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Q2 Rewind: Montana's Great Centennial Cattle Drive of 1989 - KPAX.com | Continuous News | Missoula & Western Montana

Q2 Rewind: Montana's Great Centennial Cattle Drive of 1989

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BILLINGS - By all accounts, the idea was crazy: A cattle drive just like the Old West, a wagon train as far as the eye could see, families and strangers from 56 counties and beyond banding together, sleeping on hard ground and braving the elements to experience the sort of lifestyle their forebears worked hard to leave behind.

But that Old West “can do” spirit, a bit of political ramrodding, a cold shoulder to the naysayers, and a call of “Wagons Ho” brought the great Montana Centennial Cattle Drive of 1989 to life.

Thousands of cowboys, cowgirls, horses and wagons celebrated Montana’s 100th birthday with a 60-mile trek from from Roundup to Billings, sharing stories, hardships, smiles and camaraderie along the way.

Montana went all-in. In that spirit, the reporters and photographers of Q2 followed suit, spending all week on the trail with the riders and the wagons, beaming back live satellite images from camp and the festivities to viewers in our coverage area, profiling the characters living out that western dream.

Former Yellowstone County Commissioner and U.S. Marshal Dwight MacKay helped organized the drive and carried Montana’s centennial flag the whole way.

He remembers attending planning meetings with trail boss Turk Stovall, where they’d have to convince public officials not to worry. He also remembers the blistering heat the riders faced at the beginning, the rain that followed, the parties, the dancing, and the stories around the campfire.

But what really gave him chills, he remembered, was the thunderous roar of that unlikely parade as it made its way down the highway into Billings on the final day of the drive.

“The roar of those wagons, those wheels, on that highway, gave you the shivers. You were so proud of it, you were so happy,” he said. “I don’t think you could feel something like that again.”

And McKay has a sense for the hard work that made that happen. It’s not easy to keep 3,300 horses, 2,400 riders, 2,800 head of cattle, 79 wranglers and 113 drovers fed and watered for a week on the trail. Without the countless volunteers, it never could have come to fruition.

And he also appreciates the spirit of the old-timers that dreamed the impossible.

“I’m not sure you could do it again,” MacKay reflected. “You know, the characters have changed. The history and vision that these guys had, because, you know, they were old timers. And the stories at night that they’d tell, it was just incredible.”

Editor’s Note: This is the first installment of “Q2 Rewind,” a weekly installment where we dig into our archives to relive great moments, history and imagery from our region’s history. If you have an idea for a topic you’d like to see covered, send an email to news@ktvq.com with your idea.
 

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