Montana’s Big Blackfoot River skirts the southern edge of the Bob Marshall Wilderness, just west of the Continental Divide. The small town of Helmville in Powell County sits at the heart of the river’s valley, shadowed by the Garnet Mountains and surrounded by rolling hills of sagebrush and pine. When Robert E. Meyer came to the region in 1990, he ended his search for the perfect place to pursue his lifelong dream of returning to his agricultural roots by ranching. He settled in this region, steeped in ranching history, and successfully cultivated that history. Yet raising cattle for the future would also mean looking back to the “old-fashioned way.”
Homesteaders first settled Helmville, named after Henry Helm, the area’s first postmaster, in 1872. The early Helmville pioneers made their living ranching, mining and farming. Though the community grew and thrived, living there required flexibility. When the mines played out, many settlers turned to ranching or selling fresh produce and dairy products. When cattle did poorly, others raised sheep. An Irishman, Andrew Wales, and his family brought their own innovation to the Blackfoot Valley around the year 1880 when they settled near Helmville and eventually established the Wales Brothers Park Ranch. From the early 1900s to the 1940s, the family operated its own lumber mill and successfully sold registered purebred Percherons (French draft workhorses) to farmers, miners and ranchers. The approximately 6,000-acre Wales Brothers Ranch was the first land Meyer purchased in 1990.
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