chief joseph ranch cowgirl magazine
All photos courtesy of Chief Joseph Ranch.……

The now-iconic Chief Joseph Ranch serves as the setting for one of our favorite shows – Yellowstone. This ranch has quite the rich history leading up to its current role as the Dutton ranch!

Early History

The property of the ranch is located in the western part of lands previously inhabited for hundreds of years by the Salish Native American tribe. In September 1805, Lewis and Clark entered the northern Bitterroot Valley and followed a trail used by the native tribes during their expedition. The Nez Perce annually traveled the trail south to reach the bison hunting grounds in the Big Hole Valley, often banding together with the Salish to counter threats from other tribes, notably the Blackfoot.

The native trail traversed the ranch just west of the Lodge and funneled down to where the barns are now located. Chief Joseph led his people across the ranch in his flight from the U.S. Army during the Nez Perce War in the summer of 1877. The ranch property was homesteaded by settlers in 1880 and water rights were registered in 1884, originally known as the Shelton Ranch.

The Ford-Hollister Ranch

In 1914, the 2,500 acre ranch was purchased by the glass tycoon, William S. Ford and federal judge Howard Clark Hollister from Ohio. At the time of purchase, the ranch was a thriving apple orchard. Using both log and stone resources native to the grounds, William Ford began a three-year endeavor to build one of the great log structures of the American West: the Ford-Hollister Lodge. 

Designed by the architectural firm of Bates & Gamble, the 6,000 square foot lodge has been featured in publications such as Architectural Digest and American Log Homes. The lodge occupies a presence alongside the Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone National Park and the lodges in Glacier National Park. Along with the lodge, Ford built three massive barns as the centerpiece for his model dairy. He later replaced the apple trees with the largest herd of Holsteins west of the Mississippi.

Billie Ann and Phyllis Ford riding on the ranch.

In the early 1920s, the dairy operation would give way to a Hereford herd.  After William Ford’s passing in 1935 after, his wife, May Ford and her daughters, Phyllis and Billie Ann, opened and operated one of the first guest ranches in the west. The Ford family had help in accomplishing this task due to help from their ranch manager, Ben Cook.

The Chief Joseph Ranch

In the early 1950s, the Ford-Hollister Ranch was sold and renamed the Chief Joseph Ranch, in honor of the great Nez Perce Chief and his journey through the property. In between filming for Yellowstone, the working, Montana ranch doubles as a guest ranch and a family home.

Who wants to take a trip to Montana and stay at the ranch?!