1940s Ranching on the Powder River, or the Early Years of Doug and Lucille Randall

A note from Erin….Almost ten years ago, I helped my Great-Aunt Lucille and my Aunt Susan put together a small family history for a publication called Beyond Echoing Footsteps, which documented the lives of many of the ranches and people in the eastern Montana area. I had originally planned to break this up, using some of these stories as different posts, but after reading it again, I could not bear to do so–I’d never find scanned versions of all of these old photographs again! Lucille is in her 90s now, and I’m glad that we were able to get this written down. This story is hers, not mine.  

Douglas Randall: Early Life

Douglas Randall was born in Miles City, Montana in 1921, the second son of Dr. Ray R. Randall and Helen Hart Randall. He attended school in Miles City and graduated from Custer County High School in 1940. While at Custer County High School, he was president of the student body and loved football—he was agile and quick on his feet and known as “the touchdown getter!”

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Doug Randall, early 1940s

Douglas’s father, Dr. Ray R. Randall, was an obstetrician and general practitioner in Miles City, Montana, from 1916 until 1947, and it is said that he delivered over 2,000 babies during that time. However, Dr. Randall’s true love was ranching, and over the years he was involved in several ranch partnerships. He was in partnership with Allen Mallett on a ranch on Home Creek in the 1930s. In 1938, this partnership bought the W Bar Ranch, located four miles southwest of Broadus on the Powder River from Lee Wilson. In 1944, Allen Mallett and Dr. Randall dissolved their partnership: Allen Mallett took the Home Creek place, and Dr. Randall took the W Bar Ranch.

In 1941, Douglas entered the University of Iowa with the intention of becoming a dentist. Doug had his father’s love of ranching, so in 1942, he transferred to Iowa State College to enroll in the agricultural program. Germany and Uncle Sam had a different plan for Doug, and when World War II broke out, Doug returned to Miles City. At the suggestion of his father, he took a welding class in preparation for working in the West Coast shipyards.

Doug’s first welding job was in Portland, Oregon, working on liberty ships in the Oregon shipyard. Because he was young and agile, he was assigned to weld in the ship’s hold. One day, another worker accidentally dropped a forty-foot two-inch pipe from two stories up, striking Doug’s left arm and removing part of his elbow. Thanks to a wonderful orthopedic surgeon and several additional surgeries at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Portland, Doug’s arm was saved, but when all was said and done, Doug was left with a 60% disability to his left arm.

As a young man, Douglas spent many summers working on ranches, and in 1943, he returned to Montana. He spent the following fall, winter and spring working on ranches for Billy Broadus and Henry Bailey. This was his first wintertime experience on a ranch. He was eager to learn, and those experienced ranchers taught him a lot about taking care of cattle in the winter and throughout the year. Henry Bailey was Doug’s hero, and Doug always appreciated all that Henry taught him.

Lucille Gantenbein Randall: Early Life

My name is Lucille Gantenbein, and I was born in Boring, Oregon, in 1921, the fourth child of Anna Eggenberger Gantenbein and Christian Gantenbein. My father emigrated from Switzerland in 1910 and worked for his brother John in Cleon, Oregon. However, since Christian could not speak English, he had difficulty finding a wife. Christian returned to Switzerland, where he met, courted, and fell in love with Anna Eggenberger. They were married and sailed to America on their honeymoon. In parting, Anna’s parents said to her, “We may never see you again,” and they did not.

Christian and Anna entered the United States through Ellis Island, and they then boarded a train and came directly to Portland, Oregon. The newlyweds worked for Christian’s brother John on his Columbia River dairy, the land for which is now part of the Portland International Airport. For several months of the year, the cows were pastured on an island in the middle of the Columbia River, meaning that the cattle swam back and forth across the river twice a day. Christian and Anna worked for John for two years, and then in 1912, they purchased an 80-acre logged-off farm in Boring, Oregon, for $14,000, where they started their own small dairy.

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Gantenbein Dairy Cattle Swimming the Columbia River, circa 1920s

In 1922, ten years after he and my mother moved to Boring, Oregon, my father died of tuberculosis, leaving her with five children. (My brother John was born two months after my father’s death.) My mother’s family urged her to return to Switzerland, but she loved America and all the opportunities that it offered, so she remained in Boring, Oregon. The Depression years of the 1930s were very difficult, but with the help of Christian’s brothers John and Ulrich and her children—Margaret, Lillian, Henry, myself, and John—my mother managed to keep the farm. When the older children were in school, she would plow the fields with us littlest children on the horses. When Johnny and I got tired, she simply laid us on a blanket at the end of the field for a nap. When we woke up, she put us back up on the horses and away we went, plowing again!

I attended grade school in Boring, Oregon, and high school in Sandy, Oregon. In 1938, along with 125 other girls, I enrolled in St. Vincent’s School of Nursing, which offered a five-year nursing program. Students worked six hours a day, six days a week, and attended school from 1:00–4:00 five days a week. At the end of this program, students received a bachelor of science and a registered nursing degree. Students were not allowed to marry while they were in school, but because the war had started, many girls married their boyfriends because these boys were drafted and leaving for the war. Of the 125 girls who enrolled in the program, only 23 graduated in 1943, one of whom was me.

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Lucille Gantenbein in 1943

I first saw Douglas Randall in 1942 when was admitted to a ten-bed ward in the hospital after his accident at the shipyards. The next morning, I was assigned to another department, and the first patient I took care of was the same young man with a crushed arm. I was his nurse for three weeks while he was hospitalized. After he was discharged, he asked me for a date. I was thrilled as I thought he was the nicest young man I had ever met. At the time, neither of us realized that I would one day be his wife and that we would live and ranch in Broadus, Montana.

Both Doug and I had a great sense of humor. Doug happened to be with me while I was filling out an application that asked for my nationality. I was about to write down that I was American, but Doug said, “No, you’re Swiss.” After arguing the point, he said that “Just because a cat has kittens in the oven doesn’t make them cookies!” Understanding that, I wrote down that I was Swiss on the application. Another time, while we were out dancing, I kept telling Doug, “I’ve something to tell you, but I just can’t!” After several such statements, Doug said, “Just tell me!” and I said “I’m 32 years old, not 22 years old.” Doug went and sat down, but I couldn’t stand it so I fessed up that I had just been kidding him. It wasn’t too long before Doug got even by telling me that he was one-half American Indian. When I met his parents for the first time, I looked at both of them and asked “Which one of you is Indian?” Imagine their surprise—this proclamation regarding their Indian parentage was news to them!

Greenhorn Ranching and Being Lonesome

Doug and I were married in Portland, Oregon on May 21, 1944. The day after the wedding, we boarded the Milwaukee train in Portland and arrived in Miles City, Montana, a scant 24 hours later. We were welcomed by Doug’s mother and father, who had gathered a truckload of supplies and furniture needed for a ranch house in Broadus. It was a wet trip from Miles City to Broadus because it was raining so hard, making the four-mile county road and the mile into the ranch very muddy. Doug had purchased a Ford Business Coupe for $1,100, and we drove it out to the ranch ahead of the truck. Doug would stop at a few of the old dilapidated homestead shacks on the way out and say “Well, this is it!”  When we finally reached the ranch on Powder River, our unpainted, stucco-sided log house looked good.

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Doug Randall in front of the Ranch House at the W Bar Ranch, circa 1940s

The log house was built by Ludolph and Wilson in the very early 1900s, and it consisted of three large rooms with a lean-to added on later. The lean-to addition was three small bedrooms and a bathroom that were probably added on when the Mallett family moved into the house in 1938. The house was built right on the ground with just a few rocks for a foundation. The outside of the house was plastered with stucco, and the inside walls were covered with a soft wallboard. Nothing was painted. The house had a dirt roof with corrugated tin over the dirt. We were lucky to live on the Powder River because there was a 1,400-foot artesian well near the house with enough pressure to bring the water into the house. At first, we only had cold running water in the house, but before a week was over, Doug had put a water jacket in the fire box of the kitchen range and a hot water tank behind the stove, giving us the luxury of having both hot and cold running water. We were quite comfortable with hand-me down furniture and curtains.

Ranch life was very different from living in the student dorms in Portland. It was so very quiet, and I had a hard time remembering to empty the pan of water under the ice box (literally a box in which one put a large block of ice to act as a refrigerator) and to fill the kerosene lamps before nightfall. I was very happy in Broadus, despite being lonesome at times. Mr. Dalekow, a neighbor, sent over a little runt pig to keep me company. I named my new pig Alfonso and kept him in a box behind the kitchen range until the days warmed up enough for it to be outside. It followed me everywhere and even tried to get in the car when I went to town. When Alfonso was half-grown, I accidentally backed over him. That was a very sad day.

When we came in 1944, Broadus had three grocery stores, a hardware store, a barber shop, a drug store, a doctor’s office, two garages, several filling stations, a hotel, the sheriff’s office, a jail, and several other small businesses. It was the county seat of Powder River County and had an elementary and high school. Broadus was 80 miles from the nearest railroad, and 80 miles south of Miles City. On the ranch itself, Annie and Ed Doonan were living in a log house three miles south of our buildings on the W Bar Ranch. They were living there when the Randall and Mallett partnership first purchased the ranch, and they remained there until they passed away in the 1960s, never having electricity or indoor plumbing. Ed often helped us ride and look after the cattle and would ride over to see us during the week. He went to Broadus once a week for groceries in their Model A Ford, and he and Annie would often stop by for a visit. They were our closet neighbors, kind and honest people, and we looked forward to their visits. Over the 20 years that they lived on our ranch, Doug always made sure that they had the provisions that they needed, and every fall, the children and I would go up and chink the logs of their house and put a little more dirt on the roof.

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Ed and Annie Doonan, circa 1960s

Ten days after our arrival, we had a branding, with many neighbors coming to help and to initiate the two “green horn would-be” ranchers. Thank goodness Arrah Garr came over at 4:00 in the morning with her husband, Earl, to help me get breakfast and dinner put together. At dinner, the men were very polite, but they did give me a hard time. Earl said the he couldn’t eat the lemon meringue pie with those calf slobbers on it. At later brandings, Dr. Randall always wanted homemade ice cream to be served at the brandings, and I always went to such an effort to make certain that it was served. One year, however, time was in a crunch, so I bought some Wilcoxson’s ice cream, packed it in the homemade ice-cream mixer, even adding ice and salt to the outside to make it look convincing. Granddaddy thought this ice cream was the best I’d ever made, exhorting me to “Be sure you keep this recipe!” Don’t worry—I did! I made certain to serve that exact recipe at every branding for years to come.

A few months later, Doug purchased half of the W Bar Ranch holdings from his father, and they operated under the name of Randall and Randall. This partnership continued until Dr. Randall’s death in 1962. For equipment, we had a Ford N tractor with a sickle mower, a horse-drawn dump rake, a Farmall H tractor, and a wire-tied baler. As for livestock, we started with 160 head of Hereford cows, a few of which were registered, some yearling heifers and bulls, ten head of Morgan mares, and a Steeldust stallion. We bought 100 baby chicks, and Doug’s dad gave me four milk cows because he thought that every ranch wife should have a little money of her own. We sold eggs and cream, and this money was used to help pay the property taxes. No one will ever know just how many things the money from those milk cows bought.

One of my first outings after coming to Broadus was an auction sale at Ranch Creek, with Mr. Pike as the auctioneer. Since auctions were quite a gala affair in Portland, I dressed up in a suit and high heels, which I’m sure gave the natives a good laugh. Doug bought a team of work horses at the auction, and his 17-year-old sister, Helen Ray, brought them to our place. It was a two-day trip for her as she rode one horse and tied the other horse to the tail of the horse she was riding. We used the team to rake hay that summer.

That summer of 1944 was very wet, giving us a wonderful hay crop. We had about 70 acres of alfalfa and some native grass hay that was flood irrigated from the hills on the west. Because of the ongoing war, help was hard to get. All of the young people were either in the service or working in the shipyards. We had one hired man, and we were able to hire three boys from Broadus to help hay that summer: Paul Halleck, Dick Potter, and Jimmy Wetherelt. The three of them stayed in the bunk house. Their bunk-house shower consisted of an elevated 55-gallon barrel behind a board fence with a one-pound coffee can with holes in the bottom was the shower head. They would fill the barrel in the morning with a hose from the artesian well and by sundown (in the summer) it afforded a wonderful warm shower. Doug and the boys put up 125 tons of hay that summer, and the boys got mighty strong bucking those 100-pound bales.

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Doug Randall on a Wire-Tied Baler, 1944

Rationing Stoppers and a Three-Toed Wolf

During the Second World War, many things were rationed, including rubber, sugar, coffee, cotton, shoes. We were issued stamp books and had to use the stamps for each purchase of the rationed items. That first summer, I didn’t have enough sugar to bake for our hungry teenage haying crew, and I was advised to go to the rationing board and ask for extra sugar. I went to see Mrs. Helm, who was the head of the rationing board in Broadus, and told her of my problem. She asked me if I had any stoppers. Since I had never heard of the term stoppers before, I thought she was referring to the rubber stoppers Doug’s mother had given me for the cement laundry tubs she had sent out on the truck when we first came to the ranch. She had cautioned me not to lose them as rubber was rationed and I probably couldn’t get any more. I innocently told Mrs. Helm that I had three stoppers tied together with a string but I didn’t know exactly where they were. She gave me such an odd look, but went ahead and gave me some stamps for a little extra sugar. When Doug came in for noon, I told him I had to find those stoppers and take them to Mrs. Helm for the extra sugar. He laughed and laughed, and then told me that a stopper was someone that stopped at one’s house at mealtime with the hope of being fed. I laughed with Doug then, remembering the look on Mrs. Helm’s face and wondering what she thought. There were other equally perplexing terms like wrangle, draw, coulee, and plumb, to name just a few.

Doug also cautioned me never to ask anyone how many cattle they ran because that was like asking them how much money they had in the bank. Of course, I promptly forgot this admonition, and one day asked Mr. Tonn, a very prosperous rancher, how many cattle he ran. He told me he ran “enough for table use and a little left over.” The other thing I needed to remember was to always ask people who stopped near mealtime to eat with us. One day, Mr. Carlot and his three sons stopped at noon. I was washing clothes with the gasoline Maytag washing machine. I never could start it, so Doug always started it for me before he left in the morning, and I never shut it off until all of the wash was finished. I told Mr. Carlot that I would fix them dinner if he would wash for me. He did finish the wash for me, just in time for the noon-time meal to be served.

After Dr. Randall (or Granddaddy, as he was known to us) retired in 1947, he spent a lot of time with us at the ranch. From April until November, he would come out from Miles City on Monday morning and return on Friday afternoon. He was wonderful help for me, and I really don’t think I could have made it without him. We looked forward to his visits every week as he often brought repairs out and or strawberries and produce from his Miles City garden. He would always set the table, helped me with the dishes, and run errands. After Doug started to irrigate, Granddaddy would watch the pump and diesel motor during the day. He was also an avid gopher trapper, trapping over 2,000 gophers in the summers he spent at the ranch. In the evenings, he would tell stories to the children about Three Toes, a wolf that had been caught in a trap and had managed to get away—but was left with only three toes on one foot. Our daughter Susan later used to say that we could always identify this wolf by its tracks.

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W Bar Ranch, 1946

“If You Can’t Bring Me a Brother, I’d Rather Have a Puppy!”

Susan, our first child, was born in 1945, and I wasn’t lonesome anymore. Marcia was born in 1946, giving us two wonderful little girls. Curtice was born in 1949. In those days, new mothers were kept in the hospital for many days after giving birth. With Susan, it was two weeks; with Marcia, it was ten days; and with Curtice it was just a week. Craig was born in May of 1956. When he found out that we were having a baby, Curt pronounced that “If you can’t bring me a brother, I’d rather have a puppy!”

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Lucille, Susan, Curt, and Marcia in the 1950s (but no puppy, yet)

Susan and Lance Moxey were married in 1967. Susan graduated from Colorado State University with a degree in home economics and taught school in Johnston, Colorado, while Lance finished his schooling. He graduated from CSU’s veterinary school in 1971, and they have lived in Sheridan, Wyoming ever since.

Marcia married Dave Hurlburt in 1969, after they graduated from Montana State College. Marcia graduated with a degree in nursing, and Dave with a degree in architecture. They now live in Billings.

After graduating from Montana State University in 1972, Curt married Bonnie Roberts. They moved to Hermosa, South Dakota, where they purchased a ranch from the Brophey family. Craig was in partnership with them, and they ranched under the name of Randall Bros. for eight years. In 1980, they sold the ranch in Hermosa, and Curt and Bonnie moved to the Dolan ranch on the Powder River 14 miles north of Broadus.

After graduating from high school, Craig attended the Vocational School in Helena. He completed the two-year course and obtained his pilot’s license, and he then returned to the ranch in Broadus. Craig married Jackee Deibel in 1982, and in the 1990s, they took over the operation of the W Bar Ranch.

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The Randall Family: Susan, Curt, Marcia, Lucille, Craig, and Doug

Building a Better Bull…and onto the Ranch House

Doug loved ranching and had endless enthusiasm and energy. He enjoyed improving both land and cattle, and with the help of his children, developed beautiful meadows over the years. In 1948, he put in an extensive irrigation system, one of the first large irrigation systems on Powder River. Pikkula and Leming put in three miles of irrigation ditch on the river-bottom land, and Doug purchased a 10,000-gallon-per-minute pump from Boutelles and a diesel motor from L.P. Anderson in Miles City in order to get the water from the Powder River to our hay fields. Over the years, this extra water on the virgin alfalfa fields produced wonderful alfalfa-seed crops, which are the gold of ranching. In 1949, we had a particularly wonderful alfalfa-seed crop, and we had outstanding help to harvest this gold.

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W Bar Ranch Threshing Crew Top Row: Durward Waldusky, Chester Galinski, Carl Emmons, Howard Liester, Aud Radcliff, Cecil Lardner, Lynn Damm
Front Row: Doug Randall, Frank Rice, Dean Keil, Guy Nash, Keith Considine, Ed Pederson

When I returned from the hospital after having Curt in 1949, the combination ice house (where ice was stored for the ice box) and coal house was gone, and in its place was a new building attached to the house. Built by the Wetherelt brothers, the stuccoed addition consisted of a large, cement-floored laundry room (24’ x 30’), two bedrooms, and a double garage. It was wonderful to have the extra room for the children and to have a place to hang the wash in the winter. The children could ride their tricycles and skate in the washroom, Doug’s dad had a quiet place to take a nap and to sleep, and we could keep our car in the connected garage. It was a complete surprise, and I didn’t see how they could have built it in such a short time.

Ranching requires many hands, so in 1954, Ann and Merle Moutrey and their two children, Karen and Jim, came to work for us. Kenny Deitchler and Ed Peterson also helped at that time and we couldn’t have asked for better help. They kept busy clearing land, planting alfalfa, building fences, and working cattle. Merle could get more done in a day than anyone we had ever hired, and we grieved terribly when he passed away seven short years later. Ed Peterson had a bum ankle, but could mount a horse quicker than a fit man. He spent many winter hours making “water jugs,” which were one-gallon glass jugs covered with burlap. In the summer, these jugs could be dipped in water in the morning, and the water would stay cool until late in the afternoon. It was a wonderful time in our life as everyone was compatible and enjoyed working together.

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Bruce Kiel, Barbara Randall, Curt Randall, Bill Kiel, Susan Randall, Ray Randall, Jim Randall, Jim Moutrey, Karen Moutrey, and Marcia Randall, circa 1950s

In 1954, Doug bought the Kluck place on Pilgrim Creek for extra summer pasture. He sold it in 1956 to Jack Mills and bought the Ripley place on Highway 212, just into Wyoming, on the highway to Belle Fourche. This proved to be a good buy. It provided wonderful summer grazing, plus it was on the way to the South Dakota cattle markets.

On April 1, 1956, during a spring storm, Doug went out to the pasture to check some two-year-old heifers that were calving. When he didn’t return by 7:00 that night, Merle and I went out to look for him, and we found him on the ground under the tree beside the jeep with a large dead tree limb, a widow maker, beside him. Doug wasn’t able to get up, and he couldn’t remember anything. We were afraid to move him, but we knew we had to warm him up and keep him warm until help arrived. We built fires all around him and covered him with blankets. When I talked to him later, Doug said that, “I would wake up and see flames everywhere I looked and thought, `Well, I must have died and gone to hell!’” When the ambulance arrived, they took the door off the house and used it as a backboard to transport Doug to Miles City, which was 90 miles away on a dirt road. The doctors said that Doug had a broken leg and a broken neck. Despite having a pin in his upper leg and wearing a heavy leather neck brace for over a year, Doug was soon back to work. By the end of the summer the brace on his neck smelled so bad that we had to replace it. He wouldn’t wear the new brace for very long though as it wasn’t “broken in,” so he smelled badly until his neck was healed. All things considered, Doug made a good recovery.

Doug was always looking for a “better bull” and tried many different breeds of cattle. In the 1980s, he came across Saler cattle, a very functional breed with good carcass quality. During the late 1980s, we registered more Saler cattle than anyone in the United States and sold and delivered their bulls all over the Northwest.   In the late 1980s and early 1990s, we had several Grand Champion and Reserve Grand Champion pens of Saler steer and heifer entries in the National Western Beef Contest, which was held during the National Western Livestock Show in Denver, Colorado. Unfortunately, Salers were highly excitable, and many people did not understand how to handle them. So, as Salers lost favor with ranchers and feeders, Doug continued his search for the perfect cow. We now have Black Angus cattle with a sprinkling of Saler blood left over from earlier years.

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W Bar Ranch Herefords, circa 1960s

These Happy Golden Years

Doug was active in Powder River community and Montana as a whole over the years. He served on the Montana State University Advisory Board, the Farm Credit Board, Powder River County Commissioners Advisory Board, and the Powder River County Grade and High School Board. As for me, I never worked officially as a nurse after moving to Montana, but I did a lot of volunteer work. I gave tick shots for many years, helped with polio vaccinations, worked with the county’s health program for schoolchildren, and volunteered with the Bloodmobile and the Red Cross. I also found time to serve as a 4-H leader.

Doug loved ranching, irrigating, and raising good, quality cattle. He was very friendly, had a quick wit, and a wonderful sense of humor. He was very generous and helped many people, either with money or a practical joke, over the years. He passed away in January 2005 from a fast-growing gleo blastoma, a brain tumor that wasn’t discovered until three weeks before his death. We did have a wonderful life together, and I have always said the best thing that ever happened to me was to marry Doug and come to Montana. I couldn’t have asked for a more wonderful family to marry into. We had an exciting, happy life together, and I am so grateful for all these wonderful years.

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Doug and Lucille Randall, 2002


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