Fraser Ranch Reed Point, Montana 1899
n October 3, 1867, William Sidney “Sid” Fraser was born in Lorne, Nova Scotia, to William and Mary Russell Fraser. In 1889, Sid arrived on the first scheduled Northern Pacific passenger train with 18¢ in his pocket and a grand desire to ranch. He homesteaded where Big Sky resort is now
First-generation Sid & Mattie Fraser with their secondgeneration son, Sid Jr. Circa 1918.
Second-generation Sid Fraser Jr. with young bull calves.
located. Meanwhile in Kirksville, Missouri, on May 29, 1870, Martha “Mattie” Lay was born to Lewis E. and Rebecca Abernathy Lay. In 1878, Mattie Lay and her family arrived in the Gallatin Valley on a wagon from Kirksville, Missouri. In 1892, Sid Fraser and Mattie Lay married and moved onto the homestead. Sid and Mattie purchased a herd of Hereford, Longhorn, and Shorthorn cattle and the Walking Canes brand. The old man who sold them the cows told them: “Take care of these cows for 15 years, and they will take care of you for the rest of your life.” The herd was trailed from Bozeman some 75 miles to their new home. The Walking Canes brand is still used on the Fraser family cattle. Sid’s love of horses and the fact that his brother worked for Marcus Daley led to a relationship which resulted in Daley gifting a stallion, Harry Bluff, to Sid. This stallion sired many colts, one of whom became well known on the Yellowstone River as a great race horse. Sid also raised draft horses, mostly Percherons, and sent carloads of teams to Chicago where they were used by the fire departments. Sid’s father sent him a Clydesdale stallion from Scotland, but with the “Fraser Luck,” the stallion died before ever siring a colt. Mattie’s oldest brother, Uncle George Lay, left the Gallatin Valley and rode to the Yellowstone River just west of Reed Point in 1896. He purchased a ranch on the south side of the Yellowstone from a squatter for “everything he had with him except his saddle.” In 1899, Sid and Mattie followed George and settled on the north side of the river where Bill and Katie now live. The Fraser children attended the Bridger Creek School on the south side of the river. They crossed the river using a cable car that Sid had built. Mattie was fearful of the river and certain the children would drown in crossing, so she urged Sid to purchase her brother’s ranch on the south side. They did so in 1902 and moved into the log house that would be home to five generations of Frasers. Sid continued to operate the ranch on the north side of the river by using a row boat or the cable car or riding horseback across the river. During harvest, he would row the hay stacker and buck rake across the river with driftwood tied to them. William Sidney “Sid Jr.” Fraser Jr. was born in the log house in 1911. He also attended school at the Bridger Creek School where his brother’s wife was the teacher. Sid Jr. attended the University of Montana. Sid Fraser Jr. married Marie Bayers in 1933. The young couple moved into the log house with Sid Sr. and Mattie. In 1934, William Sidney “Bill” Fraser III was born. A new home was built when Bill was two years old. In 1942, Sid Jr. took over management of the Fraser Ranch, which had grown
Third-generation Bill Fraser.
Third-generation Bill & Katie Fraser with their fourthgeneration children. Back row, L to R: Martha, Cydney, Scott, Carolyn, & Rob. Front row, L to R: Bill & Katie.
considerably with the purchase of several homesteads north of the river. He said he acquired 100 head of mixed cattle, 500 head of the hungriest sheep in the world, and 1 million grasshoppers. Sid’s brother Chet, a canny poker player, acquired the Fraser family’s first registered Hereford cattle in a poker game with a Dr. Toothacker. The cows were Penn Randolf and Dugout Dominos. Sid then purchased Domino’s Choice from Art Bayers, and later he bought Select Domino and Diamond Mischief 3 from Art—that was the foundation of the Evan Mischief bulls. Diamond Mischief 3 sired full brothers, FHR Mischief 42 and FHR Mischief 63; the 42nd, sold to Charlie Descheemaeker, was the sire of the immortal RC Mischief D4, and the 63rd was the first 2,500-pound bull in Montana. Sid used him for a long time and then gave him to his son Bill, whose registered herd was based on the 63rd‘s progeny. In 1954, Bill Fraser married Katie Arneson, and the third-generation couple lived in the old log house while working for Sid Jr. Their son, Scott, was born while they lived there. In 1956, Bill and Katie leased a ranch adjoining the Fraser homestead on the north side of the river, and it was here that they established their own registered Hereford herd of line bred Evan Mischiefs and produced their own progeny of five children, all happily and enthusiastically involved in the family ranch. These fourthgeneration children were actively involved in the Hereford Association, 4-H, FFA, rodeo, and jackpot team roping and barrel racing. Sid Jr. built a sale barn in 1954, and the bull sales became an annual event until 1975. Bill and his family held their own spring bull sales at the ranch annually until 1981. These sales were huge family affairs and times when cattle, horses, facilities, and people would “put on the glitz” for a grand time. Nor was there a shortage of fun the remainder of the year on the sprawling ranch with yearlings, a commercial cow herd, and the registered stock. Ranch tasks were the social life of the family and many of the neighbor friends as well. Huge range fires are a part of the history as well. The biggest and most devastating one in the mid-1960s—which burned over 5,000 acres, a saw mill, a truck, and a tractor—could be seen from as far away as southern Wyoming. The fire lines were held by ranchers and volunteers who had come for miles in search of the source of smoke. The Yellowstone River, while being the life blood of the valley, has always been a challenge, and flooding continues to wreak havoc and has forced evacuation on numerous occasions. Fraser cattle and horses know how to swim as most of the herd has been forded across to various pastures during their lifetimes. The Fraser Ranch has provided a wonderful life for the five generations of Frasers. The fifth generation returns annually to assist in various chores with their grandparents. Many of the grandchildren are actively involved in ranching or competitions involving horses. While much of the original ranch has been sold and divided to satisfy sibling inheritances, the deep roots still remain. Without a doubt, one of the greatest benefits of ranching in the West is the overwhelming tie to traditional, family roots. To be able to ride a horse down the same trail to the same barn from the same house that your great-great-grandfather followed is humbling and exhilarating at once.
The heights by great men reached and kept Were not attained by sudden flight, But they, while their companions slept, Were toiling upward in the night. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Third-generation Bill Fraser.
Original log cabin on homestead.
Fourth-generation Carolyn & Rob Fraser practice roping the bucket!
Uncle Newt Lay mows hay with Daisy and Fred.
Second-generation Sid & Marie Fraser on their 25th wedding anniversary.