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The Last Wranglers

By Rick Sherman

I can see my breath as I walk out to the corral, halter in hand, to catch my wrangle horse. There is a light frost on the fence rails and grass even though its mid-July, though that’s not unusual for Seeley Lake. Cobalt plays his usual hard-to-get game. It’s half-hearted, though. There must be some cattle cutting in his history, because he loves to wrangle.

As we head up the hill out of the corral, I have to hold him back. There are a little over 100 acres and a number of different levels of landscape to hide in. We cross the big open meadow in front of the main resort lodge toward the trees and hills beyond. There are a few guests up moving around heading for breakfast. We work our way through the big old ponderosas and up onto the benches on the backside of the resort.

For over 70 years the Double Arrow was a horse operation. A Dutch aristocrat and a retired Army Corps of Engineers colonel started it in the early 1930s. From the beginning, horses were at the heart of the 6,000-acre ranch. It was always intended to be a high-end dude ranch. Pack trips headed out directly from the old log lodge, which was built with the aid of horses. The business was partly supported by a breeding program for Army Calvary horses. The big meadow below the lodge supported100 mares and Big Red, the stallion.

The ranch survived until World War II. It changed hands several times, and the lodge’s great hall became a cow barn.

Clarence “C. B.” Rich bought the ranch in 1958. He rebuilt the buildings, revitalized the resort, and put horses back into the pasture. He was able to keep the ranch until the late 1960s when it was lost to developers who subdivided the remaining 3,000 acres, leaving a little over 200 acres for the resort.

Rich, and later his son Jack continued to lease the barn and pastures and kept backcountry outfitting and trail rides alive. Eventually Jack read the writing on the wall and bought his own ranch, the Rich Ranch.

Photo by Rick Sherman

I started at the Double Arrow when Jack was still there, working my first two years for him. When he moved on, I was hired to carry on the tradition. I met my wife, Feather, during this time. We were married in the old barn’s hayloft. Instead of walking down the aisle at the end of the ceremony, we mounted our horses and galloped off across that big meadow. We worked the operation together for the next four years.

The current owners have seen far more financial potential in creating an 18-hole golf course and a subdivision packed with luxury homes. One day I drove down to the barn to wrangle and saw the bulldozer peeling off the topsoil of the big meadow. I pulled over to let my eyes clear, then carried on for another year. I knew it was over the day the resort manager told me we would only be leasing three horses for the trail-ride operation.

Today the resort is an 18-hole golf course. The only horses are in a 10-acre pasture below the old lodge. They serve as lawn ornaments.

Feather and I figure we took more than 7,000 people on rides in the hills around Seeley in the six years we worked there. Folks came back year after year to ride with us. We watched children grow from little kids on their first trail ride to teenagers with their own horses. We loved what we did, and we loved being a part of Montana history. It’s with bittersweet pride that we call ourselves the last wranglers.