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MS 098 - Willcutt Ranch Collection


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MS 098 - Willcutt Ranch Collection, 1851-1978 | McCracken Research Library

By Nathan Bender and Samantha L. Harper

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Collection Overview

Title: MS 098 - Willcutt Ranch Collection, 1851-1978Add to your cart.

Primary Creator: Willcutt

Extent: 13.0 Boxes

Date Acquired: 01/01/1998

Collection Historical Note

Harvey Willis Willcutt, Sr. was born May 28, 1877, in Garden Grove, Iowa, the son of a farmer.  He emigrated to Montana at the age of sixteen and worked as a sheepherder in the Miles City area for the Filbricks.  It was here that Willcutt was introduced to Eliza Mae Bell, born in 1886 in Anaconda, Montana.  Her father, William Bell, had been a Hollywood actor in silent pictures, and Eliza and her two sisters lived in a convent in Miles City.  Willcutt and Eliza were married on New Year’s Eve, 1903.  Six years later, Eliza, who changed her name to Elsie, gave birth to Harvey Willis, Jr.

In that same year, 1909, Willcutt transferred to Charlie Bair’s ranch on the Crow Indian Reservation.  He moved his family to a homestead at present-day Colstrip, Montana, where coal is currently strip-mined.  Next, he served as Livestock Superintendent for the Northern Cheyenne Reservation centered in Lame Deer, Montana.

When the Superintendent moved to the Crow Reservation, he requested that Harvey also be transferred.  So, Harvey managed the ID herd for the Crow Indians, until 1912 when he was refused a request for a $100 raise.  E.L. Dana occupied the land across the Big Horn River from the Crow Tribal herd and noticed the “deep interest that Willcutt took in caring for the Indian cattle.”  Dana wasted in little time in hiring Willcutt as foreman and manager of his vast cattle interests.  Yet, for the Crows, it was said to have been “a bitter loss for the Indians” and “old members of the tribe claimed that the day Willcutt resigned, the Crow herd was doomed to failure.”

The Willcutt family lived at Eagle Springs and Ten Mile, while working for Dana.  Harvey, Jr. attended school in Hardin, where he played the piccolo and clarinet in the high school band.  Within months of graduating, however, he was involved in an argument with his history teacher, and decided that he had had enough formal education.  Harvey, Jr. wanted to be a rancher.

He began his career living in a tar-paper shack on the Spotted Rabbit Indian allotment west of Fort Smith.  Willcutt, Jr. raised honey bees and sold the honey.  His father had purchased all the necessary materials to build the hives and then informed his son, “Here it is, now you’re on your own.”  Occasionally, Harvey, Sr. would also provide groceries to his only child, but would never venture into Harvey, Jr.’s camp if he saw smoke rising from the chimney.  Instead, the elder Willcutt would leave the groceries on the hill.

One of the Dana’s ranching neighbors was Frank Heinrich’s Antler Land and Cattle Company.  Sometimes they would ford their cattle across the Big Horn River, not far from Harvey, Jr.’s place on their way to their Dry Head Ranch.  The Antler cowboys would always give young Harvey their dogie calves.  Harvey, Jr. had a milk cow that he used to feed the bum calves, and as they grew larger, he would cross the Big Horn and obtain alfalfa from the farmers for his livestock.  It was from this small herd that he sold his first railroad carload of steers.

In 1937, Harvey, Sr. purchased the Grapevine Ranch from his former employer, Dana, and soon thereafter formed a partnership with his son called HW Willcutt & Son.  Even though his father enjoyed running sheep, Willcutt, Jr. was solely interested in Hereford cattle.  After more than a decade of a successful partnership, the younger Willcutt decided to strike out on his own.

He purchased the Grapevine, which consisted of 90,000 acres, from his father, and when Willcutt, Sr. passed away three years later, in 1953, the son inherited the Woody Creek Ranch, adjoining the Grapevine.

The year that HWW & Son was dissolved, Harvey, Jr. married a young legal secretary, Juanita Owen, and adopted her son, William John, from a previous marriage.  They moved to the headquarters of the Grapevine, and a year later, Elsie Mae was born.  Juanita stopped working in the legal office and began taking part in the business operations of the ranch.  She home-schooled Billy and Elsie and cooked for the ranch hands.

The 1950s brought about many changes on the Crow Reservation.  Indian empowerment and self-determination resurfaced, and non-Indians living and owning land on the reservation were not as readily embraced as before.  The Crow Allotment Act of 1920 contained a section that limited the number of acres non-Indians could own on the Reservation, and many ranchers and farmers like the Willcutt’s were forced to concede much of their landholdings.  Different administrations in the American federal government and the Crow Tribal Council brought about tumultuous times for non-Indian ranchers and farmers on the reservation.  The larger non-Indian agriculturists formed the Reservation Leaseholders’ Association to collectively meet the challenges to their long-established presence on the Reservation.

Furthermore, ranchers and farmers like the Willcutt family were faced with increased development of the Big Horn River.  Yellowtail Dam was completed in 1965 and then a recreation area was created around the river and dam soon thereafter.  These developments brought tourism, increased bureaucracy, and more interest in the land on the reservation.  Harvey, Jr. did not readily enjoy these encroachments on his ranch, and in 1967, he sold the Grapevine and retreated to the Muddy Creek Ranch, northwest of the Grapevine and further from the Big Horn River.

Yet, this move did not allow him to escape all the new changes.  In the late 1960s, the Crow Tribal Council began giving preference to Indians who made bids on leases and land sales.  Large ranchers and farmers could not compete with this new resolution, and in turn, Willcutt lost important leases on which he depended.  Smaller ranchers like George Siemion, who was an Anglo married to a Crow, seized the opportunity to begin their cattle operation even though it was in the heart of Willcutt territory.  Willcutt attempted to answer this threat by employing Indians to win these bidding battles for leases, but it was to no avail.  He and his family were forced to accept and coexist with these new ranchers and farmers.

It was also at this time that Harvey, Jr. became ill with cancer.  He had groomed his adopted son, Billy, to take over the ranch after his death, and now it was time to let go of the reigns.  The ranch, however, seemed to die with Harvey, Jr. in 1978.  Billy and his mother did not cope well with their loss, and quarreled incessantly over the control of the ranch.  Lawyers and estate costs drained their assets until, in the mid-1980s, they sold their remaining holdings to an outside interest from Michigan.

Administrative Information

Repository: McCracken Research Library

Access Restrictions: McCracken Library staff may determine use restrictions dependent on the physical condition of manuscript materials. Restrictions may exist on reproduction, quotation or publication. Contact McCracken Research Library for more information.

Acquisition Source: Juanita Willcutt

Acquisition Method: Gift

Box and Folder Listing

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[Box 12],

Box 4Add to your cart.
Series 1: EmployeesAdd to your cart.
Folder MS98.04.01: Correspondence - Employees, 1950-1961Add to your cart.

Albert J. Talbot (cook) – applying for 1950 position

Mary M. Gustin (cook)

Buster Cashen (hand) – HWW sent him money and offered a horse

Gladys Steffen (cook) – applies but has a small boy (NO)

Cashen and John Burleson (part-time)

Delmer (Corky) Bobbitt (haying in the summer)

Mary McCullum (housekeeper) let go by HWW in 1951

Dan Reardin (line camp job – “year around” - $125/month)

Billings Gazette (1951) – ad for cook ($125/mo. for 5-10 men)

Cashen – HWW sending him to Antler for the Fall roundup

Barney and Maxine Warp (hand and cook - $300/month together)

Dr. Spratt on William Mills’ condition (HWW paying med. bills – ’51)

Vera Simpson (cook)

Beulah Riffil (cook) – HWW picked her up on Sept. 15, 1951

Burleson died, etc.

Beckwith Employment Bureau (Jane Myhre for cook & looking for person to fill “cat-skinning job”) 

Ollie Kitchel (irrigation and milking cows) 

Dee Flamm (cook) – possible replacement 

Lottie Barton (cook) 

Charlie Carr (hand) – HWW wants if he can “leave other people alone” and if you are sober” 

Crystal Ford (cook) – HWW sent sarcastic letter after she left!! (’53) 

McHarg’s Employment Service – HWW looking for cook (’53) – “There is no woman boss…” 

Dr. Spratt caring for Dan Maddox (HWW guardian) 

Ray Rutherford’s estate ($153.14) – worked for HWW for years 

William Mills died in 1954 (HWW covered hospital/funeral expenses for seven years) ---- sister wrote inquiring from Tennessee 

SS Admin. regarding HWW’s 74 year-old family school teacher (1955) 

Flossie Tipke (cook) 

Dick Heller, Jr. (hand) - $200/mo. or $8/day (1956) 

teachers, cooks, etc., etc. 

Joyce Harmon (teacher) - $325/mo. 

Mr. Charles Carr (teacher) – hospital bills for severe burns (1958) 

Walter Secrest (hand) wants to use his own horses, and HWW says it is OK as long as they are “broke to a rope corral…” 

Bill Forney (handle machinery) - $300/mo. for farm and hay operations 

Wanda Whitman (cook) her letter and HWW response seeking references and a photo! 

BIA recommendation for Leo Plain Feather 

Paul Ramette’s medical records / hospital bill 

Ken Wheeler (college kid wanting summer work) – 1960 

Insurance claim on Richard Heller accident with horse (1960) 

Proposition by Junior Smith for HWW to finance ranch (NO)

Folder MS98.04.02: William A. Scruggs (Foreman for HWW and ran cattle with HWW)Add to your cart.

Payment plan to Scruggs for land

Tax statements (1954, 55, 59, 61-66)

Receipts (cattle, hospital, misc.)

Records for 1955

Folder MS98.04.03: Estate of William Scruggs (worked for HWW for 32 years)Add to your cart.

Mabel (from Las Vegas, NM) to HWW and Juanita appointing HWW as executioner of Scruggs estate (1970) 

District Court Receipt of Estate of Scruggs 

Determination of Heirship and Closing of Scruggs estate 

Estate Tax Info

Folder MS98.04.04: Employer/Employee Tax Statements , 1976Add to your cart.
Folder MS98.04.05: Payroll (Carpenters for farm)Add to your cart.

Richard Mielke ($3.90/hr)

Cecil Watson ($4.40/hr)

James Clawson ($4.40/hr)

John Brennan ($4.40/hr)

Michael Hutzenbiler, Jr. ($2.15/hr)

Harold Muessig ($4.90/hr)

Folder MS98.04.06: Industrial Accident Board / AuditsAdd to your cart.
Folder MS98.04.07: Correspondence - EmployeesAdd to your cart.

Tax forms 

Dept. of Labor regulations 

HWW to Chairman of Natl. Hotels Property Ltd., requesting that two of the employees come as guests to the ranch from Jamaica because of the Willcutt’s vacation to Jamaica 

Louisa Clarke to Willcutts regarding her visit to the ranch from Jamaica 

Calvin Wright to Willcutts regarding his visit to the ranch from Jamaica 

Willcutts to Louisa and Calvin regarding employment on the ranch 

Mary Jane to Juanita

Folder MS98.04.08: Occupational Injuries & Illnesses - Yearly ReportAdd to your cart.

Ag. Stabilization and Conservation Service Newsletter and Feed

Grain, Wheat, Upland Cotton, and Rice Programs (Apr. 1976)   Record Keeping Requirements Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970

Folder MS98.04.09: BondAdd to your cart.
Bond on Dorothy Holmes Pawlitschek (HWW secretary) for $5,000 and guardianship of her two daughters
Folder MS98.04.10: Workman's Compensation (Northwestern Insurance, Employer's and Employees' ClaimsAdd to your cart.

Poncho Half (5-28-81) – sprained ankle while working cattle in the corral

David Plenty Hoops (10-30-80) – caught his finger between the chute and a cow 

Thomas Manning (6-21-80) – hives from chopping weeds 

Elizabeth C. Baker (4-14-80) – she (ranch cook) was bucked off her horse 

Robert Spiker (10-4-79) – cut his thumb while trimming trees 

James Real Bird (6-2/3-79) – gate his knee and then the next day a cow kicked the same knee

Jane Waldene Patterson (10-30-78) – she (ranch cook) cut her finger while cooking 

James A. Carlat (8-14-78) – poison ivy 

J.P. Hayes (7-16-78) – flash burn to both eyes while welding with a crack in his helmet 

Marjorie L. Baldwin (1-27-78) – fell off ladder onto cooking range while cleaning 

Marty Gower (10-3-77) – horse rolled over him 

John Bailey (7-15-77) – wind blew sand into his eye (abrasion) 

George William Fox (4-27-77) – bucked off horse

Folder MS98.04.11: Workmen's Comp  (Quarterly Reports), 1963 - 1981Add to your cart.
Folder MS98.04.12: Social Security, 1973 - 1981Add to your cart.
Folder MS98.04.13: W-2 forms and Correspondence, 1966 - 1977Add to your cart.
Folder MS98.04.14: Little Mountain Employer's Quarterly Federal Tax Return, 1977 - 1978Add to your cart.
Folder MS98.04.15: Mill Iron Employer's Quarterly Gederal Tax Return, 1970 - 1981Add to your cart.
Folder MS98.04.16: Mill Iron Employer's Unemployment Tax (State and Federal), 1979-1981Add to your cart.
Folder MS98.04.17: Mill Iron - Department of Revenue - Abandoned Property Bureau, 1973 - 1979Add to your cart.
Folder MS98.04.18: Little Mountain Land Co.Add to your cart.
Tax info and secretarial assignments (1974-78)
Folder MS98.04.19: Stan Lynde (creator of comic strip "Rick O'Shay" - from Lodge Grass, MT)Add to your cart.
Christmas card and newspaper clippings Comic strip with mention of Mill Iron Ranch
Series 2: LivestockAdd to your cart.
Folder MS98.04.20: Livestock Sales, 1933 and 1938Add to your cart.
Folder MS98.04.21: Livestock Correpondence, 1949 - 1956Add to your cart.

Bean Robinson (Mineral Wells, TX) – wanted yearling heifers in 1950

WH Reilley (VP of Meyer and Chapman State Bank) – 1950

John Shonsey (VP of Live Stock National Bank in Omaha, NE) – bought yearlings in 1949 

Earl Weisenberger (Scott City, KS) – yearling steers 

Shonsey – bought 500 heifer calves in 1950 

Ruby E. Carlsen (Willcutt) living in Oakland 


A.M. Henderson (Omaha, Neb.) – yearling steers in 1950 

Shonsey, etc… 

Jr. to Leo Plainfeather (gift of filly) on Apr. 9, 1951 

Don Slade (c/o Valley Ranch in Cody, WY) – in April of 1951 for saddle horses ($125/head) 

Robert and George Lazear (WY Hereford Ranch in Cheyenne) – buy bulls 

W.S. Brooks (Hardin, MT) – in 1951, looking for teams and insecticide 

Emery Lufkin (Cooke City, MT) - horses 

Harry Brainard (Manhattan, MT) – bulls 

M.H. Tschirgi, Campbell Farming Corp. (Wyola, MT) – need range for cows 

Shonsey – offer (28 cents for dry cows, 26 cents for wet) to sell 

Shonsey – informing HWW of Johnson bulls from Iowa 

Lazear – yearling bulls (’52) 

Shonsey – Johnson & Johnson bulls (’52)

Lazear – informing that most bulls are spoken for (6666, Oregon) HWW orders 30 for 1953 and 30 for 1954

Truman Essex (Morehead, MT) - contract to sell Willcutt (100) cows

Mactier Bros. (Livestock Commission Co. – Omaha) – sold 52 HWW heifers Lazear – bulls (Oct. 30, 1952)

Ralph Hilyard (Cumberland, Iowa) – bulls

Essex – posts (late 1952)

Lazear – delivery and list of bulls (Feb. 1953)

Lazear – order for 1954 bulls

Essex – cows

Shonsey – calves

Lazear – 1954 bulls (HWW does not like “red necks” on the Herefords) 

Tschirgi – turning out cows on his land (850 head) 

Lazear – 1955 bulls 

United Pacific Insurance Co. – livestock lost in electric light pole holes (1954) 

Shonsey – heifer calves 

Lazear, Shonsey, Essex, etc., etc. (1955) 

Producers Livestock Marketing Assoc. (Billings Public Stockyards) – loss on steers 

Lazear (1956), Essex, etc… 

Lindley Livestock Commission Co. (1955) 

Belgrade Vet Hospital (letter about drugs to stop frothy bloating) 

Brucellosis tests (1956)    quarantine 15 out of 265 bled 

E.H. Reimann (Park City, MT) – HWW looking for a milk cow 

Essex – HWW looking for a camp cook (George Stimpson’s father-in- law) 

Shonsey – yr. heifers (16 cents – avg. 550 lbs.)    HWW ---- “…if they are not satisfactory you can give me h—l, and maybe we can do better next time.” 

Tobe Stovall (Worden, MT) – found bull with mill iron brand 

Essex (10-2-56) – HWW / Cheyenne and controversy on “preference rights for buying tribal lands – advising on coming back to Crow country 

Leo W. Wuerl to HWW telling him that he sells only “old and worn out” cows in MT while “any young stuff” is sold out of state 

Dale S. Petit (HooDoo Ranch in Cody) – bought 224 steers in 1956 

Leo W. Wuerl (Great Falls, MT) – Leo sold an HWW cow that HWW bought in 1941 and by knowing the brands, HWW remembered her when  Wuerl wrote about her in 1956! 

Essex (1956)

Folder MS98.04.22: Correpondence - feed & salt, 1949 - 1960Add to your cart.

cottonseed cake pellets (John R. Jirdon Industries – Morrill, NE)

alfalfa seed (Paul Mullen c/o Coop Grange League Federation Exchange – Buffalo, NY) 

Jirdon (yellow corn, soybean meal, N. bean meal, cottonseed, molasses, salt, and Vit-A-Way (vitamin and mineral fortifier)) 

grocery list 

“Good & Bad Grasses” 

HWW order of Mondo “grass” for “an experiment” (Mondo Grass & Nursery Co. – Biloxi, Miss.) 

Special calf feed formula (Coop Grange…) 

“Animal Fats and Proteins Make A Big Difference In Livestock Feeds” 

US Dept of Ag (seed verification service) 

Salt (Morton Salt Co.) 

HWW inquiry into “Brome grass” to Mullen & response 

USDA Prod. and Marketing Admin. Big Horn County Handbook (’50) 

Nixon & Co. (Omaha) – HWW bought feed locally from here when not going to Buffalo, NY)

Folder MS98.04.23: Livestock Tally , 1958 - 1973Add to your cart.
Folder MS98.04.24: CK Ranch Bull Sale Program (Hereford), 1958Add to your cart.
10 bulls / average $1,425.00
Folder MS98.04.25: Calves Purchased - Secrest (Joint venture with HWW), 1961Add to your cart.
1/2 profit = $1,517.49
Folder MS98.04.26: Calves Purchased - Owen (Joint Venture with HWW), 1961Add to your cart.
1/2 profit = $2,943.84
Folder MS98.04.27: Bills of SaleAdd to your cart.
Horses and Cattle
Folder MS98.04.28: Grazing Contracts, 1961 - 1978Add to your cart.
Folder MS98.04.29: Purchase Receipts, 1974 - 1981Add to your cart.
Folder MS98.04.30: Livestock Sales Contracts, 1950 - 1981Add to your cart.
Folder MS98.04.31: Sales Receipts, 1974 - 1981Add to your cart.
Folder MS98.04.32: Shipping Data, 1950 - 1966Add to your cart.
Burlington route (Colorado & Southern Railway Co.)
Folder MS98.04.33: Cattle Tally, 1977 - 1981Add to your cart.
Folder MS98.04.34: MiscellaneousAdd to your cart.
“A Wish From Montana” (poem) Loan Slip for $2,914.20 between HWW to Emmett & Rena Davisson (May 11, 1962)
Folder MS98.04.35: Livestock Correspondence, 1961 - 1965Add to your cart.

CK Ranch (Brookville, KS) – HWW bought bulls

Lazear – HWW sent back bulls & Lazear response (1961)

Lazear – further response

CK Ranch – 15 bulls ($12,600 – 1961)

HWW to Jack Vanier (CK Ranch) – changing over from WHR to CK (1961) 

4-H to HWW – thank you for calf donation 

Shonsey – heifers (1961) – 323 head/$44, 147.10 

State of MT Livestock Sanitary Board to HWW in regards to Brucellosis (HWW’s herd is one of 64 herds out of 27,000 herds in MT which is under quarantine – 1962) 

“Movement of animals from infected herds” and letter from George Wright (Dist. Deputy State Vet) 

4-H to HWW regarding donation of calf 

Quarantine Investigation Release (1962) 

CK Ranch – bulls (1962, 64, 65) 

Clarence Bobbitt – wants yearling fillies 

HWW from Buck Weaver Ranch (Sheridan, WY) – heifers 

Kern County Land Co. – steers (2 yr.) – 1965

Folder MS98.04.36: Bills of SaleAdd to your cart.
Horses (1970-75) Cattle (1945-46)
Folder MS98.04.37: Cattle Tallys, 1947 - 1963Add to your cart.
Folder MS98.04.38: The Billings Gazette - "Video auctions Expand Cattle Markets", May 1, 1988Add to your cart.
Folder MS98.04.39: Newspaper clipping of Schedule for Burlington Route TrainAdd to your cart.
Folder MS98.04.40: The Billings Gazette - "Big Sale displays Demand for Cattle", December 9, 1987Add to your cart.

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