MILES CITY — Paul T. Ringling, rancher and World War II veteran, passed away Wednesday evening, March 7, 2018 in Miles City.
Paul was born in New York City in 1920. His mother, Aubrey Black Ringling, and father, Richard T. Ringling, brought him back to the family ranch when he was six weeks old. Raised in White Sulphur Springs, Paul grew up on the family’s ranch, attended school in White Sulphur Springs, at St. John’s Military Academy and completed high school in Livingston, in 1937.
Paul’s parents were part owners of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum Bailey Circus. Although they happened to be traveling with the circus in New York at the time of Paul’s birth, the roots of his family tree run deep in Montana. Paul’s maternal great-great uncle was the last territorial governor of Montana. In 1894, Paul’s mother was born in White Sulphur Springs, Montana, where her father worked as an attorney. His father came to Montana as a young man to check on land that his uncle had invested in near White Sulphur Springs known as Ringling, Montana. Paul’s parents were introduced and married in 1918. As he grew, Paul’s home was always in White Sulphur Springs, where the family owned a ranch and a dairy where Paul raced his pony down the aisle of the dairy barn with a childhood friend.
Paul’s life was far from ordinary. His family traveled often with his father who worked in Management for Ringling Brothers. But Paul always said no matter where his journeys took him, “most of the time I missed White Sulphur Springs.” Paul’s father died when he was 11 years old, but his mother still owned a share of the circus so after graduation from high school he worked from 1937-1941 with the Ringling Bros., Barnum and Bailey Circus; five seasons with the circus selling tickets, helping set up tents, and eventually working in advertising.
In 1940, he married his sweetheart, Althea Shearer, a White Sulphur Springs girl he’d been dating since age 16. She joined him as he traveled with the circus. Althea was born on a homestead at Sixteen, Montana. They were married for 65 years. In 1941, Paul left the Circus, anticipating a call to serve in World War II. He was drafted and remained active from 1942 to 1945. For more than three years he did not see his young bride.
Paul was first in North Africa with a signal corps and then in Italy, working as a high speed radio operator in a counter intelligence unit with the Air Corps. Although he had two battle stars, he spent most of his time in the service detecting the Morse Code used by German Luftwaffle. Paul shared his experience with his children, “When I identified German communication, I then communicated with the code cracker, who deciphered the message. It was true team play between radio operators and code crackers. Everything we did was stamped top to bottom Top Secret.” He returned stateside in 1945.
Paul studied agriculture at Montana State on the G.I. Bill and then went to work for his mother on her White Sulphur Springs sheep and cattle ranch. He loved ranch life and in 1949 he and his wife were able to purchase part of the family ranch. Together, they operated the cattle ranch and raised horses on the side. In 1959, Paul and Althea sold their White Sulphur Springs ranch and bought the Sheep Mountain Ranch near Springdale, Montana. In 1964, the Ringlings left Sheep Mountain for a ranch in prime range livestock country near Ekalaka in the remote southeast corner of Montana. As a rancher and conservationist, Paul was an excellent range manager and top producer of Angus cattle. He continued to live at the ranch and in Miles City until his death. His wife, Althea, preceded him in death in 2005.
During his time as a rancher in the 1950s, Paul served in the Montana House during the 1953 and 1955 sessions representing Meagher County (White Sulphur Springs area), and in the Montana Senate in ’57 and ’59. He was also a member of the Interim Legislative Council from 1959-61. Paul is quoted as saying, “I was interested in what was going on in Montana and in politics.” Also, in the 1950’s, Paul was a founding member, with other families, of the Montana Quarter Horse Association. In 1957, he and other ranchers formed the Montana Cattlemen’s Association to represent individual producers. He was a lifetime lover of print whether newspapers, news magazines or books on history, especially presidential. He had an encyclopedic mind for history, people and places.
Paul T. Ringling, with roots in circus life and ranch life, lived a storied life as a true gentleman admired and loved by his three children. He is survived by his children and three grandsons.
Visitation will be held on Thursday, March 15, 2018 with the family receiving friends from 5-7 p.m. at Stevenson and Sons Funeral Home in Miles City. Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m., Saturday, March 17, 2018, at Stevenson Wilke Funeral Home in White Sulphur Springs. Interment will follow in the Mayn Cemetery. Condolences may be sent to the family by visiting: www.stevensonandsons.com.