Alton Ranch History

Alton Ranch Historic PhotoContributing much to the area's history, the ranch traces its beginnings to George Thexton, a native of England who immigrated to the United States in 1855 and first settled in Wisconsin.  A blacksmith by trade, he set out for the Montana gold fields in search of opportunity for his growing family. George Thexton was destined to play a role in Montana’s early history, as he became a successful entrepreneur, town father and prominent figure in Virginia City’s rough and tumble beginnings.  His name can still be found etched on the sign out front of the Star Livery, next to the Kiskadden Grocery, one of the town’s preserved historic landmarks.

In 1872 he purchased a 160-acre cash entry patent -- a “well-watered meadow full of native grasses” -- on the banks of the Madison River, over the hill 15 miles southeast of Virginia City.  Described as a “hay and stock ranch,” it became the nucleus of his family ranch operation during the open-range era, when horses and cattle could simply be turned out to graze on neighboring rangelands.  Over the years, as the open range gave way to homesteads and federal land management, the ranch grew to several thousand acres that supported three more Thexton family generations.

In addition to George Thexton's original Shorthorn cattle herd, horses were a major part of the livestock operation during the ranch's early years.  Nearly all of the work was accomplished with horses, which numbered upwards of 800 on the ranch up until the 1930s.  George's youngest son, Thomas Thexton, ran the ranch from his father's death in 1904 until his own death in 1929, raising cavalry horses for the U.S. Army during World War I.  Draft horses pulled farm machinery growing hay and grain, and saddle horses carried working cowboys trailing cattle 40 miles northeast to rail shipping points that took them east to hungry markets in Chicago and beyond.

Thomas' four sons continued to expand the ranch through the ensuing years, as the cadence of ranch life followed the seasonal movement of cattle between summer and winter pasture and electricity and mechanization brought more progress and change.  In the 1970s, parts of the Thexton Ranch including the original 160 acres George Thexton first acquired in 1872 became the northern operating unit of today’s Alton Ranch.  Succeeding generations have continued on as our next door neighbors ever since.

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Alton Ranch Grassfed Beef   |   513 Varney Road   |   Ennis, Montana  59729

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