BILLINGS — Eight-hundred acres of historic property along Cow Creek in the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument has been purchased by the American Prairie Reserve, the group announced on Thursday.
“I hope it will be of good use to the American Prairie Reserve,” said Lorraine Mcgough. “It is a place near and dear to my heart.”
Her mother’s first husband, Art Fogerty, purchased the remote tract in the 1930s, she said. It had been homesteaded by a blacksmith named Shellenberger, she added, who would work on livestock passing through during the steamboat era, The Billings Gazette reported.
Back then, the boats would unload their wares if they couldn’t make it any farther upstream on the way to Fort Benton. The merchandise would then be loaded into wagons and pulled by oxen.
Cow Creek is also historic for the fact that Nez Perce Indians moved through the drainage in September 1887 on their flight north to Canada, with the U.S. Army in hot pursuit. On the way the tribe fought a small band of soldiers guarding unloaded freight at Cow Creek.
Now known as the Nez Perce Trail, the route along Cow Creek was also used by indigenous people for generations before and after the historic journey.
This land is the nonprofit group’s 32nd acquisition in the region since 2004 and brings the conservation organization’s total deeded and leased acres to 420,425 (170,000 hectares). The group’s goal is to “assemble a multi-million-acre nature reserve that conserves the species-rich grasslands of Montana’s legendary Great Plains for the enjoyment of future generations,” according to its website.
The isolated Cow Creek property is located four miles north of the Missouri River and is adjacent to existing American Prairie land. Wildlife including elk, deer and bighorn sheep inhabit the area.
“Properties like Cow Creek connect existing public lands and provide crucial habitat, helping us to create a contiguous landscape where wildlife can thrive,” said Alison Fox, CEO of American Prairie Reserve, in a statement.
The parcel is three miles long, half a mile wide, and falls within the Cow Creek Area of Critical Environmental Concern and the Cow Creek Wilderness Study Area. The areas are managed by the Bureau of Land Management for historical and cultural values in addition to providing fish and wildlife habitat and opportunities for recreation.
“It is part of American Prairie’s mission to grow contiguous habitat areas, and Cow Creek represents a key step towards that goal,” Fox said.
The acreage was listed last year for $800,000. Mcgough said her three children weren’t interested in the property so she made the difficult decision to sell. As an only child, she inherited the land when her mother died.
She recalled adventurous trips into the property where roads were rare and those that existed had to be repaired en route to ensure their Jeep didn’t roll down the steep hillsides.
“It was an adventure getting down in there,” Mcgough said.
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