Linda Ford: Bar U and Famous Ranches

IMG_2314The south west portion of Alberta is known for ranching. There are a number of historic ranches still in the area. Doing research last summer, I visited a number of them.  The scenery itself is wonderful and the ranches great places to visit.

The Bar U Ranch is designated as a national historic site and has a museum-like  atmosphere.  It began as the North-West Cattle Company and like other early ranches faced many set backs such as falling cattle prices, deadly winters

William Winder had come the North West in 1873 as a member of the North West Mounted Police, but IMG_2267after he retired he decided to take up ranching. With the help of his father-in-law, Charles Stimson, he convinced Sir Hugh Allan, a highly successful businessman and head of the Allan Steamship Line in Montreal, to set up the North-West Cattle Company in March 1882. Fred Stimson, Winder’s brother-in-law, was appointed manager, and went to Chicago in 1881 to look over and select appropriate bulls coming to market from western ranges. On the trip up to the Highwood River area, a snowstorm hit, but Stimson allowed the cattle to drift south to the Old Man River area, where they could graze. His decision saved the herd.

Another wise decision on the part of ranch owners was to invest in horse ranching.

A number of famous and infamous people have been part of the Bar U. Soon the ranch was known everywhere winning prizes and awards, as well as a reputation for breeding some of the finest horses in the world.IMG_2289

John Ware—a big black cowboy who impressed his rivals by riding horse no one else had. Ironically, he died when his horse stepped in a hole and fell on him.

An outlaw—The Sundance Kid, part of the Hole-in-the- Wall Gang in Montana-came to the Bar U to lay low. He worked and signed his real name, Henry Longbaugh.

The book, The Virginian, is modeled after a man called Everett, or Eb Johnson. The author, Owen Whistler, met him in Wyoming. After Eb left Wyoming, he headed for Canada and was hired as foreman of the Bar U.

From the 1880s to 1930s the cowboys got paid a dollar a day plus keep.

Another famous ranch I visited was the OH ranch.  In 1876 Lafaytte French, a buffalo hunter and Indian trader from Pennsylvania, USA, met Orville Hawkins Smith, a IMG_2706mule skinner who drove teams between Salt Lake City and Montana, and the seeds of the OH Ranch were planted. In 1878 the two frontiersmen established an Indian trading post at Blackfoot Crossing, only to have it closed by the North West Mounted Police a year later because of the usurious prices charged. Non plussed by the event, the two men moved to what is now High River, Alberta and opened the soon-to-be town’s first legitimate business, a stopping house for settlers traveling to their new homesteads.

In 1881, the two raconteurs bought some cattle and began squatting at what is now the Main Headquarters of the OH Ranch. The two men decided to use Smithy’s initials to brand their cattle. The OH brand was the twenty-fifth cattle brand registered in what was then known as the North West Territories. Perhaps unknown to the two fledgling ranchers, the letters O and H are two of only seven characters which cannot be branded upside down or backwards.

It was interesting to visit these ranches and see some of the original buildings still intact.  Research is such fun.thecowboysbaby

Today one lucky comment poster will win a copy of The Cowboy’s Baby!

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35 thoughts on “Linda Ford: Bar U and Famous Ranches”

  1. wow!
    that’s really interesting!
    i love hearing about ranching history!
    i think canada would be a bit too chilly for me!
    the midwest is as much as i can handle 🙂

    thanks for sharing with us!

  2. Great information, I always enjoy learning about the past. I’ve never been on a ranch, but I find it fascinating.

  3. Tabitha and Linda,
    You really ought to visit sometime. The weather is beautiful as is the scenery. I had a hard time choosing just one picture of the foothills. It’s also very romantic. I can imagine long, intimate rides across the hills. Sigh. 🙂


  4. Hi, Linda! Just as I started to read your post, a movie called “Culpepper Cattle Company” started playing on TV. I am enjoying a double feature with your post and the movie! Thank you for the wonderful stories and photos. Ranching is a beautiful, often brutal way of life which is not for the faint of heart. Harsh reality combined with Western mystique.


    Author–unknown, circa 1890

    Now O Lord please lend thine ear,
    The prayer of the Cattleman to hear;
    No doubt many prayers to thee seem strange,
    But won’t you bless this cattle range?

    Bless the round-up year by year
    And don’t forget the growing steer;
    Water the land with brooks and rills

    For my cattle that roam a thousand hills.

    Now, O Lord, won’t you be good
    And give our livestock plenty of food;
    And to avert a winter’s woe
    Give Italian skies and little snow.

    Prairie fires won’t you please stop,
    Let thunder roll and water drop,
    It frightens me to see the smoke,
    Unless it’s stopped, I’ll go dead broke.

    As you, O Lord, our herds behold–
    Which represents a sack of gold–
    I think at least five cents per pound
    Should be the price of beef year round.

    One more thing and then I’m through,
    Instead of one calf, give my cows two.
    I may pray different than some others, but then
    I’ve had my say, and now amen.

  5. Enjoyed reading about the ranch and the photos are of pretty country. I haven’t been to that part of Canada but have read stories set in that area.
    Looking forward to reading the book.

  6. Linda, you are right the scenery is beautiful. I would think the weather there is much like it is here in Minnesota.

  7. Joye,
    Our Canadian west was unique. ‘Maintiens le droit… Uphold the right is the motto of the Canadian Mounties but also characterizes the attitude of the principled men and women who conquered the Canadian West. They faced extreme weather, fierce animals and desperate outlaws and renegades. They fought the elements, challenged men with less noble intentions and forged a home out of the wilderness.’ This is the blurb I used to interest an editor in my ranch series (which I am currently working on.)

  8. Linda,

    I have several of your books and I love them. I love do research myself for my books. I love ranch life and one day I hope to own one where I want to have wild horses roaming the land.

    Thank you for such wonderful info. The photos are so lovely.

    I must get my hands on your book.

    Walk in harmony,

  9. Great post Linda! I love hearing about ranching! I have never been around a ranch! I have been on small farms but nothing like this! Very interesting post! Your book sound fab, I love cowboys!

  10. Melinda,
    There is an area a few miles west of us where ‘wild’ horses roam. There is much debate as to whether they are feral or wild. And how or whether they should be controlled. You should buy a ranch and keep them. Though I suppose no one can keep them. 🙂
    Thank you for reading my books.

  11. Quilt Lady,
    I wish I had more first hand experience with real ranching. Our ‘ranching’ (as in my husband) is done with a truck, a all-terrain quad bike, and corrals. One of these summers I am going to stay on a dude ranch where they operate the old-fashioned way.

  12. Judy,
    I think you are right about the weather. We can have very mild winters or very cold winters but we have such long summer days that it almost makes up for it. 🙂

  13. I love hearing bout the oldl time ranches. I don’t know why, but I never considered Canada as ranching country. I always think of the American West. This was very interesting.

  14. Hi Linda, welcome back to the Junction. We always love having you come visit.

    I really enjoy the history of old ranches. The Bar U Ranch up there sounds very special. When I think of the Old West I tend to see it as being an American thing. But it wasn’t. There was plenty of Old West in Canada I’m learning.

  15. Linda, what an interesting post and beautiful pics. I remember reading a Canadian ranching story some time ago and that made me realize that ranching isn’t just an American thing. Really, if you think about New Zealand and Australia, their stations are the equivalent of our ranches. Thanks for providing a good post today.

  16. That interesting story, I love the ranch and the photos are very beautiful. I read many novels set in the ranch, the atmosphere is magical.

    Best wishes for a peaceful and happy Easter to you all:)

  17. Linda! Thank you so much! The cover for “Dakota Cowboy” is amazing! A beautiful, classic Western painting.

    I did visit your website and blog. In addition to “The Cowboy’s Baby” and “Dakota Cowboy”, I also took note of “Dakota Child”! All three books sound so good that I checked out your backlist! So many good books : )

  18. I love ranch stories and have always dreamed of living on a ranch. Enjoyed your post and the beautiful pictures. Would love to be entered into your giveaway. Thank you for the opportunity.

    Smiles & Blessings,
    Cindy W.


  19. How interesting! I must admit – when I think cowboys, I think TX, Wy, MT – don’t often think in terms of other countries.

    Would love to be entered into the drawing for a copy of your book!

    Hope EVERYONE here @ P&P has a BLESSED Easter!

  20. I’m with you …I think the most fun part of being a writer would be doing research…I love to paint those old buildings like the ones you pictured…they make good subjects.

  21. Just a fascinating post, I’m from Canada and used to live in the province of Alberta, wonderful info! I think a lot of people don’t realize Canada had a western frontier as well!

    All the best for your release!

  22. Very nice post,I love the pictures of the old buildings an furniture,Im totally in love with old antiques an buildings,so thanks for the interesting post

  23. Linda,

    I had to respond. I am moving to AZ and that is my intentions to one day have a ranch so I can get and maybe help the wild horses.

    Of course, I would continue my writing for I love it so

    Walk in harmony,

  24. Interesting post, Linda.
    That stretch of the country where the Canadian Great Plains turns into the Canadian Rockies is beautiful. Ranching is a hard way of life, but what a spectacular place to live and work.
    Now I have a few more places to visit when we go to Banff.

  25. Linda,

    I have visited your website and you give a wealth of info Thank you so much

    I tried to email you per the contact email on your website but it would not work. The mail came back to me

    So here is my email address Please email me

    I would love to email you and get to know you better.

    My dream is to become a Harlequin author

    I will not give up on that dream I will become one


  26. Ladies,
    I’m sorry I dropped out of sight. Unfortunately I had to go to a funeral this afternoon that was 2 1/2 hours away and now I have company. I love seeing all the responses. I imagine most of you are off line by now so I won’t post individual responses. So sorry about that.


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