Located among the forested mountain sides, broad alluvial benches and cottonwood-lined river basins, the Pitchfork ranges over 100,000 acres. The ranch occupies one of the few remaining unbroken valleys in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Over eight miles of the Greybull River run through the ranch with pure strain Yellowstone cutthroat trout and mountain whitefish. Springs and tributaries feeding the Greybull provide important riparian areas that create a landscape corridor for migrating waterfowl, moose, whitetail and mule deer. Elk and pronghorn antelope graze the benches and mountain meadows, dotted by a few homesteaders' cabins still quietly staking their claims on the land along the springs and creeks of the Pitchfork range.
Over 120 years after its founding, the Pitchfork Ranch is staged to continue its second century of operations, a ranch community of no more than five individual but interrelated ranch sites. Each site is in an environmentally and esthetically appropriate location affording privacy and yet ready access to all ranch ameneties. Features include:
- Four to five interrelated ranch sites.
- Located in environmentally and esthetically appropriate sites.
- Compounds of 5 to 25 acres with balance in common.
- Tax benefitted conservation easements tying the entirety to a long-term ranching operation in environmentally responsible fashion.
- Use rights over 100,000 acres, including hunting, fishing, riding, hiking, camping. - High mountains primitive hike/ride base camp for exploring the Absoroka back country.
The valley of the Greybull River in northwestern Wyoming has been the center of operations for the Pitchfork Ranch since 1878 when Count Otto Franc von Lichtenstein selected a location and built his first cabin establishing the second oldest ranch in the basin. Franc first came to the Big Horn Basin on a hunting trip in 1877-78 but kept his eyes open for a likely place to cattle ranch. His choice was well made, for the wide valley of the Upper Greybull was abundant with rich grass and good water. The river and stream bottom would provide shelter and the meadowland of the surrounding mountains could provide summer range for cattle. Even the winters in the upper valley were mild as a result of southwest winds and chinooks that often blew throughout the winter. The Pitchfork also provided a start for another western legend; Butch Cassidy stole his first horse from Otto Franc.
The twentieth century brought accelerating changes to the Pitchfork Ranch. Indeed, the whole Big Horn Basin was the last realm of the open range in the Old West. In the times of Otto Franc, the Cattle Baron, and Louis Graham Phelps, the Investor, the Pitchfork Ranch went from steak and beans to stocks and bonds in the climate of the early 1900's. At the time of Phelps death in 1922 the domain and magnitude of the Pitchfork holdings were at their greatest. Seven ranches had been put under the Brand of a Legend, comprising nearly 300,000 acres.
The ranch broke up in the 1940's due to financial difficulties and family disagreements. In spite of these problems the Belden, Phelps and Turnell families maintained control of over 100,000 acres. In the early 1970ís many technological improvements were implemented that increased the efficiency of the ranch. New dwellings, barns, out-buildings and corrals were added and modern farm facilities and machinery employed. Techniques of modern agriculture and cattle ranching have been adopted to increase both productivity and sustainability of the land.
The ranch continued to make history in other unexpected ways. In 1981, the Pitchfork was thrown into international attention with the discovery of the black-footed ferret. Thought to be extinct, the small mammal was discovered on the Ranch by a neighbor of current Ranch Manager Jack Turnell. In what would ultimately become a model for ecological development, the Pitchfork became the center of great conservation attention and proper handling of the only known population of this rarest of mammals. Working with the Wyoming Fish and Game Department, Turnell and others adopted cattle ranching practices to maintain and protect the ferret habitat. Their land stewardship preserved the ferret.
The current Ranch owners plan to continue the environmental stewardship of the land while maintaining its economic viability. To accomplish this difficult task, a team of design professionals has studied the ecological, environmental and economic feasibility of selected private residential home sites for development.
Dagget, Dan and Jay Dussard. Beyond the Rangeland Conflict, Toward a West that Works. Layton, Utah: Gibbs Smith Publishers, 1995.
Edgar, John and Jack Turnell. Brand of a Legend. Cody, Wyoming: Stockade Publishing, 1978.
Millstein, Michael. "New Owners Preserve Open Space." Billings Gazette Wyoming Bureau, March 3, 1999.