few who can.

Ralston was born in Western Montana and came with his parents to Dawson County in 1906. Northeastern Montana was the last stronghold in the state for cattlemen, and it was in this refuge that his father ranched. His dad had come to Montana in 1864, lured by gold in Alder Gulch. He had left Independence, Missouri in 1859 for Pike's Peak - and gold - and prospected there until 1963 when he headed for Idaho. He didn't intend to spend the winter in Idaho, but when he tried to get over to Alder Gulch, he found more snow than he could navigate so he stayed in Idaho after all.

Next spring he put in his delayed appearance at Alder Gulch, then followed gold from one place to another in Montana. From Alder he went to Last Chance, then to various gulches for short periods. The last was Marysville, where he built the first house. Marysville was named for Ken's grandmother. His grandfather had a livery stable and butcher shop in Helena, a ranch in Prickly Pear Valley (Helena Valley now). In the late 60's (1860's!) Ken's father was peddling beef to miners in the gulches. They'd leave a note giving him their 'order'. In 1878, when Ken's father was in charge, they moved the cattle to Teton. He had a ranch of his own there, and that's where the children were all born: Bess, Allen, Frank, Billy, and last, Kenneth. They called the ranch Cold Spring Ranch. But then his dad got gold fever again and sold out to go to Spokane. Before long he came back to Montana and made a deal with a rancher by the name of Tatum to set up a ranch for Tatum's boy when he was out of college.

The Capital P Ranch had a big log house on it with an 18'x24' living room. Someone was always asking, "When are you going to have another dance?" Before the fall roundup started in 1906 they gave a dance. That was the wettest year since white man's history.

Every steep place became a mudslide and the day of the dance it started to rain again. It would have been late August or early September. In spite of the rain people came for miles. The Hilger girls were visiting Fred Sullivans and they all came to the dance by spring wagon. Butler and wife from the '14' were there (father had known him in Prickly Pear Valley) and they came with a top buggy. Some came by train from Culbertson. It was a 'flag' train that would stop and let passengers off when they 'flagged'. Henry Miller rowed the train passengers across the river to the dance. Miller brought musicians from Culbertson and though there was no piano there was plenty of music. Floyd Davis rode a bronc to the dance (What else?) and was accompanied by eight to ten other horseback riders. He was off to one side a little when they came to a cut bank about four miles from the ranch. As they started around the cut he got too close and went over the bank. The horse wasn't hurt and neither was he. Sullivans in their spring wagon were close to West Charlie Creek when they attempted to negotiate a sidling hill with the buggy. The buggy tipped over, spilling passengers and goods alike. Cakes and other goodies for the dance got all scrambled, but they made it to the dance all right (minus a few cakes!).


 

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