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Cattlemen Opened the Land
to Settlement

"Raymond Remembered" pages 2-21 to 2-27


Hollywood has made much about the few short years of the great cattle barons of the American southwest - to the point where it is difficult to separate fact from fiction - but, there is no reason to suggest that the cattlemen of Montana and Southern Alberta were in any significant manner different from their more famous (sometimes, infamous) counterparts on America's western frontier. Indeed, Montana historian, Joel Overholzer, suggests that one of the toughest cattlemen ever - Granville Stuart not only trailed thousands of cattle north to Montana and Alberta, from as far away as Texas and Mexico, but may also have led lynching and shooting parties against cattle rustlers and horse thieves as late as 1900. Overholzer has found records indicating that as many as 63 men from Montana and Alberta may have perished by the hand or at the orders of Granville Stuart.

With or without rustlers and lynch mobs, ranching certainly was never a career for the faint of heart. In this chapter we will examine the subject from several different points of view.

Cattlemen led the way

History tells that the cattlemen were here first and to them should go the thanks of everyone else, for it was the cattlemen whom first recognized the true value of this productive land called Southern Alberta. The Meeks Brothers came to Alberta later than some, but things hadn't changed much by the time they arrived.

Seeking Greener Pastures

(Excerpts from letters written by Jim Meeks)

In August 1902, my brother Will and I decided if we were to continue in the cattle business we would have to seek greener pastures. Our Utah ranges were overstocked, losses were heavy every winter and hay was out of the question. We had stock on the Henry and Boulder Mountains, and on the deserts between, in Southern Utah. Roaming bands of sheep left dusty trails on the desert and trimmed the vegetation on the mountain ranges. To remain in the stock business, after experiencing this year after year, we knew something would have to be done. We had talked of Oregon as well as Canada. We decided - sitting there on our saddle horses on top of Boulder mountain and surrounded by a half dozen herds of sheep - that we would head for Salt Lake City the next day to talk with men who knew both Oregon and Canada as places to establish a ranching business.

Grass going to waste in Canada

W.H. Mclntyre was the first we met for information on Canada. He wanted to know why we wanted so much information about Canada. After telling him we were looking for a place where we could establish a ranching business, he exclaimed, "Haven't you heard of the hard winters in Canada and the cold rains that kill cattle in the spring? I am losing thousands of dollars in Canada every year. Now understand me, I am losing money by not having enough cattle to eat the grass. Boys, if I wanted to go into the cattle business and I had an old cow with but three good legs, I would ship her to Canada."

We next called on Joseph W. McMurrin, an LDS Church leader who was familiar with both countries. His advice was helpful; "If you want a mild climate, where you have fruit in abundance and you probably could ranch in a small way, go to Oregon. But, if you want lots of room, on a rich fertile prairie, covered with abundant grass, then go to Canada."

On the road to Canada

That was good enough for us! We left that night and in two days we were in Canada. We rolled into Stirling on the night of 28 August 1902, over the narrow gauge railroad from Great Falls. That night we experienced what four degrees of frost felt like in Canada, after coming out of the south. The following morning we were glad to get out of the cold hotel and we started to walk to Raymond, mostly to get warm. Half way, we were overtaken by Christian Peterson of Welling and Joseph Harker of Magrath, riding in a sheep supply wagon. They were on their way to Raymond for supplies for the Knight camps. We were headed for the Knights, too, so we appreciated the lift. At Raymond, we found the Knights had gone to Cardston for a Mormon conference. So, we worked our way to Cardston and there contacted the Knights, including "Uncle Jesse" - the mining millionaire from Provo, Utah. The Knights received us very kindly and immediately after conference drove us to their Bar K2 ranch, east of Cardston, to look over their land. Ray Knight showed us 1,000 steers, of which 400 were ready to be shipped. He said he expected to get $40 or $45 per head for them, which seemed a good price at the time.

We were fitted out at the ranch with two good saddle horses and a guide to ride down the Milk River Ridge through the Mclntyre Ranch and on into the Ridge country known as the Option, then back south into the country now known as the Del Bonita District. Day after day we rode, never tiring of seeing thousands of fat cattle and abundant grass that stood knee high to a saddle horse.

Back to Utah to get cattle

Impressed with the country and its ranching possibilities, we rushed back home to gather up cattle and move them to Canada. By the first of November we had selected about 500 head. Then we headed north. Because brother Will was not able to make the trip back to Canada, brother Archie - four years younger than myself - put on his red flannels and said he would try one winter in Canada. Uncle George Forsythe also caught the Canadian spirit and came with us, bringing 45 head of cattle, four work horses and his saddle horse He certainly made for a distinguished teamster, perched high upon the lead wagon, driving four big horses, wearing a U.S. Army Uniform, with an Ivory handled pistol strapped to his him, ready for any emergency.

The railway trip proved uneventful until we reached Cut Bank, Montana, our destination on the U.S. side. When we arrived there at 12 oclock at night, the Great Northern Railroad people demanded $1,200 in cash for the haul before the cattle could be unloaded. We were hungry, tired, cold and disappointed. We had no currency with us, so the stock had to be held on the train until 11 o'clock the next morning. As a compromise, I gave Great Northern our cheque for $1,200. In the morning a wire was sent to Salt Lake City concerning this cheque. When the word came back "OK", we proceeded to unload the cattle.

We worked fast because we wanted to get over on the Canadian side of the line before winter set in. In less than two days we were 20 miles out on the Blackfoot Reservation. At dawn the second morning, suddenly appeared at our camp two Great Northern officials waving my $1200 cheque. Seems I had made a mistake; I had written 12 on the second line, instead of $1200, so the cheque was worthless.

It was our turn to be independent then - what with the cattle resting and feeding on the first real grass they had ever seen, and deep in the heart of an Indian Reservation. We asked the railway men to have breakfast with us, which they did. They were humble and nice and volunteered to help us pack up and get on our way. About ten that morning I gave them a new cheque - this time for the correct amount - and they left for Cut Bank expressing appreciation that we had all understood each other.

Our trip from Cut Bank into Canada was anything but pleasant as we faced cold shifting winds that kept the new snow on the move. The last night in Montana we met Ray Knight on the Emerson Ranch. When he came in sight we breathed a sigh of relief. We were practically lost and expected at any time to run into an Indian police patrol. That would have meant a charge of trespassing, for we had no permit to cross an Indian Reservation.

Landmarks across Blackfoot country

Next morning, Ray Knight pointed out some landmarks ahead to use as guideposts in making our last miles in Montana. We moved right along until the International line was crossed, moved then onto Knight land. From there on we took our time, resting and grazing the stock until we got to the south branch of the Milk River. We waited there for two weeks for the arrival of three train loads of steers from Utah, so we could pass through customs together. Our next move was to cross the Milk River Ridge and find a home for our cattle. Finally, on Christmas Eve, we pitched our tents on John Heninger's farm, one mile east of Magrath. Christmas morning came bright, warm and clear, after a light fall of snow the night before. A gentle breeze was blowing from the southwest. As we stood on the creek bank, we could hear the music of the Magrath band as they played "O, Canada." To us, it was sweet music. We were in the promised land.

In Magrath, we were not long getting acquainted with such as the Heningers, Stoddards, Riries, Turners, Dudleys, Karrens and Harkers. To them, I guess we were just two strange boys living in a tent across Pot Hole Creek, looking after a herd of thin Utah cattle.

Getting set for winter

We bought hay from John Heninger and set about establishing our quarters for the winter. It was going to be a long cold winter, living in a tent as we had to. (Thanks to our good mother in sending along plenty of bedding to keep us warm.)

By the middle of January, winter was upon us. Now the cattle from Southern Utah really began to show the pinch of a northern climate. Grain had to be fed, along with hay to preserve their flesh. Expenses were mounting; money was needed. Magrath had no bank, so our only source of money was a bank in Salt Lake City, eight hundred miles away. The asset they held - our livestock - which had been adequate to secure a loan in Salt Lake, now was located in a foreign land. Bankers don't like that! To arrange our banking business so it would be a little more satisfactory, I saddled my horse and rode to Raymond, where the Bank of Montreal had just established a branch.

After putting my horse in the livery stable, I walked to the McCarty Hotel, where I met Will Knight - Ray's brother. He asked, "How is everything, and are you getting set for winter?" I explained that I was still paying bills using a Salt Lake bank. "That will never do," he said. "Come with me; we'll changed all that. At that time the bank was located in the McCarty Hotel. After a friendly discussion with the manager, my credit line was reworked. A $2,700 note on the Salt Lake bank was taken up, an $800 overdraft was paid off, and a credit line of another $800 was arranged.

May storm hits

April and the early part of May were confortingly dry. Only two inches of snow fell during a 45 day period. But then the May snow storm hit us! I believe something should be said about that May snow storm. No one, save those who actually experienced it, can fully understand what man and beast passed through. It started to rain very hard about 3 p.m., Saturday, May 16th, and by the next morning there was 14 inches of wet snow covering the country. I looked out the tent door and made a few steps towards a new shed we were building. My vision was so obscured that I returned to the tent. "Boys," I said, speaking to my brother and to Frank Edwards our hired man, "If I were a betting man I would bet $1,000 that no man living could face that storm from here to Magrath."

Monday morning came and no change - only more snow. The cattle were drifting now, trying to find shelter somewhere. The last of our remaining hay stack was used up. Four work horses and two saddle horses were without feed. Calves were taken from their mothers and pushed into the corral for protection. We thought the mothers would remain outside and browse on any green leaves sticking above the snow. But, they never stopped drifting and most mother cows never did return to their calves.

Things really began to look serious. Frank Edwards volunteered to take the four horses and go to an unclaimed hay stack one mile away and bring back a little hay. At the same time, my brother said, "I'll follow the same fence to the Magrath field and open up that corner. There is liable to be a pile-up there when the cattle drift south."

All that day I worked around the yard, digging cows out of snow drifts, pushing calves into the temporary shelter. I waited and listened for the sound of the boys returning. Just at dusk, I saw a dark object stalled within 300 yards of the camp, facing a 20-foot snow bank. Turned out it was Frank Edwards. He actually cried when he saw me approaching. "I've been lost all day!"

"You get on my horse," I said. "I think I can get you out of this." I got up on the wagon and spoke to the team. They wouldn't move. I spoke to them again, slashing them with the lines, but still they stood. "Frank, what's the matter with this old team?" I yelled. "It's the first time they have ever refused to pull." As he broke down again, Frank replied, "Jimmy, I have pulled that team so much today I am ashamed of myself, and I have swore so much I thought God Almighty would rob me of speech."

After a little careful piloting I was able to get the team into camp, where we stayed for days. Our worries were not over, either. What had become of my brother? He had left when Frank did and expected to be back in three or four hours. We listened in vain that night for some sound suggesting his return, but not until three days later did he get back, struggling through the snow and nearly blind under the noon-day sun. He had been marooned with five Magrath men, in Hod Thomas' shack.

Tuesday night, the storm was still raging. It brought in a rider from the north, Will Knight. He was looking for Wells Brimhall, who hadn't been heard of for days. Will had struggled all day, on and off his horse, to make the eight miles to our camp. "Do you know anything about Wells?" he asked. "Not a thing," we replied. "Well, the only chance he has now is with George Forsythe, in his sheep camp."

The storm broke at 11 o'clock that night. Stock losses were heavy everywhere, and a 40 percent calf crop and 10 percent lamb crop was the limit that year.

Meeks family moves north

My wife came to this country in 1905. My brother Will - after deciding that Canada was a good country to live in - returned in August 1903, with his wife and baby.

In the spring of 1903~ the Knight Sugar Company came on the market with 200,000 acres south of Raymond - land known as the Option - for $6 per acre, with a 10-year purchase contract at 6 percent interest. Ray Knight, Jesse Knight's oldest son, was permitted to make first choice out of this block of land as a private holding - a block known as the Buck Ranch, which is now owned by the Milford Hutterite Colony. Will Knight, Jesse's second son, got second choice. Will selected a block Iying directly west of the Buck Ranch, known later as the Hereford Ranch. Then, because of my friendship with the Knight brothers, I was permitted to make third choice. Will Knight wanted me to take four sections, instead of confining myself to 960 acres. Later, I appreciated Will's foresight, as land around us doubled in price. Just a few years later, we felt justified in paying $27.50 per acre for sod land.

When people from the eastern states began coming into the south country, a real estate boom was on in earnest. Land shot up in price and proposed canals and proposed branch railroads were marked out on the areas offered for sale. However, there still was no railroad proposed to cross the 200,000 acres of Option land where we were located. The hotels were filled with people talking land and new railroads.

In 1903, the Raymond district showed a sudden influx of settlers. The Knight Sugar Company factory was finished and ready for operation. Ellison Mills likewise was completed, ready for the wheat, and Raymond had been incorporated, with the occasion being celebrated on the first day of July. The sugar factory contractors were very generous in their contributions to make the occasion a success. To me, it was a huge crowd, surging over the prairie, clamouring for seats in the new grandstand. At least 10 Red Coats (NWMP) spurred and slashed their horses, disciplining the crowd and lining us up for the races. We had no rails or wire fences to lean against back then. We were strangers to the police, but they did their best to keep order and, at the same time, to create a good impression. One-free-for-all did take place, involving six men. Women screamed, while men raced through the crowd looking for a policeman. Not one could be found! Apparently they had all gone to the McCarty Hotel for t-bone steaks.

Future looked encouraging

The future looked bright to most settlers m the district. No one seemed conscious of the rough spots that might be ahead. On every hand a new picture of life presented itself. From the front door of the tent, to the back door of the shack, came the salute, "Good morning, neighbour." Everybody seemed happy and confident. It was like being born again into a new life, in a new country, with all kinds ot opportunities. We had a lot to learn, of course. How to plow the virgin soil and produce a crop in one year, without irrigation, was a big question. What "summer fallow" meant. To think a man could cultivate the soil one year, and preserve the moisture until the next year, seemed ridiculous to some of us. How to hold work horses and milk cows close to home on the open prairie, especially during fly time, was a real problem. (Jesse Knight solved that problem by placing a fence around the four sections of land surrounding Raymond and all domestic livestock was kept there.)

Next, was to get this sod broken, pulverized and producing. Only horse power was available. A four-horse team represented an investment of $700 to $800 in those days. We talked horses and horse power then - like we talk tractors nowadays. As I remember, it took from $3.50 to $5 per acre to get the breaking done, on land that cost only $6 to $10 per acre to buy. And, it was a constant struggle to get $10 an acre land paid for out of the proceeds of grain crops when your operations were so limited. The standard spring wheat then was Red Fife, a wheat that was two weeks later in ripening than the present-day Marquis. It was a rare thing to harvest a crop free of frost back then, and the price ranged from only 35 cents to 50 cents per bushel, graded according to frost.

Second bad winter

I often wondered which was the better business - to grow wheat at 35 to 50 cents per bushel, or to raise livestock, selling three and four-year-olds for $35 to $38 per head, but with a limited market. We rather leaned to the cattle business until we hit the winter of 1906/1907. Old timers look back to that winter as one of the most severe ever. By the end of December we had already gone through the ravages of most ordinary winters. Then, January came in cold, with nearly two feet of snow covering the countryside. Transportation was almost impossible, except by sleigh or horseback. Cattle were dying on the range. Thousands had drifted out of the country south and east of Stirling, to the Milk River district, down past Coutts and on to the Marias River in Montana. It was impossible to get any of these cattle back except by train, or by trailing them right up the railroad track. There was great cooperation between the train crews and the cow men. When a herd of cattle was coming single file along the track, the train would stop until the cattle passed around it and got back on the track.

Less than 40 percent of the cattle ever got back to their home range. The Eldridge brothers of Spring Coulee, were the heaviest losers, because they had the most cattle. One thing that made the winter more disastrous was the fact that round-up time was delayed nearly two months while we waited for the good weather that never came. This gave the cattle time to drift out of reach. Finally, a chinook broke about the 6th of February and it cleaned up most of the snow, sending small rivers of water down every coulee in the country. But then, in March, we got more snow, plus a deadly outbreak of mange.

After experiencing our second severe loss in livestock, we decided that we would have to get better prepared to stop such losses. We broke more land and grew more wheat, oats and barley to meet the needs of a starving herd of cattle during a hard winter. We were quite successful in holding our losses down by turning more attention to farming and, at the same time, by increasing the herd.

Driest year in fifty

The year 1919 was extremely dry - the worst in many years - and it followed the dry year of 1918. There was practically no grass. Crops that had not failed altogether were very light. Stockmen were in a predicament as to what was best to do - sell their stock, or try to winter them through. The Knight/Watson cattle partnership - at that time owning from 15,000 to 20,000 cattle - started late in July to move them to the Chicago market. Every 10 days they shipped about 2,000 head. Late in August, Watson suggested he could make a satisfactory bid on our herd. We agreed upon a time when the cattle could be rounded up for him to look at. After the cattle were bunched he checked them for flesh, quality and age. The herd presented a beautiful picture as they rested on the hillside under a hot August sun, along the shores of a large lake of fresh water. He made us what seemed like a generous offer when it was worked out in pounds versus dollars and cents. It would bring us approximately $100 per head for 2,000 cattle, yearlings and up. Calves by their mother's side were to go as one unit.

Eventually, we declined the Knight/Watson offer, but we did agree to sell all the beef cattle in the herd. It just seemed to us that selling our cow herd was like killing the goose that could lay golden eggs. We couldn't see our way clear to part with them.

On the third of October, winter set in and the battle was on to save the herd of cattle we had just refused to sell. It was winter from then until May 9th. Our supply of feed soon was gone. We bought hay and shipped it to the cattle. But, hay alone would not preserve their flesh. Grain had to be fed, too. We brought in grain from Northern Alberta, corn and meal cake from the U.S., as well as hay from Manitoba.

In spite of all we could do, the losses piled up. On the first day of June 1920, the Meeks brothers woke up owing the Bank of Montreal $97,000, after starting out with a clean financial slate the fall before. To face the future with a fast dwindling asset in the half-exhausted cattle herd, was just one part of the bad picture that confronted us. Thousands of dollars in land contracts had to be met. There were bills owing to machinery companies, and merchants and blacksmiths had to be paid. Cattle worth $200,000 in August of 1919, in only ten months had shrunk in value until the asset securing our bank loan amounted to $65,000 at best.

Nervous creditors - a rancher's nightmare

Our creditors wanted their money. Bills were coming in marked "Please pay up!" and "This bill has been running too long!" The bank manager was nervous about our plight. The head of the bank was demanding more security. We had no liquid assets other than those already tied up. The ring of the telephone had become so repulsive that we answered it with real hesitation. And, this financial disaster occurred during one of the longest and coldest winters in Canadian history, coupled with the abnormally high cost of feed and a fast declining livestock market.

After the winter had cleared away, the bank asked for a new property statement. That meant the cattle would have to be counted and classed as to value. After looking the herd over, my brother Will said glumly, " That's a hell of a looking herd of cattle to raise a hundred thousand dollars out of." lt was at that! Thin in the flesh, many with frozen feet, legs and tails. I made no comment. Somebody had to appear optimistic and hopeful.

It was embarrassing to meet our banker and make our report. The bank had been generous in extending a good line of credit to provide feed for our stock, but it was now exceeded by thousands of dollars in overdrafts. To be honourable with our creditors, and at the same time to ease the financial situation and again establish our credit, we gave them a mortgage on more than three thousand acres of good land. We were sparring for time, and we knew it would take time to clear this obligation. Time was the only thing we asked the bank for- and time we got.

Debt restricts freedom

The last words of advice from Father and Mother Meeks when we first came to this country were "Don't let your enthusiasm carry you into debt to the extent that your obligations become a burden."

Despite the warning, in less than 10 months our Canadian business had changed from one of complacency to one of bondage and debt. Looking back, 1 suppose we could have sold the livestock in 1919. But, we would have had 35,000 acres of grass land to pay taxes on, and no stock to graze.

The burden of debt brings intimidation and fear, and robs one of freedom of choice. Under these handicaps, we planned, worked and worried, and denied ourselves many things we thought we were entitled to, in order that this obligation might be lifted from our shoulders. We gave ourselves 10 years to get free of the debt, but we found we had to increase that time before the obligation finally was cleared.

Our only source of money through this period was from the sale of wheat, cattle, sheep and wool, and I'm sure no one who lived through it has forgotten the years 1930 through 1933. Wheat sold for 20 to 40 cents per bushel, wool from 6 to 8 cents per pound, lambs 5 to 6 cents per pound, and beef cows $1.35 per hundred, with the best steers going at 3 cents per pound. We shipped our best heifers to Winnipeg and got back $14 per head.

I have related these experiences in order that future generations might understand a little better just what ranchers and livestock farmers had to go through in early Southern Alberta. I have confined myself mostly to our own business, because I know more about it than I know of the other fellow's. But, what was true in our case was likewise true for many other ranchers, whether they operated on a small or large scale. Those were very difficult times and hopefully we'll never see them again.

Land and the LDS Church - The story of Deseret Ranches

During the mid 1800s, most of the land in Southern Alberta was owned by the Dominion of Canada. Due to the efforts of Sir Alexander Galt and his son Elliott in establishing two railways in Southern Alberta, they had received more than one million acres of this land through grants.

The Galts planned to lease or sell this land to large ranching companies, but soon found they could not compete with the generous grazing leases in Alberta, nor with the free grasslands in Montana. Their only option was to attract settlers.

It was about this time that Charles Ora Card, with a company of Mormons, arrived in the Cardston area to start a community. Card, and his friend, John W. Taylor, were able to purchase more than 700,000 acres of land from the Galts, through their Alberta Railway and Irrigation Company. The terms of the purchase agreement were that a rent of 2 cents per acre, per year would be paid - for the four years from 1892 to 1895 inclusive. The final purchase price would then be $1 per acre, to be spread over eight years, with interest at 6 percent.

During those early years, the Mormons were becoming fairly well-known to the family of Senator Matthew H. Cochrane. Senator Cochrane was a breeder and importer of Shorthorn cattle and founder of the Cochrane Ranch, located then between the Waterton and Belly rivers in Southern Alberta.

Cowboys working on the Cochrane ranch watched with mixed feelings as the Mormons divided up and broke the land for settlement. They reported to William Cochrane (son of Senator Cochrane), "Those Mormons are tearing up the country as if they owned it."

William Cochrane is said to have replied, "Don't worry about the Mormons. They'll winter kill!"

History records, not only did the Mormons not "winter kill", they actually went on to become a great help to the Cochrane Ranch. And, the ranch was also a great help to the settlers. Some of the first money earned by the Mormons in their new country was for putting up hay at $6.50 per ton for the ranch.

On the death of Senator Cochrane, the ranch was purchased by the LDS Church. The year was 1906, and the sale of 66,500 acres went for the then-premium price of $6 per acre. This was a substantial increase over the $1 per acre paid just 15 years earlier by Ora Card and John W. Taylor. At that time, the Cochrane Ranch included most of what are now the towns of Hill Spring and Glenwood. It was purchased by the LDS Church for the purpose of colonization by members of the Church arriving from Utah and other areas. Much of it was sold to members of the Church for an annual payment of some of the grain produced on the land. Raymondite Hugh Court spent many years working for the Cochrane Ranch and he remembers having to go to Hill Spring each fall to fix up the elevator so that the annual land payments from members could be received.

Approximately 36,000 acres were sold in this way over the years, with the remaining 30,000 acres being sold in the 1960s, to the Morris Palmer family. In the late 1800s, William H. Mclntyre also was considering this same area as a place to establish a cattle ranch. In 1894, Mclntyre purchased a large tract of land from the Alberta Railway and Irrigation Company, through Charles A. Magrath. (Magrath went on to become the first mayor of Lethbridge.) However, at that time Magrath was acting as a land agent for the Galts. Mclntyre continued to purchase land until he had acquired some 87,000 acres.

Days of the open range

Many stories have come from those days of the open and unfenced rangeland. Round-ups were in constant progress and were the only way of keeping track of cattle. Working to the outside limits of where a person could locate their own cattle, they would then push them back to their home ranch. Corrals were not used for spring branding back then. Instead, bunches of cows and calves were held by riders on the open prairie, while a good roper dragged the calves up to the branding fire.

Stories have surfaced about the experiences some of these early cowboys had with the newly arrived Mormon settlers. It didn't take long for the cowboys to learn of the faith these Mormons had and how that faith was often demonstrated. During one particularly dry period, for example, a group of cowboys was attending Sacrament meeting when the foreman of the group learned that the members were fasting for rain.

There was quite a stir when the foreman said, "Come on boys, let's set up our hay. The Mormons are praying for rain again." And off they went!

Those were also the days when a good brood cow could be bought for $25 to $30 compared to the current price of $650 or more. At the same time, land prices have escalated far more drastically than cattle prices and, even with today's deflated real estate market, land has remained proportionally higher than cattle and other commodity prices.

Knight's Bar K2

Jesse Knight acquired a township and a half of land (appoximately 34,500 acres) from William Mclntyre, in 1899, and started the Bar K2 ranch - a name derived from his two sons, Oscar Ray and John William - thus, K2 (or Knight x 2). Shortly after his initial purchase,.Jesse Knight made a contract with the Alberta Railway and Irrigation Company for the purchase of a large block of land immediately east of Mclntyre's land. This block of land stretched from the U.S. border up to and including the present town of Raymond, comprising some 250,000 acres (390 square miles). The town of Raymond was founded on that land and named after Knight's oldest son. As part of this land contract, Knight agreed to build and operate a sugar factory.

Part of the land which was included in the Knight purchase originally had been settled by Bill Kirkaldy. The ranch bearing his name is still in operation today as part of the Deseret Ranches.

In 1936, the Knights experienced a series of financial set-backs and they ended up unable to keep the Bar K2 ranch. Control of the Knight Sugar Company (which held title to most of the land), had passed into the hands of banks. William Mclntyre made a deal with the controlling banks, and with some minority stockholders, to acquire their holdings in the Knight Sugar Company. Over the next few years, the remaining 13 percent of the outstanding shares also were acquired. Mclntyre now had control of 160,000 acres, stretching from the U.S. border to where the towns of Raymond and Magrath are today. Shortly before the death of William Mclntyre, the LDS Church again felt the need to own land for the purpose of ranching. In 1947, under the guidance and direction of Joseph B. Wirthlin, the Church acquired 11,680 acres of the Bar K2 Ranch from Mclntyre for $64 per acre. One year later, an additional 80,070 were purchased from McIntyre - also land formerly owned by Jesse Knight. This land was purchased for $47 per acre and included the Kirkaldy Ranch. Between 1970 and 1979, an additional 4,358 acres was purchased, bringing total Church holdings to 96,108 acres.

Tough negotiations by Church

Employees living on the ranch when the Church purchased it remember how thorough the Brethren were who handled the deal. Bishop Wirthlin and others from Salt Lake came through the ranch and had every animal, machine, bale of hay, and nut and bolt counted. Then they decided which items the Church would take and which the Mclntyre estate should keep. Employees were given the option of remaining with the ranch and were guaranteed their jobs and salaries if they remained.

Early management of the ranch was supervised directly by ecclesiastical authorities from the Cardston Stake. In March 1969, the lands were incorporated under the name Deseret Farms of Alberta Ltd. At the time of incorporation all farming operations were being carried out by ranch personnel. This proved to be a costly procedure, so in the early 1980s the farmland was leased out to tenants and the ranch personnel were left to concentrate on doing what they did best - ranch. This also caused management to reconsider the descriptive nature of the corporate name and that resulted in the latest change, in 1982, to Deseret Ranches of Alberta Ltd., under which title the ranch operates to this day. The president of the Cardston Stake remains the president of Deseret Ranches, but the Stake is no longer responsible for the day-to-day operations. This responsibility has been shifted to the Farm Management Division of the LDS Church.

Today, Deseret Ranches includes the Bar K2 Ranch and the Knight Ranch. The Knight has been divided into four physically distinct units, those being the Knight, the Kirkaldy, the Horseshoe and the Deerhaven. These divisions are less rigid than when they were first established and units work together.

Deseret serves the Church

The mission of Deseret Ranches is to generate the highest possible return on investment and to concurrently improve the quality and value of the land. Deseret Ranches is a profitable entity and has, with the exception of only two or three years since its origin, consistently carried its weight and made a substantial financial contribution to the work of the LDS Church in Canada. Because Deseret Ranches falls under the investment arm of the Church, it is a fully taxable corporation. Also, as a matter of policy it does not take advantage of subsidy programs offered by the government to agricultural producers.

Today, Deseret Ranches is considered to be an high-tech innovator in the areas of information management and general management practices. Its continued success is owed to dedicated employees who share a team spirit and are aware of the great responsibility which is theirs as custodians of Church assets and in assisting with the advancement of the Lord's work in this part of his vineyard. (Small note of humour; perhaps that should read, "In this part of his pasture!")

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Copyright 2000
Mary Tollestrup