320 Ranch: A 360 of the Wild West

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 From the age of Louis and Clarks’ legendary venture across the vast American continent to the present, the lands surrounding modern-day Big Sky, Montana remained nearly unvarnished — that was — until an ambitious group of settlers tested their mettle at taming this unbridled wilderness.

 In 1862, Congress passed the Homestead act which allowed Americans to claim unsettled land under the condition that they cultivate the land and reside there for a period of five years.

 One such pioneering homsteader named Sam Wilson settled what now comprises Big Sky’s 320 Ranch. The ranch derives it’s name from the fusion of two 160 acre neighboring properties— the spitting image of Marty Robbin’s famous cowboy ballad, 160 Acres. The synthesis occured in 1898, when Sam Wilson homesteaded 160 acres, linking their two properties, naming the impressive plot the “Buffalo Horn Resort.”

 The ranch was subsequently purchased in the 1950s by Dr. Caroline McGill, renowned as Montana’s first woman doctor. Dr. McGill was an avid hunter and fisher and environmental advocate, accepting an honorary degree from Montana State for her outstanding service to Montana in medicine and her dedication to Montana’s natural resources in 1955, the same year she purchased 320.

  On January 4, 1959, at the age of 79, Caroline McGill passed away in her Christmas Cabin. In her will, she gave her good friends, the Goodrich family, the option to purchase the ranch, which they did.

 Nearly three centuries after Louis and Clark’s legendary journey, and 100 years since Sam Wilson’s settlement of the property, another man from the east, Dave Brask, strove westward.

  Currently run by the Brask family, the ranch grew exponentially over the years as the Brask family opened their doors to guests seeking to a enjoy a true western experience. The ranch, which once allowed only 20 guests, expanded over the past few decades to accomodate more than 200 (a full history the ranch can be found on 320’s website).

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  Today, things haven’t changed much. Cowboys and wranglers still tend to their steeds, while the Brask family continue the ranch’s effort to protect the environment as members of the Boone and Crockett Club. Dr. McGill’s original ranch house was moved to a more secluded setting near Buffalo Horn Creek, ranch staff occupy the Christmas Cabin, and the original Wilson homestead cabin is now the saloon at McGill’s Restaurant.

  A short drive from Yellowstone National Park, the ranch remains a destination for weddings, honeymoons, personal relaxation, retreats and good old fashioned vacation time. Though the cowboys at the ranch no longer herd cattle, they continue to raise and rear horses which always serve as a delight for wrangler-led guest trail rides on the ranch.

  Visitors may also engage in fly-fishing along the Gallatin River (permit required), and in the stocked trout pond on property. Dinners at the restaurant and saloon bring a taste of the West, exciting anyone with a flare for good home cooking and natural ingredients. Although the 48 ounce “Cowboy Steak” is a favorite, the menu offers many other options including the wildly popular “Wild Game” appetizer, consisting of game, rabbit, wild mushrooms and bone marrow.

  The ranch also hosts Tueday pig roasts, chuck-wagon Wednesay BBQs, and line dancing parties on Sunday night with local country swing bands. Guests may also hike on local trails within walking distance, including the Buffalo Horn Creek trail  (a 7 miles round trip).

  Heroes abound at 320, not just in the ranch’s history, but at the present day, Head wrangler Marce Hoffman knows a thing or two about horses, and taught his son, Gus, everything about them. Several years ago, Gus sustained severe throat injuries from a spooked horse kicking, but bravely rode back to the ranch on his own for medical attention. Gus survived thanks to his savvy and fortitude.

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  Wranglers on ranch often rotate, though this year’s batch witnessed several returning characters, including Dave and Rio, two no-nonsense cowboys that still know how to have fun off business hours. Ranch hands live in log cabins of their own with some on an individual basis and others in a communal setting.

  Whether you’re visiting or just stopping over for dinner and a drink, the Brasks and staff at 320 will always provide a friendly and fun experience for visitors in the Big Sky area.

Your favorite local news Editor currently serves as a Ranch Hand at 320 and will be living in Montana for the next few months on sabbatical.

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