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Cochrane Ranch part of South History

Lethbridge Herald - Sunday August 17, 1997
Written by Garry Allison

Senator's Glenwood-area ranch featured unique home, 15,000 head of cattle

Texas isn't the only place to boast of huge cattle ranches.

In 1881, Senator Matthew Cochrane of Montreal began building his empire in Alberta, and when he finished, he had leased or purchased 334,500 acres.

One of his holdings was 67,000 acres between the Belly and Kootenai (Waterton) Rivers, leased in the spring of 1883 and later purchased for $2 an acre.

The South Cochrane Ranch was about 45 Kilometres long, running north and south, and 9.6 km wide at its narrowest point and about 13 at the widest. The main ranch was just northwest of Calgary. That Cochrane Ranch is a historic site and tourist attraction.

Wallace Leavitt, 86 was born in Glenwood and remembers the ranch and its large stone bungalow, which included a milk room, office, three bedrooms, library, dining room, a wine room, pantry, indoor bathroom, kitchen and living room, with three sides of the structure surrounded by a veranda.

"Billy Cochrane, the senator's son, lived there at first," says Leavitt. "There was a fence around the bungalow to keep the cattle away. Billy's wife had a lot of beautiful flowers. They say it was a wonderful sight."

A windmill at back of the house pumped water through the gravity system into the kitchen and luxurious bathroom.

Leavitt was inside the home many times after Billy Cochrane had left the house in care of hired men or renters.

Billy originally operated the south ranch. In 1895 he married Helen May Brisco, and it was for her Billy had the ranch's stone bungalow built. The house was the first of its type in Western Canada.

With the Belly River less than a few hundred meters from the house, the newly-weds had it all: a view, veranda, hot water radiator heating and acetylene gas lighting. The couple also had servants and a gardener to keep the grounds immaculate.

Today a cairn marks the approximate location of the house, just past the bridge across the Belly River on Highway 505.

"The cairn represents our history," says Leavitt, one of the forces behind its placement. "This is a historical site and should be preserved. It tells of the changes in Alberta, from the large cattle ranches and their time to this modern day of mixed farming in the same area."

The 16-ton rock cairn, brought in from the Yoachim Hengerer property, was the result of the work of Grover Thomas and May Archibald of the Glenwood Historical Society, along with Leavitt and the Cardston New Horizon Group. Others instrumental in the cairn project included Brenda Ferris and Rex Wood.

Near the cairn today are trees, shrubs and some of the plants which once beautified the yard of Billy and his young bride.

The ranch was acquired by the senator as a safe haven for his cattle in the winter. The north ranch, now a historical site just outside Calgary along the Banff Highway, was much colder.

Severe winters in the Calgary area had left the senator with massive herd losses. It was felt the move south, into the heart of the chinook belt, would alleviate those winter worries.

"But when they moved down here, it was a terrible winter here, too," says Leavitt. "That winter the winds came from the northeast, and the cattle moved with the winds, clear to Waterton, where the snow was drifting badly."

Leavitt says a cowboy from Macleod told the Cochranes he could save their cattle. He rounded up a large herd of Indian ponies and drove them through the snow and the drifts to Waterton.

"Once there, he turned the horses around and drove them back. The cattle followed behind in the pounded down drifts. They were saved, but they could just as easily have lost the whole bunch.

They were originally driven back to some open range on the Peigan Reserve and later moved back to the ranch.

Leavitt says the south ranch had about 15,000 head of cattle, with Angus, Herefords and shorthorns. Most were bought in the United States and driven up through southern Alberta to Calgary, and eventually back south to the Glenwood-area ranch.

"While down here, Cochrane did have a lot of problems with Indians, with the Blood Reserve right across the Belly River," says Leavitt. "At that time everyone was very hungry, and the hunger drive them to steal cattle."

The senator died in 1902, and three years later, the south ranch was sold to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter- day Saints, for $6 an acre.

"The Cochrane Ranch was sold and broken up because the big ranches had their day, and they were being crowded out," says Leavitt. "After the sale, Billy had three years to take the cattle off the range and to move out.

Cochrane made a big profit on the sale, but even at that it was still pretty cheap land at $6 an acre.

E. J. Wood had Key role in selling parts of Cochrane Ranch

"Lethbridge Herald - Sunday August 17, 1997"
Written by Garry Allison

Edward J. Wood was a key figure in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' purchase of the Cochrane Ranch in 1906.

Wood was president of the Cardston Stake for the church.

In his diary, Wood writes: "To my great surprise I received a wire from President Smith in Salt Lake City that President H. S. Allan of Raymond and I were to go to Salt Lake City at once and meet with the First Presidency of the advisability of buying the Cochrane Ranch."

The meeting, which involved ranch representatives, resulted in the purchase of the 67,000 acres for $6 an acre, to be paid in one payment of $99,000 and five payments of $60,000 over five years.

"President Wood was in charge of selling the land to anyone, but naturally the preferred buyers were church members," says 86-year-old Wallace Leavitt, a lifelong Glenwood resident.

"Most bought about 160 acres. They broke the prairie sod with a mole-board plow, which cut into the grass and rolled the sod over. Most were pulled by horses, but some had some big tractors to do the work."

After the sale was complete, E. J. Wood, who also purchased some of the land for himself, moved into the elaborate Cochrane Ranch stone bungalow. Leavitt says the Wood family only stayed a few years before moving back to Cardston, so his wife could be freed of the isolation of the ranch.

The house was lived in by the Nelson family for 11 years, various ranch hands and other, until it was finally abandoned.

"The house was finally demolished by vandals," says Leavitt. "They went in and knocked things apart after it wasn't being rented. About the only thing left was the stone blocks, which were sold to the Palmer Ranch. They made fences and others out of it."

Cardston's Donna Wood, 88, remembers moving to the Wood farm in 1934 with her family and husband Dale, son of E. J. Wood. Dale fed 3,000 lambs at one time and wintered 500 head of cattle for the church ranch. He also raised sugar beets and grain and had 150 bee hives.

They lived in what was known as the Blue House, just up the hill from the original stone bungalow.

"The Blue House was a two story building with a quite large room upstairs," says Donna. "It was such a big area, and I believe they held the first school up there. It was used for dances too at one time.

"The house had running water and a tub. At one time they men working for us lived in the old ranch bungalow down below."

Wood and husband Dale left the Blue House in 1942, and their son Rex took over the farm.

One of the interesting aspects of the E. J. Wood family was that all his children's names relate in some way to wood: Forest, Myrtle, Ivy, Fern, Glen, Dale, Olive and Vi (a Samoan word with a woody connection which they picked up during a LDS mission to Samoa).

A school in Cardston is named for E. J. Wood.

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Mary Tollestrup