The Northern International Livestock Exposition will turn back the clock 133 years Saturday with a cattle drive through downtown Billings.
The NILE parade and cattle drive begins at 10 a.m.
The parade, the first in the NILE’s 45-year history, celebrates the earliest days of the livestock industry in the upper Yellowstone Valley, which dates to 1879.
Yellowstone County Museum, the parade’s grand marshal, has mounted an entry based on J.K. Ralston’s mural depicting an early Montana cattle drive.
“On the Move” shows a horseman, known as a wagon pilot, leading the way, followed by a chuck wagon, bed wagon and a herd of horses. In the background are hundreds of cattle grazing across a western landscape.
The pilot might have been a mountain man who was familiar with the country through which a drive moved.
The cook always drove his chuck wagon and ruled supreme over the contents of the rolling kitchen.
The bed wagon hauled cowboys’ bedroll, rain slickers and extra tack.
The mural was commissioned in 1956 for the precursor of the YCM, said Chas Weldon, executive director.
In the museum’s basement, the long mural stretches over a chuck wagon that was used on the Crow Reservation in the 1920s and '30s.
To replicate the Ralston scene Saturday, Ron Garritson will portray the wagon pilot in the parade, followed by a chuck wagon owned and driven by Ken Johnson of Molt. Ken Kuhlmann of Lavina will drive a bed wagon.
Local rancher Turk Stovall will be the cattle boss overseeing 25 cowboys who will keep 50 cattle moving along the parade route.
Weldon will be in the parade, too, as an outrider.
Community entries will follow. All participants of the nonmotorized parade will ride horses, walk or be carried in an animal-drawn vehicle.
The parade, sponsored by Lou Taubert Ranch Outfitters, honors cattle and horse drives that created an industry that continues today, Weldon said.
An YCM exhibit tells the stories of four men who brought some of the first commercial livestock herds to the upper Yellowstone Valley: Ed Cardwell in 1879, Alvin Ellis in 1880, John Dover in 1881 and 16-year-old Nate Cooper in 1882. Descendants of each still ranch in the area.
The dominance of the Sioux in the valley kept most white settlers out until after the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876, Weldon said.
The coming of the railroad that reached Billings in 1882 was the impetus for livestock ranching, Weldon said.
While Miles City is known as the end of Texas longhorn drives, the Billings area was the destination for horses and short-horn cattle from Oregon, Idaho and Western Montana.