George E. Smith was born on February 16, 1924, in Philip, S.D. Nearly a century later, he’s still riding the Cheyenne River breaks west of Milesville, checking on his Black Angus cow herd.
“My dad, Morgan, and his brother, Chester, had a little packing house in Sioux City, Iowa,” he says. “They made some money feeding hogs, so they went all over South Dakota looking for a ranch and settled on this one in 1918.”
They bought it from Charles Haxby, who founded the ranch in 1893.
“For $70,000, they got 500 registered Galloway cows, 150 hot-blooded horses, the deeded land, and the Quarter Circle Diamond Dot brand,” Smith says.
According to Smith, the brand is the oldest registered one in the state. He says, “I had the first receipt of payment on this ranch, and it read, ‘First registered brand in South Dakota.’”
When the stock market crashed in 1929, the brothers lost the packing house, but were able to hold on to the ranch. Then, just five years later, one of the worst droughts of the region forced the Smiths to disperse their herd. Some they sold outright and some they trailed over 150 miles away to northern Nebraska.
On the first of June, 1935, the Smiths started the herd back north to their home range, and George, at 11 years old, was along for the trip.
“We had a team of mules and a covered wagon and we camped with the cows every night,” he says. “We just followed open country the whole way and got them home on the 3rd of July.”
Today, the ranch runs about 1,400 mother cows, feeding the calf crop out at home and selling them in February to a broker for Omaha Steaks.
“My daughter, Kris, is the main force now,” Smith says. “We do most of our work with horses. We’ve got six miles of Cheyenne River front and we have to use horses in rough country.”
George still gets horseback in the summers, checking on everything running under the Quarter Circle Diamond Dot.
“It’s the neatest brand in South Dakota,” he says. “And there’s 25,000 brands in the book.”