Montana 1905 - the Charles Baker family bought what is now the center of the Francis Unit of the Climbing Arrow Ranch, and established the Ranch headquarters, which is still used today. The next chapter of the CA Ranch evolved in 1939, when the Francis family purchased the Ranch and expanded it to include adjacent land owned by homesteaders, as well as the Valley and the Hudson Unit.
The History of Montana's Climbing Arrow Ranch
San Francisco 1950s - the financial district was booming. Frank B. Anderson was president of the Bank of California during the recovery following the Great Depression. His grandson, Buck Anderson, was destined to follow in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps in the family banking business. His fate was set—to live in the Golden State and live a life of corporate America in the Bay Area’s financial district. However, Buck and his new bride, Marcia, longed for a more rural lifestyle for their young family; a shared love of livestock was pulling them out of California. The Andersons owned a “hobby” ranch in the Sonoma, California area, but what they wanted was a working ranch. Buck and Marcia threw a wide net across the West in search of a large western ranch they could call home.
In 1959, Buck received a call from the real estate broker he had asked to explore the Rocky Mountains for a suitable ranch property for his family. This was in the Big Sky State, where Dean Francis had made the difficult decision to sell his ranch, the Climbing Arrow, located on the north end of the Bridger Mountain Range in southwest Montana.
So, with their fledgling family in tow, Buck and Marcia ventured to the beautiful Gallatin Valley to set up their new home and raise their four children. Over the next sixty years, the Anderson family expanded their holdings to what many may consider the most historically significant land and cattle empire in the Rocky Mountain West. Today, Climbing Arrow Ranch consists of five Units totaling approximately 79,582 acres, of which about 73,180 are deeded. On this land, the Andersons run a cow herd of nearly 2,000 commercial Black Angus cattle. Operations of this scale are peerless in today’s western land market. The Ranch has maintained the long-standing tradition of the three-day cattle drive from the hay meadows of the Valley Unit along the Madison River to the timbered hillsides and mountain meadows of the Francis Unit. It is a rare experience to see a large cattle drive with seasoned cowboys on horseback and working cow dogs trailing the cattle. This is a weekly occurrence during the month of June for the CA Ranch. This event attracts spectators from far and wide to watch the “Cowboys of the CA” move the herd to the mountain pastures.
CA Ranch spans four counties, which comprise productive irrigated hay meadows along the famed Madison River, dramatic limestone cliffs above the pristine trout waters of the North Fork and Middle Fork of Sixteenmile Creek, and the main channel of Sixteenmile Creek—all outstanding fisheries in their own right, teeming with German browns, cutthroat and rainbow trout.
The Milwaukee Railroad went through a portion of the Francis Unit from 1906 to 1980. In 1978, the last train used the current railroad easement, and although remnants still remain, the railbed and right-of-way have been abandoned. During the term of the Milwaukee Railroad’s operation, the railroad company constructed the Eagle’s Nest Tunnel and the trestle that crosses the North Fork of Sixteenmile Creek, made famous in the movie A River Runs Through It. Completely private, the abandoned railbed traverses the dramatic, vertical canyon wall with stunning views of the trout-rich North Fork below.
CA Ranch is mythical in Western Montana hunting and fishing lore for its unsurpassed bull-elk hunting and blue-ribbon trout fishing. This Ranch is like no other in the Rocky Mountain West.