Winifred’s Butcher ranch honored

The Butcher clan accepts the “Great Montana Ranch” award for Butcher’s Rolling Hills Ranch at a late January banquet in Billings. Photo courtesy of Jeanne Benson

Winifred’s Butcher’s Rolling Hills Ranch was recognized last month, and not for its livestock. At a Jan. 27 banquet, the Montana Pro Rodeo Hall and Wall of Fame named the operation a “Great Montana Ranch,” for contributing to the “Montana Western lifestyle.”

The nonprofit organization’s annual dinner honors Montana faces and places that embody the state’s pro rodeo history and Western lifestyle. The banquet also simultaneously fundraises for the group’s scholarship fund. Recipients have their names engraved on an award wall behind the 18-foot bronc-riding statue in front of Billings’ Rimrock Auto Arena.

The Butcher’s Rolling Hills Ranch was chosen for embodying the lifestyle, the nonprofit values, right from its humble start. The family venture began in 1913, when Harry Butcher came to Fergus County from West Virginia. He settled a 320-acre homestead six miles east of what is now Winifred, and placed a “desert claim” 20 miles north of the Hilger railhead. This claim, common in the late 19th and early 20th century, gave 640 acres of land to anyone who irrigated the land within three years.

In 1924, Harry married his brother’s widow and took in their two children. He also started expanding, growing his operation with the addition of cattle. His nephew-turned-stepson, Milton “Bud” Butcher, eventually joined the expansion effort, and over decades, the two created a debt-free, 25,000-acre ranch.

The ranch’s growth was paralleled by its evolution. Until 1938, the family had farmed 1,000 acres of grain with 75 horses. In 1938, the first tractor was purchased. Two more large tractors allowed the family to sell most of its working-horse herd in 1948, with the last working animals being used until 1952.

Harry and Milton bought land separately, but operated jointly, until Harry’s son Emmet joined the Butcher ranch in 1952. Milton then separated out his half. Emmet stayed with the ranch for a time, but eventually sold his half of the original ranch.

Change was one constant for the Butcher ranch. Over the next two decades, the operation converted from marketing yearling steers and spayed heifers to working under a cow-calf model.

Milton continued managing the ranch until 1972, when a heart attack prompted him to sell the ranch to his son, Ed Butcher. Ed’s sons, Trevis and Ross Butcher, followed in the family suit by joining their dad in working the ranch, although Ross later chose a different career.

In the 1990’s, Trevis and his father converted the remaining grain fields to dryland hay, expanding cattle production. In 2008, Trevis and his wife officially became the ranch’s fourthgeneration family operators.

Trevis’ unexpected passing in 2017 has turned the Butcher’s Rolling Hills Ranch into a fifth-generation operation, bringing in Milton, Trevis J. and McKensie Butcher to work alongside Trevis’ widow, Karla.

January’s banquet presented honorees with wooden plaques, and, according to Ed Butcher, the whole clan showed up.

“There were 20 members of the family there,” he said.

A point of pride for Ed is the fact the family’s ranch has the same name and the same location.

“The fourth [and fifth] generation is digging post holes where Harry Milton was digging post holes,” he said.

Today, the Butcher’s Rolling Hills Ranch runs 500 head of Angus cattle as a cow-calf operation, and the family has plans to continue the Western lifestyle that has earned it recognition.

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