Nineteenth-century Victorian sensibilities and the Montana ranching frontier harmonize in the artistic treasures of the Grant-Kohrs Ranch at Deer Lodge. The National Park Service today operates this National Historic Site, once the heart of Montana’s cattle ranching industry, and maintains 88 ranch buildings, family archives, and more than 23,000 artifacts from the 1860s to the 1960s. The splendid collection includes everything from saddles to sewing needles. The historic home, completely furnished, has been beautifully restored.
Ranch founder Johnny Grant drove the first cattle into the Deer Lodge valley to winter there in 1857. He returned in 1859 with 250 horses and 800 head of cattle to settle permanently. Grant, a Métis of French, Indian, and Scottish descent, acquired his stock in trade with immigrants along the Oregon Trail at Fort Hall, near present-day Pocatello, Idaho. His father, Richard Grant, was the well-known factor there. Grant brought his Bannock wife Quarra, his several other wives, and their many children to settle in the valley.
Others followed. Indians, Mexicans, whites, and French-speaking Canadian Métis like Johnny himself made an ethnically diverse settlement. In the fall of 1862, Grant built the present clapboard home with 26 expensive, green-shuttered glass windows, an unheard of luxury. A visitor noted that the house looked as if Grant plucked it from the banks of the St. Lawrence River and deposited it on the frontier. An anomaly among his neighbors’ tipis and log cabins, the Grants’ generous hospitality was widely renowned. The family lived on the second floor and Grant’s trading post was on the first floor. Grant’s worth stood at half a million dollars, a symbol of Métis prosperity, but as the decade wore on, he began to suffer losses. Gold discovered earlier that year at Grasshopper Creek and at Alder Gulch in 1863 upset the cultural balance. Racial tension between the valley residents and newcomers ended the days when neighbors were tolerant of other cultures and inter-racial marriages.
The revenue officer confiscated the liquor Grant kept to stock his saloon. Arsonists burned his best barn, and Indians ran off his cattle. By 1866, Grant felt the valley was unsafe for his children so he sold the ranch to Conrad Kohrs and prepared to take his family to Manitoba. Before the move, Quarra Grant died of tuberculosis. Perhaps that is why Johnny Grant sold the contents of the house, including Quarra’s fine furnishings. One lovely piece Quarra may have used, on display in the house, is a pie safe. Its simple design and beautiful punched-tin doors date to the mid-1860s. Another is a hand-sewn blanket, circa 1860, made of 12 wolf skins stitched together with sinew. Faint traces of the red trade cloth that once lined it adhere to an occasional seam. An ink drawing of Johnny Grant’s brand appears in the blanket’s soft leather underside.