montana elopement natalie mcfarland chet and candace cowgirl magazine
Photography by McFarland Productions.……

When Chet Strobbe pulled into his yard after a long day of riding in the August heat, he got a text message that would change his life. On short notice, Chet was asked to help trail some yearlings back to the home ranch for the Dana Ranch. This was a chance to go on his favorite gathering trip trailing yearlings in some of the best pastures in the local areal – an opportunity he couldn’t and didn’t pass up. While making their plan for the next day’s ride, someone mentioned a gal. She had just graduated from a ranch management masters program in Texas and was rumored to be “pretty cute.” She was coming along.

Chet’s nerves that night were something he didn’t quite understand. He fretted about meeting a woman he’d not even laid eyes on yet. The good Lord had him intrigued by this gal before they even met each other, and the ride Chet would never turn down was the perfect way to bring them together.

Meanwhile that gal, Candace Weeda, was on a solo, summer adventure to relax and explore the big skies of Montana. She had been feeling a calling for months to take a road trip and chalked it up as a vacation opportunity before accepting her next career move. After all that time in a grad school office she was yearning to connect with wild spaces again. Her plan was to continue to visit friends across the state and visit Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks. Day riding a bit for a ranch near Cascade was just a fun stop on the journey, or so she thought.

When Chet and Candace met, their chemistry was effortless and familiar. They rode and talked all day almost like old friends as they nudged the yearling heifers across the stunning landscape. The two even met up that same evening to pick chokecherries despite being up for work since before the sun. Candace was filled with fresh energy by the wide-open, mountainous terrain and wanted to capture the bountiful berry harvest. Chet teased her that she needed him and a dog to go with ‘because of the bears around ya know’. More than six gallons of chokecherries later, they were falling fast in love.

Chet and Candace’s elopement was one-of-a-kind, just like their love story. They got married in their summer pasture in the saddle of Millegan Hill, near Cascade, Montana, where they had first met. A natural, peaceful wedding venue complete with their cow-calf pairs and a herd of elk grazing the lush summer pastures around them. 

Their special day started by playing catch up; the couple had spent the day before day-riding to help a neighbor trail cow/calf pairs. Candace had taken a week off of work and when Chet asked about going to help the neighbors, she sighed and smiled saying “of course we’ll go.” This meant preparation for the wedding day got put on the back burner, but the couple, along with Chet’s nine-year-old daughter, Royce, got to be horseback together all day. This tradeoff wouldn’t make sense to most brides, but for Candace was the perfect way to have quality time as a soon-to-be family of three. 

Their wedding day was as nontraditional as they come. Imagine packing for a camping trip and that’s pretty much the gist of their pre-nuptial bliss! Food, whiskey, wedding clothes, work clothes, cooking gear, firewood, tepee, tent, horses, tack, dogs and a UTV all were accounted for and finally the Strobbe wedding party tumbled into their ranch rigs to hit the gravel road.

Once arriving to their summer pastures, they set up camp and got dressed for the nuptials. Chet and Royce set up their Sheridan Tent tipi and tent in the shade of a nearby aspen while Candace did her hair and makeup in the side view mirror of their 1995 F250 pickup. She quickly slipped out of Stetson boots and into a pair of moccasins by Jamie Gentry Designs. The bride wore a vintage, long, fringed deerskin skirt. Candace originally had high hopes of sewing her own leather wedding skirt, but something about working a full-time job, teaching yoga, ranching, and managing a household didn’t leave the cowgirl much time for sewing. A dear friend of hers from college came to her rescue by gifting her this fringe skirt instead – which turned out to be absolutely stunning paired with a white, lace bodysuit from Triangle T Boutique. 

The groom’s outfit of Cinch jeans, Hondo boots and a timeless white pearl snap shirt came from Hoglund’s Western Wear of Great Falls. When the couple went in to shop, they were helped by the shop’s owner, Mike Marzetta, who fondly told the story of when he sold Chet his first “real” cowboy hat. Chet wasn’t more than five years old and after proudly sending him out the door with his new lid, Mike found Chet at the local fair later that night using the hat as a dumptruck to fill and haul gravel. Candace promised Mike she would keep the newly purchased bone-colored hat safe and clean until the wedding day! 

Candace’s custom Kim Klass wedding ring is as unique as Chet and Candace’s story. To make something special and meaningful, Chet suggested to have the ring made to look like his favorite cowboy knot, the Fiador knot which is often used on hackamores. The symbolism and thoughtful, sentimental effort from her Montana cowboy created a ring for Candace to treasure throughout the years ahead.

As the wedding party made their way up to the top of the mountain for the ceremony, they stopped to pick native wildflowers to add to Candace’s bouquet of leather roses which were made by her mother. The bouquet was completed with a ribbon of satin off of the hem of her grandmother’s wedding gown. 

The couple said I do at their marriage ceremony in the saddle of Millegan Hill at sunset with few witnesses; God, Royce, the couple’s working dogs, and their all-around wedding woman (officiant, photographer, videographer, and friend) Natalie McFarland, as well as the cow-calf pairs and elk in the pastures below. Their private, simple ceremony put Chet & Candace’s relationship with each other and God at the forefront in every way — which was a priority to set the foundation for their partnership for the rest of their lives. 

Following the couple’s intimate vows, the new family enjoyed dinner cooked over the campfire: home-raised steaks, potatoes and asparagus followed by classic s’mores. The stars filled the night sky as the wedding party enjoyed the fire, told stories and toasted to the journey ahead for the newlyweds. The wedding party camped overnight in their leased pasture under that big Montana sky, listening to the bubbling stream nearby and soft calls from cattle and birds.

Morning one as a married couple began with a campfire breakfast and, of course, perked coffee, enjoyed with the same sweet company as their last night’s dinner. Chet and Candace spent their first day as Mr. and Mrs. gathering and moving their cow/calf pairs to greener, fresh summer pastures.