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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

Browse by Box:

[Box 1],
[Box 2],
[Box 3],
[Box 4],
[Box 5],
[Box 6],
[Box 7],
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[Box 9],
[Box 10],
[Box 11],
[Box 12],

Box 7Add to your cart.
Series 1: HWW Jr. Estate, Items from Billings Safety Deposit Box , Family History, Misc. PeriodicalsAdd to your cart.
Folder MS98.07.01: Estate of HWWAdd to your cart.
Reviewed Financial Statements as of Aug. 31, 1980 and 1979 (restated) Unaudited Financial Statements as of Aug. 31, 1979
Folder MS98.07.02: Mill Iron Cattle Co. and Little Mountain Land Co.Add to your cart.
Reviewed Financial Statements (Nov. 30, 1980 and 1979, 1979 and 1978)   Unaudited Financial Statements (Sept. 28, 1978 and Nov. 30, 1977)
Folder MS98.07.03: HWW & Juanita, December 31, 1977 and 1976Add to your cart.
Unaudited Financial Statements
Folder MS98.07.04: Little Mountain Land Co, Nov. 30, 1977 and 1976Add to your cart.
Unaudited Financial Statements
Folder MS98.07.05: HWW and Jaunita, Mill Iron Cattle Co., and Little Mountain Land Co., 1976Add to your cart.
Financial Statements
Folder MS98.07.06: Mill Iron and HWW/Juanita Financial Statements, 1973 through 1975Add to your cart.
Folder MS98.07.07: Tax Returns, HWW Estate, 1978 - 1983Add to your cart.

Galusha, Higgins, & Galusha to HWW Estate (19/12/79): analysis of time   Charges for Dec. 1978—Nov. 1979 

Galusha, Higgins, & Galusha bill for $1,300, paid 9/6/83 

IRS form letter to HWW estate, c/o Juanita: re/ refund check 

IRS letter confirming reception of letter from HWW estate—two notes by JW attached by staple

Form postcard from IRS to HWW estate c/o JW: re/ request for tax records

HWW Estate Tax Returns, 78-79 season to 82-83 season 

Receipts for certified mail; JW to MT Dept of Revenue 

Late Filing Penalty ($5.00), HWW Estate w/ pink slip confirming payment thereof

Little Horn State Bank to HWW Estate, declaration of agricultural interest paid to bank during 1980 

NY Life Insurance Co. to HWW Estate, declaration of interest earned on dividend reports

Folder MS98.07.08: Souvenir Program for 81st Annual Convention of MT Stockgrowers Assoc., May 22, 1965Add to your cart.
Folder MS98.07.09: "Documents taken from Safe Deposit Box in Billings"Add to your cart.

2 letters from “Dad” (Sr.) to “Mama” in Mesa, AZ (1940) 

C.C. Guinn to HWW regarding deed of Grapevine from E.L. Dana 

Mortgage of livestock by Elsie 

Credit slip for $12,000 to HWW from J.W. Chapman Inc. (Mar. 1, 1945) 

Collateral Slip for Elsie to obtain a loan

Folder MS98.07.10: HWW, Sr.Add to your cart.

Robert Yellowtail to HWW asking for assistance to pass his bill (S.1317) in the Senate and then in the House 

Affidavit of Ben Gardner of the Crow Tribe regarding his allotment #3227 and his leasing agreement with Clyde Lewis for 25 cents/acre (Apr. 12, 1949) 

Loan Slip to Mike Kuchera from HWW for $1,000 (3-29-47)

Correspondence between HWW and Gen. Thomas D. Campbell of Campbell Farming Corp. regarding the formation of a limited partnership for the grazing on “No.4” (Aug. 1947) 

Agreement between HWW and Lee Turley for sharing 9,200 acres in Unit 27 (formerly Unit 24A) on the Woody Creek in the Crow Res. (Oct. 3, 1950) 

Loan Slip to F.Z. Owen from HWW for $1,300 (2-10-48)

Folder MS98.07.11: Papers of HWW, Sr.Add to your cart.

Authorization & Power of Attorney by Sr. to Dr. Vernon W. Wolf  and Mrs. Edna B. Rainey (Aug. 8, 1952) 

Codicil to Last Will & Testament (providing $20,000 to Edna Rainey because of her “great personal sacrifices” (9-23-52) 

Employment Agreement between HWW and Rainey 


Warranty Deed to HWW from Walter O. Lee for town lot #9 in Hardin for $12,000 (Apr. 14, 1920) 

Certificate for 50 Shares in Pine Ridge Oil Co. (6-25-19) 

Certificate for 12 1/2 Shares in Pine Ridge Oil Co. (6-9-20) 

Deed to an Undivided Interest in Oil, Gas, and Other Minerals from William M. Lynde to HWW ---- 1/2 of 1% interest for $1 (Nov. 29, 1933) 

Certificate for 5 shares in Hardin Real Estate Trust to HWW (Dec. 4, 1918) 

Sr. to “Son and Mama” regarding what he wants to do with his money, the store, his livestock, and money to Rainey and the car to Everett Miller (voided 4 months later) – July 3, 1952

Folder MS98.07.12: HWW, Sr., 1940 - 1941Add to your cart.

Letter from Sr. to “Mama” (Nov. 27, 1940) 

Mortgage of 272 heifers by Elsie (Mar. 8, 1941) 

Sr. to “Mama” in Mesa, AZ (Nov. 1940)

Folder MS98.07.13: Elsie M. Willcutt, 1944Add to your cart.
Mortgage and Loan Slips from Chapman to Elsie
Folder MS98.07.14: LooseAdd to your cart.

The Record Stockman article “Campbell Canning Buys Part of Willcutt Ranch” (Oct. 26, 1967)  

The Hardin Tribune-Herald article “Services Held Here Monday for Elsie M. Willcutt” (Apr. 8, 1965) 

Las Vegas Optic article “William Scruggs Passes Away” (Mar. 31, 1970) 

Postcard/Photograph of Kendrik Hotel in Hardin, MT 

Misc. Notes

Folder MS98.07.15: Willcutt Family HistoryAdd to your cart.

“Harvey Willis Willcutt” autobiography

“The Willcutt Family” by Elsie M. Wodnik (article in Big Horn County Book – correlates with pictures from above #7 (#s in margins match #s on pictures) 

“Mill Iron Ranch History” by Mons L. Teigen, 1983 

“Campbell Farming Corp. Reunion,” July 24-5, 1999, Big Horn County Museum

Folder MS98.07.16: Zumwalt/Owen HistoryAdd to your cart.

3”x 5” b&w photo; portrait of Owen Family (parents and sons) outdoors

Photocopy of photo with note identifying subjects

8”x 10” b&w photo; portrait of Zumwalt-Owen extended family (siblings and spouses) outdoors 

Photocopy of photo with note identifying subjects 

The Zumwalt Family: An Interesting Recital of their Origin & History 

Photocopy of Hardin Tribune-Herald, Thur, Apr 23, 1953: “Pioneer Stockman of Old West Accorded Funeral Services at Church on Monday” (a factual error had been marked and explicated at length 

2nd photocopy of Hardin Tribune-Herald, Thur, Apr 23, 1953— “Pioneer Stockman of Old West Accorded Funeral Services at Church on Monday” (this copy unmarked, with different column lengths than the other) 

Photocopy of newspaper (Hardin Tribune-Herald?) photo with inset titled “Rodeo Queen & Attendants” (Rodeo Queen is Juanita Owen Turner) 

Photocopy of 3”x 5” photo of Owen family with description of subjects attached

Newspaper article, “Couple Live 61 Years in West Texas: Mr & Mrs J.R. Owens of San Saba are added to List of Pioneers”

Folder MS98.07.17: Poems and Pictures and ArticlesAdd to your cart.

6 lithographs drawn “on the range for the Cutter Laboratory by E.W. Thistlethwaste” 

“There’s No Place Like Home” by O. Lawrence Hawthorne 

“Ol’ Traveler and Me” by Mary Traub Malley 

“A Cowboy’s Ode to Montana” by Bob Garney 

“A Heaven in the Mountains” by Loujincy Polk 

“Don’t Quit” 

“Back in Miles City” by Loujincy Polk 

“Sunset on the Big Horns” by Loujincy Polk 

“Time Isn’t Long” by Loujincy Polk 

“Truth” by L. Polk 

“The Meanest Man In Town” by Ima Carouer 

“His Heritage” by Douglas Malloch 

“The Devil On Barnett Creek” by L. Polk 

“Montana” by Dorothy H. David 

“A Range Rider of the Yellowstone” by Lula A. Cobb (autographed) 

“Log Church Still Serves At Rosebud” (article on the St. Phillips Episcopal Church of Rosebud, MT) 

“The Round-Up Cook” by Jim Fischer 

The Montana Stockgrower’s 1933 newsletter

Folder MS98.07.18: Newspapers & MagazinesAdd to your cart.

Miles City Daily Star (May 24, 1934) – “Stockmen’s Golden Jubilee 1884-1934” Edition – 8 sections

The Billings Gazette (May 27, 1961) – “The Custer Story” Edition

The Hardin Tribune-Herald (1957) – “Golden Anniversary Edition – 50 Years of Progress”

The Billings Gazette (Jan. 8, 1958)

Rocky Mountain Empire Magazine (Dec. 12, 1948) – “Buffalo Hunt: 1948” (p. 5)

The Billings Gazette (May 26, 1962)—“History Makers of Montana & Wyoming”

The Billings Gazette (May 11, 1963)—“Forts & Trails of Old Montana & Wyoming”

Custer County Visitor’s Guide (published by the The Hardin Herald)

Harper’s Magazine (May 1949, Issue # 1186)

Psychology (Dec. 1929, Vol. XIII No.6)

The Magazine of Business (June 1928, Vol.LIII, No.6)

The Country Gentleman (Aug 1926)

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