S Ranch Ltd.

S Ranch Ltd.

Today, the S Ranch is still owned and operated by the Scott family – John Scott Jr., John Scott III, Jim Scott, Maggie Scott Brown and Sissy Scott Croft are all general partners of the 227,000-acre ranch.

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By Jim Jennings

In October of 1948, as John Scott Jr. watched the last of his family’s cow herd go up the chute and into a railroad car – one of 40 cars that he had loaded that morning – he looked at them with mixed emotions. John was ranching in West Texas with his father and brothers, near Mertzon, west of San Angelo, an area that was in its second year of a bad drought. He and his brothers had grown up on that ranch,and it was home, but with the grass gone and most of the stock water, too, they knew they had to do something. Moving on to new country seemed to be the best bet.

When John got all 800 cows loaded onto the train, he put 25 head of good saddle horses on the next car and then climbed on himself. Two days later, he was in Montana, out on the eastern plains at the little town of Terry. He and his father and brothers then unloaded the cows and trailed them 30 miles to a ranch on the Powder River near Miles City.

“This is good ranch country,” John thought to himself as he watched the cows spread out across the rolling prairie. “Lots of grass, good water.”

John didn’t know it at the time, but his family had made a wise decision in leaving Texas. It would be another eight years before it started raining again and West Texas recovered. But 30 days after they arrived in Montana, they all questioned their decision. The good grass that had impressed John when he arrived was covered with snow. Drifts were more than stirrup high, as the first of many blizzards came rolling in from Canada. The winter of 1948-49 was one of the worst in the history of the state.

“But we had plenty of feed,” John said. “If it wasn’t for the calves, we would have been OK.” The cows the family had brought up on the train had been bred to calve in January, as was the custom in West Texas. But January, in Montana was nothing like Texas. Most of the calves were lost by the time winter’s hold broke late that spring.

But the Scotts survived, and they learned. In the spring, they brought more cattle from Texas and began to expand. By 1955, the family partnership was running cattle and horses on 120,000 acres.

In 1959, John broke out on his own, buying a ranch of 120,000 acres in the Miles City area and another – 160,000 acres – south of Billings, on the Crow Indian Reservation. By this time, he was running 10,000 mother cows and a remuda of 100 head of horses.

The Horses

The beginnings of John Scott's horses go way back beyond the beginnings of AQHA but involve some of the founders of the breed. In 1925, John’s father, John Scott Sr., bought for the ranch in Mertzon 10 daughters of Hickory Bill by Peter McCue. During the next few years, he continued to buy some well-bred mares and in 1934 got his first crop of foals by Jazz, by Harmon Baker by Peter McCue. Jazz was owned by American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame member Billy Anson, who ranched at nearby Christoval, Texas. These foals were out of daughters of San Antonio Sorrel, who was by Hickory Bill.

In March 1940, John Sr. heard about the formation of the American Quarter Horse Association, which had taken place earlier that month during a meeting held in conjunction with the Fort Worth Stock Show. He immediately contacted Treasurer Jim Hall and purchased stock in the fledgling organization, knowing that if he was going to be in the Quarter Horse business, he needed to be a member. Next, he purchased a horse called Red Jacket, who was third in the stallion class at the first AQHA-approved horse show in Stamford, Texas. Then he had a horse called Little Wonder by the Thoroughbred Rex Beach. John Jr. says that LittleWonder gave them a lot of good cow horses, including one called Gaylor, on which John was fourth in the Rodeo Cowboys Association steer roping standings in 1949 and third in 1950.

In 1941, the Scotts bought a colt from the King Ranch called One Eyed Hippy, by Peppy and out of a daughter of Old Sorrel. About 20 of One Eyed Hippy’s fillies made the trip to Montana, and they bred them to another horse they had acquired, Bill Van Vacter, by Billy Van and out of a Waggoner Ranch mare. John was really high on him and says they bred him for about six years. John also earned a Register of Merit on the horse in cutting. In addition, they used a My Texas Dandy Jr stallion and one by Glass Truckle (TB), both of which came from the Gill Cattle Company in California, and they bred some mares to the Haythorn Ranch’s good stallion Eddie 40.

In later years, they had a horse called Doc O Dynamite by Doc O’Lena out of a Gay Bar King mare. His foals have earned more than $650,000 in National Cutting Horse Association competition. In 1997, they bought Paddys Irish Whiskey by Peppy San Badger and also out of a daughter of Gay Bar King. Paddys Irish Whiskey’s foals have earned approximately $840,000 in cutting, reining and reined cow horse events. Doc O Dynamite and Paddys Irish Whiskey were sold in 2000. Burnett Ranches in Texas bought Paddys Irish Whiskey, but the Scotts continue to breed some mares to him, as well as to two sons of Peptoboonsmal – Boonsmal Colonel and Hickorys Little Boon – and a new stallion, Master Merada by Freckles Merada out of a daughter of Peppy San Badger.

The Ranch

John Jr. has now incorporated his ranching interests, and he and all his children are equal partners in S Ranch Ltd. They have sold the Miles City ranch, focusing their entire cattle operation on the ranch near Billings, which is about 227,000 acres situated entirely within the Crow Indian Reservation. Even though the ranch is on the reservation, some of the land is deeded, while some is tribal land that is leased.

In 1984, John moved back to a ranch in Texas, near Miles, east of San Angelo, leaving the Montana operation to John III, who manages the farming, and Jim, who handles all the livestock. Daughter Sissy Scott Croft takes care of the office, and daughter Maggie Scott Brown helps John at the Texas ranch.

In Montana, they run about 4,000 mother cows, plus another 1,500 heifers that they calve out in the spring. They ride both mares and geldings, and have about 100 horses in their saddle horse remuda.

Prior to 2000, the Scotts’ horse herd had increased tremendously. “It seems like we had more horses than we did cows,” says Jim. But in August of that year, they reduced their horse numbers by holding a sale at the Billings ranch. A total of 243 head of horses was sold for almost $3.5 million. There were 120 mares in the sale, and when it was over, John had only six broodmares left.

“But that didn’t last,” says Jim. “My dad has always loved the horses. When he had that big sale, we thought, ‘Well, he’s done.’ But he wasn’t. He came right back and started buying horses, putting another broodmare band together and breeding them. We’ve built back up now to about 50 broodmares.

“He has really developed some good horses, and I feel like we are right back to where we started,” Jim says. “We are raising as good as there is.”

All the broodmares and stallions are in Texas, where John lives now. The mares are bred and foaled out there each year. Maggie helps John halter break all the foals, and when they are yearlings, they are sent to Montana.

“We’ll usually start riding them in August of their 2-year-old year,” Jim says. “We’ll ride them about two weeks and get them to where we can do a job on them, and then we’ll turn them out again. Then we might ride them for a week or two that winter if we don’t have too much going on. Some people say that a horse doesn’t learn anything until you get him tired. I don’t believe that. I believe you need to keep a colt fresh and keep him from getting tired.”

Jim says that when the horses are 3 they get a few more rides, but those rides are picked for them. “They won’t be hard rides,” he says. “But when those horses are 4, they’re ready to go, and they go into a cowboy’s string. Even then, though, you watch how hard you ride them. You just don’t want to discourage them.”

Jim says, “We like a horse that has a lot of cow and a lot of bottom. When I say bottom, I mean tough. These rides out here are tough on them. But if they can take it out here, they can take it anywhere.”

Horses to be ridden each day are roped in a corral or, if the wagon is out for spring branding or fall roundup, in a rope corral. All riders normally change horses at noon, due to the rough terrain and the area covered. All cattle work is done horseback, including dragging calves to the fire for branding.

“It’s steady riding on this place,” Jim says. “If someone is looking for a riding job, we ride.

“And the horses we’re raising today have a lot of natural cow instinct,” he adds. “Our horses will turn back a cow before the rider even knows it’s happening.It’s quicker than I can rein one.”

The Family

Depending upon the time of the year and the work to be done, there are from three to eight cowboys on the ranch. But the mainstay of the workforce is the Scott family. Jim grew up horseback under the tutelage of his father, and he has raised his three children the same way.

“Before we started the partnership with Dad, my wife, Marcy, and I had our own set of cows, and the kids were all I had for help. They were babies, but I was using them. They’ve all been riding since before they could walk, and they are all good hands. We’ve always had a lot of fun, and they all still like it.”

Daughters Sarah and Hannah have both graduated from college and last summer were back on the ranch, working every day. Sarah spent last spring in Texas, helping artificially inseminate all the broodmares, but in August married a young man from one of the neighboring ranches. Hannah is doing some other work, but she continues to help on the ranch. Jim and Marcy’s son, Caleb, is still in college, but summers find him roping a horse out of the remuda every morning. Jim rodeoed while he was in college, riding broncs and roping calves, and all three of the children rodeo as well.

Marcy cooks on the wagon when it’s out during spring branding or fall roundup.

“She knows how this whole deal operates,” Jim says, “she’s as big a part of this as anybody. Keeps me in line.”

Jim says that ranching is all he knows.“I was raised this way. I’ve been on the wagon since I was 6 years old. I hated it back then, too long of hours. I can remember my dad sitting on a horse at three in the morning, waiting for the sun to come up. Trouble was, he didn’t quit when the sun went down. But by the time I was 13 or 14, I liked it, and I’m lucky. All my kids do, too.

“You know, my father’s father was a rancher, he is a rancher, I am a rancher, and it looks like all the kids are going to be ranchers. You can’t ask for more than that.”