The beginning of McKenzie County is rich with wonderful stories. Much of which is the tale of the American Cowboy.
In 1883-84 the very first ranch in McKenzie County was the firm of Chase & Frye, hunters from Elk River, Minnesota. They bought a small herd and a few head of horses and started the No. 7 (pigpen – seven) ranch, right at their hunting camp in the following spring. Later moving it south of Schafer to begin the new project of specializing in the raising of Percheron draft horses. Their new Percheron Horse Company became know as the Mule – Shoe Bar Ranch and it became quite well known as the “finest herd of Percheron Horses in North Dakota”. In the summer of 1910 the business was sold to a new company.
During the same year of 1883-84, the largest and most famous ranch in McKenzie County was organized. It was owned and financed by the Reynolds Brothers of Texas. This ranch was conducted in the old ways, as in vast herds of Longhorn Cattle were driven from Texas to North Dakota. The first herd that was brought up was driven under the leadership of A.N. Jeffries, the manager of the company and a daring band of Texan cowboys. They started with a huge herd at the Rio Grande and drove them all the way up to the Little Missouri. They started early in the spring and arrived early in September, guided by little more than a compass. This was repeated each year until the year of 1897. Among the men who helped drive the first herd from Texas were: A.N. Jeffries, Wilkes Richards, Frank Banks, W. Arett, Charles Armstrong, and Mr. Tarbelt. This concern was always known as the Long X Outfit, deriving its name from its official brand, which was a long (reverted x) on the left side.
The second largest ranch in McKenzie County was the Morning Star Cattle Company, familiarly known as the Birdhead Outfit. It was organized in 1893 by J.M. Uhlman, Jaynes Bras and others from Wisconsin. The home ranch was situated near the mouth of Timber Creek, in the valley of the Missouri. The ranch was first built in 1891 by Stroud Brothers of Texas, who engaged in the cattle business there for two years. At the end of that time they sold out to Landers and Green, who in turn, disposed of their interest to the Morning Star Cattle Company The manager of this ranch and the man who is responsible for it’s early success, was J.M. Uhlman. It continued it’s enterprise until 1904, when it was succeeded by another company.
The principle ranches in McKenzie County, outside of the ones mentioned during the years between 1884-1900, were owned by Daniel Manning, Brooks Goodall, George Bacon, Frank Banks, Jay Grantier, Townsend Brothers, Noble Brothers, Stroud Brothers, Cartwright and Son’s, Frank Poe, R.B. Gore and Charles Shafer.
Each ranch participated in getting cattle to the railway in Belfield in mass herds. The cattle that weren’t ready for the market (the stragglers) were left behind to graze and develop into large magnificent animals and always brought first class prices on the Chicago Markets. Each ranch required a large number of “cowboys” to work the cattle. While the cowboy life has been depicted as beautiful & romantic, on the contrary, it was one of great hardship. The cowboy worked seven days a week, through any type of weather, the only thing that stopped him was fire. He spent most of his time in the saddle and most of that time wet, soaked clear through to the bone. The cowboy faced many difficult situations while on the drive, stampedes, horse accidents and the occasional “interaction” with other outfits.
As time drew on homesteaders began to flow into McKenzie County, the wide open grass lands began to be farmed and fenced so, the mass open range cattle drives changed to the local rancher on his own acreage. To this day, McKenzie County is home to many a large cattle operation each creating “it’s own story to tell” in later years.
Soon, the new season of the rodeo will begin, another avenue for the cowboy to display his/her life on the range. From roping a calf or steer to that 8 second saddle or bare back bronc to the heart stopping bull ride. Each event is exciting in it’s own way and each event tells or display’s the cowboy/cowgirl life style. Leading the audience in a captivated trance, possibly imagining themselves “down in the chute”. What an adventurous life the cowboy/cowgirl must have!
One more time, McKenzie County come’s through with another “tale to tell” of the endurance and tenacity of it’s people. A tale of “true grit”.
The information for this entry was taken from the Watford City North Dakota Centennial Book, pages 9-11.