Saturday, January 7, 2017

Fur Trader and Pioneer Cattleman Johnny Grant [otd 01/07]

Johnny Grant.
National Park Service photo.
On January 7, 1833, John Francis “Johnny” Grant was born in Alberta, Canada. At the time, his father, Richard, was a clerk working for the British-Canadian Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC). John’s mother died when he was eighteen months old. Richard took a furlough and escorted Johnny and his siblings to live with a grandmother in Quebec.

The Company soon promoted Richard to a Chief Trader position at a post in central Canada. He moved to the Columbia District in the Pacific Northwest around 1840. Two years earlier, the HBC had bought Idaho’s Old Fort Hall [blog, January 29]. Richard took over management of the Fort in 1842. When traffic increased on the Oregon Trail, he began trading fresh stock for worn-out emigrant cattle.

Around 1845, Richard decided to bring his children west. If his aging mother took sick or died, there would be no one to look after Johnny and the others. Arrangements and their travel took awhile, but John Francis arrived at Fort Hall early in the summer of 1847.

For various reasons, Johnny did not get along with his father at first and moved out on his own when he felt able – in about 1850. He took very well to the life of a trapper and fur trader, and made many friends among the small remaining Mountain Man community as well as the various tribes in the area.

Along with that, Johnny supported himself by dealing with Trail emigrants. In his memoir, Grant said, “Every summer we went on the road to trade with these newcomers at Soda Springs. I traded for lame cattle and they were always the best, because somehow the best got lame the quickest.”

As time passed, he reconciled with his father. When Richard’s resignation from the HBC became effective in 1853, they worked together to build up a fair-sized herd. These bands were the first significant cattle holdings in what would become the state of Idaho.
Cattle allowed to drink. Library of Congress.
In 1857, Johnny wintered in the Deer Lodge Valley of Montana, and then returned to Idaho. (By this time Richard’s health had deteriorated and he retired from the business.) Johnny returned to Montana two years later and built a ranch in the Deer Lodge area.

John generally got along well with the native inhabitants, and one of his Indian wives (he apparently had several) was sister to Tendoy, a powerful chief of the Lemhi Shoshones. However, clashes between whites and Indians had become more common, and it seems likely Johnny moved to Montana to avoid getting caught up in those disputes. Grant continued to build up his cattle and horse herds in Montana.  However, when his wife died in 1866, he sold his holdings to stockman Conrad Kohrs and moved back to Canada. He died there in 1907.

Starting from the herd established by Grant, Kohrs became one of the first Montana “cattle kings.” In 1870, his crews drove two thousand head of cattle across Idaho and then turned east through Wyoming into Nebraska. The Kohrs ranch operated successfully into the next century. Its core facilities form the basis for today’s Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site.
                                                                                 
References: [B&W]
John N. Albright, Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site, Historic Resource Study, National Park Service, http://www.nps.gov/grko/hrs/hrsi.htm (March 6, 1999: last update).
John Francis Grant, Lyndel Meikle (ed.), Very Close To Trouble: The Johnny Grant Memoir, Washington State University Press, Pullman (1996).
“John Grant Biographical Sketch,” Provincial Archives of Alberta, ArchivesCanada.ca (online resource).

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