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History of Chief Joseph Ranch

Early History


The property of the ranch is located in the western part of lands previously inhabited for hundreds of years by the Salish Native American tribe.[1] In September 1805, Lewis and Clark entered the northern Bitterroot Valley and followed a trail used by the native tribes during their expedition. The Nez Perce annually traveled the trail south to reach the bison hunting grounds in the Big Hole Valley, often banding together with the Salish to counter threats from other tribes, notably the Blackfoot.[2]


The native trail traversed the ranch just west of the Lodge and funneled down to where the barns are now located. Chief Joseph led his people across the ranch in his flight from the U.S. Army during the Nez Perce War in the summer of 1877.[3] The ranch property was homesteaded by settlers in 1880 and water rights were registered in 1884,[4] originally known as the Shelton Ranch.[5]



The Ford-Hollister Ranch


In 1914, the 2,500 acre ranch was purchased by the glass tycoon, William S. Ford[6] and federal judge Howard Clark Hollister[7] from Ohio. At the time of purchase, the ranch was a thriving apple orchard. Using both log and stone resources native to the grounds, William Ford began a three-year endeavor to build one of the great log structures of the American West: the Ford-Hollister Lodge. 

Designed by the architectural firm of Bates & Gamble[8], the 6,000 square foot lodge has been featured in publications such as Architectural Digest and American Log Homes. The lodge occupies a presence alongside the Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone National Park and the lodges in Glacier National Park. Along with the lodge, Ford built three massive barns as the centerpiece for his model dairy. He later replaced the apple trees with the largest herd of Holsteins west of the Mississippi.[9]

In the early 1920s, the dairy operation would give way to a Hereford herd.[10]  After William Ford's passing in 1935 after, his wife, May Ford and her daughters, Phyllis and Billie Ann, opened and operated one of the first guest ranches in the west. The Ford family had help in accomplishing this task due to help from their ranch manager, Ben Cook. [11]


The Chief Joseph Ranch


In the early 1950s, the Ford-Hollister Ranch was sold and renamed the Chief Joseph Ranch, in honor of the great Nez Perce Chief and his journey through the property.[12] Today, the ranch serves as the home of the fictional Dutton Ranch on Paramount Network’s television show “Yellowstone”.[13]


Watched by millions, the lodge has become a character in its own right, representing an iconic 104 year old western Montana home.[14] In between filming, the working, Montana ranch doubles as a guest ranch and a family home.[15]




[1] Carling Malouf, “Flathead and Pend d’Oreille,” Handbook of North American Indians Volume 12 Plateau, 1998. 297-298.

[2] The Salish and the Buffalo,” Historic Saint Mary’s Mission and Museum Est. 1841, 2019.


[3] Jerome Greene, Nez Perce Summer 1877: The U.S. Army and the Nee-Me-Poo Crisis (Helena, MT: Montana Historical Society Press, 2000), 171-173.


[4] Water Rights Bureau, The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, 2019.


[5] Christine Brown, Tom Ferris, and Chere Jiusto, Hand Raised : The Barns of Montana (Helena, MT: Montana Historical Society Press, 2011), 56.


[6] Brown, Ferris, and Jiusto, Barns of Montana, 56.

[7] Wikipedia 2019. “Howard Clark Hollister.” Last modified 22 March 2019.


[8] Verlyn Klinkenburg, “Chief Joseph Ranch: The paradoxical tale of an historic property near Darby, Montana,” Architectural Digest, June 1994. 120-126.

[9] Christine Brown, Tom Ferris, and Chere Jiusto, Hand Raised : The Barns of Montana (Helena, MT: Montana Historical Society Press, 2011), 56.

[10] Brown, Ferris, and Jiusto, Barns of Montana, 56.

[11] Lauren Feldman, “Historic Dude Ranches,” American Cowboy, 7 January 2015.

[12] Barbara Lloyd, “Log Mansion That Recalls Indian History,” The New York Times, 8 April 1993.  Section C, Page 1.

[13]Eve Byron, “Montana Governor visits set of ‘Yellowstone’ TV show,” 16 December 2017.

[14] Amanda Garrity, “Where Is 'Yellowstone' Filmed? The Fascinating Story Behind the Real-Life Ranch,” Good Housekeeping, 18 June 2019.

[15] Robert Rorke, “Montana log mansion brings splendor to ‘Yellowstone,’” New York Post, 13 July 2018.

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