To most little girls having a horse is only a dream, but to Nancy Dear it was a way of life. A Montana native, Nancy was born to Curtis and Effie Diehl on June 15, 1919. She grew up on a Meagher County ranch located 30 miles west of White Sulphur Springs. From the very beginning, livestock and hard work were the staples in her life. She grew up on the back of a horse and would be forever comfortable there.
Nancy attended college for a while, some of those years at Montana State University, where she recalled her father’s advice, “Make sure you get some bookkeeping and financing; you can never go wrong with having some of that.” She took home-economics but added some bookkeeping, which she never regretted.
Doug Dear and Nancy Diehl had known of each other as children and young adults. The Dear home place was adjacent to the Diehl summer cattle range. After the war, the couple began dating in earnest; and they were married on January 1, 1947.
It was Nancy’s father, Curtis, who first took an interest in the “Steel Dust” horses in the early 1940s. He bought a dun 2-year-old named Charlie Russell and bred him to U.S. Army Cavalry remount mares, along with a few palominos. His vision was to breed a horse that “would make better cow horses for us on the ranch”.
After Curtis died in 1948, Doug and Nancy carried on, determined to buy the best Quarter Horses they could. They moved onto the Birdtail Ranch headquarters and settled into a life of raising cattle, horses and children. The cattle were Shorthorns first and then Black Angus; the horses were remount and saddle horses first and then Quarter Horses; and the children were two girls – Barbara and Dee Dee.
The Dears purchased their first AQHA-registered stallion, Turk McCue, in 1948. Utilized as a herd sire for roughly five years, “Turk” sired top ranch horses and a handful of producing daughters.
For six decades, Doug and Nancy Dear’s Birdtail Ranch Quarter Horses were legendary throughout the Intermountain West. It was said that if you bought a horse from the ranch near Simms, Montana, “you knew you got a good one.”
Their Birdtail Ranch horses had a big impact on the industry, and so did Nancy. While at the stock show in Denver, she learned from Raymond Hollingsworth and other influential individuals on how to begin an association in Montana. In February of 1954, Nancy and several others started the Montana Quarter Horse Association. She also had a big hand in starting the Junior Montana Quarter Horse Association, which she served as an advisor.
The Dears’ daughters, Barbara and Dee Dee, made names for themselves in rodeo, 4-H and the American Junior Quarter Horse Association (now AQHYA), riding home-raised horses. Barbara married Russ Pepper and Dee Dee married the AQHA judge Lennard Rains and remained involved with the ranch.
In 1995, Nancy received the Heritage Award from the Montana Cowgirls Association and was inducted into the Cowgirl Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City.
Want to learn more about Nancy Dear? Purchase a "The Bold & Beautiful: Trailblazing Women of the American Quarter Horse" companion book from the museum to learn more about the stories and history of the 12 women in the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame.