EARLY CHRONICLES OF THE PINCHER CREEK RANCHING INDUSTRY
by Farley Wuth, Curator,
Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village
Copyright, Pincher Creek & District Historical Society
One of the well-established facts from our local history is that the ranching industry in the Pincher Creek area dates back to 1878, a result of the establishment of the North West Mounted Police’s Horse Ranch along the Creek itself. Its success was profound. Within a few brief years, the prairie landscape became a patchwork of corporate and family ranches, ones that has been the the backbone of the local economy for the close to a century and a half. In this week’s look back at that ranching heritage, some of those daily and seasonal chronicles from the late 1880s pointed out how ranches operated and succeeded on the Western Canadian frontier.
NEWLY FORMED MACLEOD CATTLE COMPANY
One of the new ranches of the 1887 season was that of the Macleod Cattle Company, a consortium whose shareholders primarily resided near our sister settlement to the east. The original promotional literature noted that the shareholders where not to receive dividends for five years, during which time any profits were to be invested in new cattle to be added to the herds. The Company acquired leased land near the Maunsells’ holdings near the east end of the Piikani First Nation’s Reserve and were believed to be building up ranch holdings in the Porcupine Hills.
The new Company immediately purchased over one hundred head of cattle from the C. A. Lyndon Ranch, nestled in the southeast corner of the Porcupine Hills. This latter cattle operation had been established in 1881 by Captain Charles Augustus and Margaret Lyndon who had strong connections with the N.W.M.P. They in fact knew Pincher Creek’s own John Herron who served many years in the Force as well as in local political circles. And according to local folklore, the Macleod Cattle Co. on occasion also purchased cattle from two of the big corporate ranches – the Waldrond and the Cochrane. The number of head and the prices that these animals went for, unfortunately, has been lost to the ravages of time.
1887 SUCCESS OF THE COCHRANE RANCH
Southeast of Pincher Creek, strategically situated between the Waterton and Belly Rivers, was the Cochrane Ranch. Its new location was serving itself well by the autumn of 1887. Press reports of the day noted that nearly 1,700 calves had been branded that season. Most were born that spring, and by mid October, had shown substantial growth due to the good growth of natural grasses on that prime agricultural land. They new calves were a relief for Company officials who already had faced the wrath of bad winter weather on more than once occasion. Originally located on the Bow River upstream from Calgary (hence, the place name for the settlement of Cochrane), the harsh winters of the early 1880s forced Company officials to relocate the ranch to this more favourable location further south. The move came in 1883 but three years later, the entire south country was hit with devastatingly cold temperatures and high snow falls. The Cochrane was not exempt from cattle losses in 1886-87 and so were very pleased with the growth in the herd the following season.
FROM THE RANCHES UP NORTH . . .
1887 also was a banner year for the Oxley and Winder Ranches, both large spreads straddling the southern reaches of the Porcupine Hills. Cattle herds on both ranches flourished, and Company officials made plans for massive sales. It was reported that four hundred head were shipped to the east and then to England. Given their prime condition and the strong markets for beef, ranchers were very pleased with the final sale prices. That year, calves on the neighboring Waldrond Ranch sold for an average of seventy-five dollars apiece. Some twenty-one years later, that same corporate ranch was selling its cattle at 26 and a half dollars a head. Throughout its early history, some of the Waldrond’s strongest sales, in terms of cattle, were to the Piikani Agency at Brocket and to the N.W.M.P. in terms of horses. Local markets changed to the coal mining towns of the Pass once the railway had been constructed and the mines became productive.
Further north, the Northwest Cattle Company also was shipping cattle to the old country markets. Ranging from three to five years of age and weighing nearly 1,500 pounds apiece, the cattle had “just come off the range” and were very healthy as a result of the prime ranch conditions. Over 700 head were shipped to foreign markets in 1887. There, the agricultural expertises of both George Lane and John Ware were paying off in dividends.