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
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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