In 1855, the Hudson Bay Company sent a Canadian trapper named Johnny Grant to manage their trading post in Deer Lodge, Mont. As the mountain valley on the Clark Fork of the Columbia River began to populate and people replaced the wild game, Grant saw opportunity to build his own cattle operation there. He built a log cabin—though his full-blooded Bannock wife, Quarra slept in a tepee in the yard—stables, corrals, and Montana’s first sizable cow herd in the subsequent 11 years.
Meanwhile, German immigrant Conrad Kohrs was wandering the West, first trying his hand as a miner in California, but later settling in as a butcher in Montana. After years of trading with Grant, Kohrs worked up the capital to buy him out in 1866. Over the next 20 years, Kohrs expanded his cattle and horse holdings. Then, in the winter of 1886–87, the Big Die-Up decimated ranchers on the Eastern Montana plains, but in the protected mountain valley, Kohrs’ herds survived. Seizing the opportunity to expand, Kohrs took over lands from bankrupt ranchers from Colorado to Canada. At its height, the Grant-Kohrs ranch ran on 1 million acres. Kohrs became known as the King of Montana Cattlemen.
He named his ranch the Pioneer Cattle Company and the brand, quite simply, was his initials: CK. However, he placed the C on his animals’ left shoulders and the K on their left hips.
Aging, Kohrs began selling his holdings in the 1910s—keeping only 1,000 acres around the home ranch. In 1920, the cattleman died at 85 years old. Dr. O.Y. Warren and Katherine Kohrs Warren—the youngest daughter of Conrad—bought the ranch from the family trust in 1940. In 1977, the National Park Service purchased the ranch to develop it into a living history museum depicting the cattle frontier. Visitors can visit the old Grant-Kohrs headquarters in the Deer Lodge Valley to this day.