Early History


The property on which the ranch sits was located in the western part of lands inhabited by the Salish tribe for hundreds of years.[1] When Lewis and Clark entered the upper Bitterroot Valley in September 1805, they followed a trail used by the native tribes.  The Nez Perce also 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 now sit. 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] It was 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], both from Ohio. The ranch was, at the time of purchase, a thriving apple orchard.  Using both log and stone 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 such publications as Architectural Digest and American Log Homes. The Lodge occupies a place alongside the Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone and the Lodges at Glacier National Park. Along with the Lodge, Ford built three massive barns as the backdrop for his model dairy. He then 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] In 1935, after William Ford passed, Mrs. May Ford and her daughters Phyllis and Billie Ann, opened and operated one of the first guest ranches in the west, along with the help of their ranch manager, Ben Cook.[11]


The Chief Joseph Ranch


In the early 1950’s, the Ford and 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 sensation “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, this 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. http://www.saintmarysmission.org/Salish-buffalo


[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. dnrc.mt.gov/divisions/water/water-rights


[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.  https://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Howard_Clark_Hollister


[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. https://www.americancowboy.com/.amp/lifestyle/historic-dude-ranches-26783

[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. https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2017/dec/16/montana-governor-visits-set-of-yellowstone-tv-show/

[14] Amanda Garrity, “Where Is 'Yellowstone' Filmed? The Fascinating Story Behind the Real-Life Ranch,” Good Housekeeping, 18 June 2019. https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/life/entertainment/amp28085780/where-is-yellowstone-filmed/

[15] Robert Rorke, “Montana log mansion brings splendor to ‘Yellowstone,’” New York Post, 13 July 2018.  https://nypost.com/2018/07/13/montana-log-mansion-brings-splendor-to-yellowstone/