Sterling Ranch Company

A little history...

Sterling Ranch Company, as it is now known, was ‘discovered’ in the winter of 1864, by Benjamin Franklin Stickney. He was a freighter or (as they were sometimes called) a bull whacker hauling freight from Fort Benton, Montana, to the gold camps on Last Chance Gulch — along the Mullen Road in present day Helena.

Stickney was a young man that worked for an old peg-legged man who owned the teams of oxen and wagons. He left Fort Benton late in the freighting season and was one of the last to get to Helena with his goods. He thought he could make it back to Fort Benton before winter set in. As it turned out, winter hit hard one night when he was encamped, and his oxen left him to seek shelter out of the storm.

He was able to trail them across the frozen Missouri River and up a creek to where two forks of a creek met. There, Stickney built a small log cabin out of the cottonwood trees along the creek, to stay in for the winter. The cabin had no windows and only a small hole to crawl in for a door. There also was plenty of grass for the oxen to eat. So, this is where Stickney spent the winter of 1864-1865. The creek was later named Stickney Creek after him.

The people of Fort Benton told the old man that Stickney had run off with his oxen and that he would never see them again. The old man kept telling everyone that this wasn’t the case, but nobody believed him. They were all fooled when Stickney came back that spring with the oxen and wagons.

The old man wanted him to stay on, but Stickney liked the area where he had wintered and decided to go there to settle. He later married, and with his family, homesteaded in the area adding to the land holdings.

About the Name

Benjamin’s daughter, Anna, married Joseph Sterling, and that is where the name Sterling comes into play. Joseph, Anna and their son, Frank, kept either homesteading or buying property around Craig in what is now the Holter Lake area. In 1924 they decided to incorporate the business.

The ranch was first operated as a cattle ranch. In time, wolves put them out of the cattle business, so it became a sheep operation using herders. Around the time of World War II they went back to raising cattle, as they were no longer able to find herders due to the lack of available labor force.

Each of Frank’s three children lived and worked on the ranch with their spouses for some time. In the 1950s, Frank’s youngest daughter, Joyce, and her husband Gary Blackman moved back to the ranch. Gary worked with his father-in-law until Frank Sterling’s passing in 1983. Their son, Scott, started working on the ranch in 1980. He and his wife, Raina, worked there together from 1991 until 2014.

The Current Operation

Currently the ranch is owned by the heirs of Frank Sterling, being of the fourth, fifth and sixth generation descendants of B. F. Stickney. The heirs of Frank Sterling continue to manage timber, hunting, and recreation on the ranch. Orville and Arlene Skogen, owners of Skogen Livestock are leasing the land for grazing of their Registered Black Angus cattle.

Looking for the Corn Maze?

Scott and Raina Blackman have branched out on their own with Applestem, Inc., and continue to operate the Corn Maze in Vaughn, MT. Visit their website at http://www.applesteminc.com/ for more information.