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History of 63 Ranch – Past and Present

November 12, 2019
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Americans were in love with the West and the freedom and adventure that a life on the frontier offered. The 63 Ranch was the right idea at the right time – the Great Depression notwithstanding. And it certainly was in the right place – one of the most beautiful in all of Montana.


“In no way can I convey entirely the excitement and enthusiasm of the original idea and purchase of land and also the extreme poverty and stressful times of the early years. At one point the mortgage was due and there was no money to pay Memorus Bruffey.  The 63 Ranch exists today because he did not foreclose.”     SANDRA CHRISTENSEN




In 1929, Elmer and Paul Christensen, and their sister, Jo Francis, bought 420 acres from Memorus Bruffey, whose family homesteaded Montana land in 1890.  

Just a few months later, the nation was plunged into the Great Depression, but the Christensens persisted. They would not let hard times deter them from realizing their dream of opening a dude ranch — which they named after Bruffey’s 63 cattle brand.  Americans were in love with the West and the freedom and adventure that a life on the frontier offered.  The 63 Ranch was the right idea at the right time – the Great Depression notwithstanding. And it certainly was in the right place – one of the most beautiful in all of Montana – at the mouth of Mission Creek Canyon on the northern slope of the Absaroka Mountains.

The Christensen brothers, who knew their way around a sawmill, built the main lodge and five guest cabins by hand, with, as the story goes, the help of just one hired hand.  In 1930, the 63 Ranch opened its doors — and thanks to visitors from Chicago who returned to the Windy City to tell of their adventures — the dude ranch flourished.

Today, the ranch encompasses two thousand fourteen acres of timbered hillsides, grassy meadows, and lush riparian bottoms along Mission Creek, a blue-ribbon trout stream teaming with cutthroat and rainbows.  The Gallatin National Forest and the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness area border the ranch on the south with the Absaroka Mountains rising majestically against the horizon.  For all of its natural beauty, the 63 Ranch has always been remarkably easy to reach — even in the early days of the automobile.  Just 12 miles from Livingston, the 63 Ranch is in the heart of the Yellowstone River Valley.  Bozeman, home to Montana State University and a thriving cultural scene, is 40 miles west of the ranch. The Bridger Bowl Ski Area is 45 miles away, while the entrance to Yellowstone National Park is a little over an hour’s drive from the ranch.

The Christensens operated the 63 Ranch continuously for almost 90 years — except for a short time during World War II when family members were serving in the military. Generations of visiting families around the country grew up cherishing their time in Montana at the 63 Ranch, returning year after year for trail rides, fishing and roundups.   

In the shadow of the Absaroka Mountains, at the mouth of Mission Creek, the years on the 63 Ranch were rich in every way that matters in this world.  Now, as a long and illustrious chapter of this beautiful and historic ranch comes to an end, another chapter begins.  On the horse trails through the pines, in the meadows of tall grass, along the tumbling waters, in the shade of hand-hewn log cabins, atop the mountain ridge — and in the memories — especially in the memories — the legacy of the Christensen family lives on.In 1982, the 63 Ranch became one of the first dude ranches in Montana to be recognized as a State Historical Site and shortly after that was also named a National Historical Site.  It remains a working ranch today with about 100 head of commercial black angus cattle and more than 90 horses.  After setting the standard for Montana dude ranches for almost a century, the Christensen family decided in 2019 that the time had come to pass the reins to a new owner.  For nearly a century, they stewarded the land with care and built a reputation for providing hospitality second to none. Visitors became friends. Friends became like family.


 “I believe everyone who was ever lucky enough to visit, agrees that the 63 Ranch is located in the loveliest spot in the world, and that we were so fortunate to be able to call this special place our home.”  SANDRA CHRISTENSEN