They supped on beef and turkey, sipped sweet tea and swapped stories. It was a good old-fashioned western barbecue Thursday evening, on a good old-fashioned ranch.
Conrad Kohrs, the cattle king of Montana during its territorial days, died in 1920, as did his three Bielenberg half-brothers who helped shape this frontier. But their spirits and their stories were omnipresent at the Grant-Kohrs Ranch, in the shadow of Mount Powell.
“We’re so rich with family history we’re spoiled rotten,” said Don Kohrs, a descendant of Con Kohrs’s brother Henry, who planned the Kohrs-Bielenberg family reunion that drew 100 people. Many came from Iowa and California, and even more from western Montana.
“It’s more of a gathering than a reunion,” Kohrs noted. “A lot of people … have never met each other before.” So they sat and did just that.
Conrad Kohrs, born in Germany in 1835, arrived in Montana in 1862, before it was Montana. His Bielenberg half-brothers, also German-born, shared the same mother.
All three Bielenberg boys, followed Conrad to Montana. All but one, whom Kohrs put in charge of the home ranch, married in Montana and had multiple children.
The Grant-Kohrs Ranch is a national historic site, the only working ranch in the National Park Service system. The park holds an annual Grant-Kohrs Ranch Days.
A family tree stretched the entire length of dairy barn’s interior wall. Park Superintendent Laura Rotegard encouraged people to find their names, check them off and make additions and corrections.
“When a family comes back to a place that was theirs, that’s now owned by the country, it’s a celebration of everything they’ve been willing to give up so that the rest of the country can benefit from their story,” Rotegard said. “That’s just something you can never say thank you for often enough.”
From a story by Kim Briggeman in The Missoulian, Missoula, Montana