MTHS Welcomes New Centennial Farm and Ranch Families

    Centennial

    By Montana Historical Society

    The Montana Historical Society (MTHS) welcomes Birkeland Farms and the Woodmansey Ranch in Chouteau County, and Inbody Farms in Teton County, to the Centennial Farm and Ranch register.

    These long-lived farm and ranch families received a certificate from Gov. Greg Gianforte and a roadside sign to honor their remarkable achievement.

    “By honoring families who have owned their land for 100 years or more, we help preserve Montana’s strong agricultural roots and the stories and traditions that define our rural communities,” said Christine Brown, MTHS Outreach and Interpretation historian. “These families deserve a hearty pat on the back and recognition for achieving this rare milestone.”

    Denis W. and Mary Flagler filed on a 313-acre-homestead on Nine Mile Bench north of Highwood in Chouteau County around 1909. They were not strangers to Montana. Denis left New York in 1889 for Montana and worked for his brother Tom at his sheep ranch located near the Steele post office on the Fort Benton-Lewistown stage line (now present-day Geraldine). He also worked at the Bowers Bros. Ranch near Stanford, where he met his future wife, Mary. She had moved to Stanford, Montana, in 1892 where she was working as a nurse.

    Denis and Mary married in 1894 and their daughter Elizabeth was born at Steele in 1896. The small family left Montana in 1899 and headed back East where Denis worked in the nursery business in North Carolina. They returned to Montana in 1907 and claimed homestead land in 1909. Denis farmed winter wheat and improved the homestead, taking full ownership in 1916. Mary assisted with farming, raised six children, a large garden, and was active in the Methodist Church, the Fort Benton Woman’s Club, and fraternal organizations.

    When Denis and Mary retired in 1934, Elizabeth and husband Ingolf Birkeland continued the family operation, steadily adding new acreage and expanding the farm. They passed the farm on to their son Tom and wife Beverly in the 1950s and then to their sons, Steven and Michael Birkeland and great-great grandson Weston Birkeland, who operates the farm today.

    Like Denis Flagler, John Reynolds also settled early in the Highwood area—in 1888—where he worked as a hired ranch hand. He had emigrated from England to Canada in 1886, then started working for Charles Boyle on Highwood Creek in 1888. After claiming homestead land and starting his farm and ranch, he married schoolteacher Maude Abrams in 1894. Together they expanded the ranch to more than 2,000 acres, raised six children, hay, and cattle, and were active in community organizations.

    From 1905 to 1915 John also ran a stage from Fort Benton to Highwood carrying mail, passengers, and freight. The mail contract allowed the family to move to a house in Fort Benton for the winter and spend summers at the ranch. After John died in 1937, the Reynolds children received equal parts of the ranch. Their youngest daughter Kathryn Woodmansey purchased her siblings shares and she and her husband Fred lived at the ranch full time. They raised four children, grew hay, wheat, alfalfa, and barley on about 480 acres of dry land, planted a large garden and canned much of the produce. They also raised chickens, geese, and turkeys, kept four horses for moving cattle, and at one time had three Shetland ponies.

    Disaster struck in 1952 when Highwood Creek flooded. Luckily, the house only flooded, but water destroyed several small buildings and a new pickup truck, washed away tools, and damaged two tractors. After the water receded, the Woodmansey’s moved the house barn, car garage, bunkhouse, and red barn 300 yards south where they still stand near Shaw Creek. Kathryn and Fred created the Woodmansey Ranch Corporation in 1961, which included their four children as owners.

    Their son Bob, a schoolteacher, took over the farming operation when Fred died in 1972. With help from teacher friends and his kids, he planted and harvested alfalfa, wheat, and barley for many years. Neighbors leased the cattle operation and when Bob retired they also leased the farmland. Today, the Woodmanseys—third and fourth generation descendants of John and Maude Reynolds—still manage the 1,500-acre farm and ranch.

    Northeast of Choteau, in Teton County, the Inbody family recently celebrated 100 years of farming the same land, despite terrible loss, drought, low prices, and a century of change. Roy and Hannah Inbody moved with their young children from Washington State to Montana in 1919. Roy was a teacher for several terms at both the Eyraud School and Shield School in Teton County, until he began farming leased land near the current farm acreage, which he purchased in March 1924. Roy added land to his holdings in 1931 and by 1934 had amassed 1,200 acres, at a time when Montana was mired in a major economic depression and draught.

    Tragically, Roy and Hannah were killed in a car accident while on vacation in Bakersfield, California, in 1934. Hannah died instantly, and Roy died two weeks later. Their children, Lucile, 18, Glen, 16, and Clark, 12 were determined to stay together on the farm, though neighbors suggested otherwise. The trio kept the farm going and managed to finish high school. Lucile married Harold Waters, a neighboring farmer in 1942 while he was at Camp Lewis in Washington. Clark enlisted in the U.S Army Air Corps and served in the Pacific during World War II, eventually working on the Enola Gay’s radar system before its historic mission over Japan.

    After the war, Glen and Clark farmed together. Glen and wife Mildred raised three children on the farm and with Clark raised wheat, barley, durum, oats, and mustard, while adding acreage over time until they had 2,200 acres. Glen, an avid pilot, owned a Piper Cub, and flew until he lost a hand in a thrasher accident in 1953. He and Clark created Inbody Farms Inc. in 1979 after Glen’s son, Roy, came home to join the farming operation. Roy continued growing grains and added more land to the farm. He farmed until his son, Scott, graduated from Montana State University with an agriculture business degree and returned to the farm in 2006. Scott took over the full operation of Inbody Farms with occasional help from Roy and with Roy’s mentorship over many years continuing through today.

    “Wise money management and controlled growth have been factors in the farm staying in the family for 100 years,” said Roy Inbody. It also helped that his wife Diane’s teaching career provided health insurance. One of the central philosophies of the family has been making things better for the next generation, even if that means a life off the farm. The legacy is not meant to be a shackle but an opportunity to create a life close to the land with flexibility and community.

    Since 2010, the MTHS Centennial Farm and Ranch program has recognized our state’s agricultural traditions by celebrating the perseverance and stewardship of Montana families on their farms and ranches.

    The MTHS accepts applications for the Centennial Farm and Ranch register all year. Requirements for induction include:

    • Must be a working farm or ranch with a minimum of 160 acres or, if fewer than 160 acres, must have gross yearly income of at least $1,000.
    • One current owner must be a Montana resident.
    • Proof of founding date and continuous ownership by members of the same family beginning with the founder and concluding with the present owner, spanning minimally 100 years. Line of ownership may be through spouses, children, brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces, or adopted children. For homesteaded properties, ownership begins with claim filing date (not patent date).
    • $100 fee

    To download all requirements and the application, or for more information, visit bit.ly/mtcentennialfarms; email [email protected] to request a copy by mail; or call Christine Brown at 406-444-1687. MSN