The sale of 829 horses on a Crow Reservation ranch that was touch-and-go for weeks ran smoothly on Saturday.
The sale, believed to be the first of horses impounded by the Bureau of Indian Affairs for trespassing on tribal lands, attracted 1,000 people, including 200 to 300 buyers to the ranch 16 miles east of Billings.
BIA Regional Director Ed Parisian said trespassing cases just never get this far, so this sale is special.
"If your livestock is trespassing, you move them. We've never been here before," Parisian said.
The mares with last year's babies brought $300 to $800 even without registration papers with the American Quarter Horse Association.
The horses formerly belonged to James Leachman of Billings and were seized by the BIA after he failed to move them off the Home Place ranch. Leachman had until 8 a.m. Saturday to pay the bills to round up his horses, feed them and prepare them for the sale. When he didn't, the sale started as scheduled at 10 a.m.
The rest of the horses will be sold as fast as one a minute Sunday starting at 10 a.m.
Despite the depressed horse market, more than 200 buyers from a dozen states plus Canada showed up for Saturday morning's sale of 829 quarter horses on a ranch south of Billings.
Bureau of Indian Affairs regional director Ed Parisian said there are too many on lookers in the sales ring.
"There are people who want to buy, but can't get in to buy," he said.
Last month the BIA seized the Leachman horses for trespassing on Crow tribal land. Parisian said this is the first trespassing sale in Montana.
The bidding began at 10:10 a.m. after a prayer in the Crow Indian language and mares were going for about $300 to $500.
It was standing-room-only in the area where Rick Young Auctioneers of Absarokee was selling horses at a clip of one every 60 seconds. More than a dozen people were watching the sale on a television in a large tent nearby.
Late Saturday morning, a pair of Canadians led the active bidding.
“You’re never going to see these many foundation-bred Quarter horses in one place again,” said Cory Wilson, of Meadow Lake, Alberta.
He and another buyer drove 900 miles for the horses and hope to fill a tractor-trailer rig with 40 horses to drive back to Canada. They paid a top bid of $800 for a roan mare at 10:30 a.m.
After waiting until the last minute on Saturday morning, officials said the sale of hundreds of James Leachman’s horses will move forward.
“We have been trying to serve (Jim) Leachman with the impoundment papers but he didn’t respond,” Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Lt. Kent O’Donnell said. “The deadline was 8 a.m. so the sale is officially on.”
At least 156 bidder cards for the auction are distributed. Two bidders can use the same card.
The two-day sale of 829 horses that the Bureau of Indian Affairs confiscated for trespassing on crow Tribal land started on time and the plenty of buyers from as far away as Virginia paid $25 for a bidder's card.
On Thursday, Yellowstone County graded the three-mile dirt road from Highway 87E to the holding pens at the former Leachman Cattle Co. bull sale barn. Cars and pickups for the start of the sale Saturday morning were backed up for along way at the ranch on the Crow Reservation 16 miles ranch east of Billings.
In January, Shepherd veterinarian Jeff Peila warned that the hundreds of horses were starving and that kicked off a national rescue effort called Operation Home Place. Donors gave $55,000 and about 500 tons of hay and supplemental feeding started in January with a hay drop by helicopter. By mid-March when the horses were driven into the holding pens, Peila said the horses were in pretty good shape, thanks to the hay.
The Yellowstone County Attorney's Office has charged Leachman with 14 misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty and he pleaded not guilty to all counts. The maximum penalty is seven years and $7,000 and his jury trial is scheduled for June 3.
Leachman has said his horses have wintered well without supplemental feed for a dozen years and said he will be acquitted on all counts. Last July, he lost his personal ranch, the Hairpin, three miles from Billings, and the Leachman Cattle Co. Home Place ranch at a federal foreclosure sale. So, his horses couldn't range freely and were pushed into a single pasture without grass.
Jay Stovall, a neighboring rancher, whose family's company bought the Home Place property, was smiling Friday at the thought of the Leachman horses getting off his land as the green grass started to sprout and calving was in full swing.
"I couldn't be happier this is happening," he said.