The Gang Ranch
of British Columbia
the summer of 2005, Lee and I were invited by Ray and Carolyn Hunt
to attend a Colt Starting and Horsemanship Clinic conducted by Ray
at the Gang Ranch in British Columbia, Canada.
We flew from
Elko, Nevada to Vancouver, B.C. and rented a vehicle and drove 300
miles north into the “bush” along the Fraser River to the town of
Clinton, BC. From there, we went west 70 miles on a gravel road,
crossed the Fraser River on a high suspension bridge, and arrived
at the Gang Ranch Headquarters.
The managers of the Gang Ranch,
Larry and Bev Ramstad, and Ray and Carolyn Hunt greeted us. We had
met Larry and Bev earlier at the Ray Hunt Western Horseman of Year
Event in Fort Worth, Texas. They put us up in the guest quarters
at the ranch. Over dinner that evening, Larry and Bev gave us some
history of the Gang, and talked about the cowboys, horses, and cattle.
Gang Ranch in British Columbia, Canada is one of the most spectacular
working ranches operating in North America today. It is located
in the Cariboo Region, bordering the Fraser River in the heart of
British Columbia’s cattle country. This region contains majestic
mountain ranges, timber stands, alpine meadows, miles of bunch-grass
hillsides and untamed, unforgiving rivers. There is a real last-frontier
feeling about this remote ranch.
Larry told us that in the mid
1800s, the Colonial Government was starting to form the province
of British Columbia. Cattlemen, south of the border in the United
States, were encouraged to trail their cowherds to British Columbia
into an area where gold had been discovered and miners were hungry
for beef. At this time, there were very few cattle in British Columbia.
Cattle drives from as far south as French Glen and other ranching
communities such as Baker, Burns and Bend in Eastern Oregon’s High
Desert Country headed north. Once across the border, there was little
pressure put on these American cattlemen by the local Canadian officials
along the trail. The Canadian government offered generous leases
to them to establish cattle ranches with little or no interference
in running their affairs.
Around 1860, Jerome and Thaddeus Harper,
brothers who had been born in Tucker County, West Virginia, caught
the “gold fever” and rode into British Columbia from California
and up the Cariboo Trail to the gold fields. They saw immediately
that there was a great demand for beef. Cattle could be worth much
more than looking for gold. Cattle that were purchased for ten dollars
a head in the United States could be sold for over one hundred dollars
a head in the gold fields of British Columbia. Timing means everything
in the cattle business and the time was right to start bringing
cattle into British Columbia. The Harper brothers went back to Oregon
and put together a herd of cattle to bring back to the hungry gold
The Harper Brothers were very successful in providing
cattle, and saddle and packhorses from the United States for the
British Columbian gold miners and they began to look around for
land to establish a ranch. When they crossed the Fraser River near
the present day Gang Ranch headquarters, west of the town of Clinton,
they came upon a country that was a cattleman’s dream with the finest
bunch grass hillsides they had ever seen. This grass stretched for
miles in every direction. They settled and developed land forming
the Gang Ranch, a ranch that, at one time, was considered one of
the largest and most famous ranches in the world, controlling over
four million acres of land and thousands of cattle and horses. The
Harper Brothers played a pivotal role in the start of the cattle
business, as we know it today, in British Columbia.
still alive today is positive where the name “Gang Ranch” came from.
Some say the ranch was named for the large double-furrow plow called
a “Gang Plow” that was pulled by several teams of workhorses and
others say perhaps it was named for the number of workers it took
to run a place of this size.
The ranch brand, JH connected,
was formed from Jerome Harper’s initials, registered with the Provincial
government around 1869, and is still in use on the ranch today.
After the Harper Brothers passed away,
their ranch holdings began to dissolve. Some of the land was traded
off and some sold, and then resold several times. The ranch went
into receivership and was eventually taken over by the present owner
Sheik Ibrahim Afandi of Saudi Arabia. The Gang Ranch at one time
rivaled Douglas Lake as the largest working cow ranch in British
Columbia, but now is second in private land size and cattle numbers,
although it controls more total land through Crown Land grazing
permits, covering an area 87 miles long and 40 miles wide.
said, “One of the strong points of this ranch is that it is so remote.
We have very few neighbors and a lack of fenced pastures is not
a big problem. We very rarely mix cattle with any of our neighbors’
cattle. We brand up each spring so if we do mix cattle we can always
work out our branded cattle from our neighbors herds. We make use
of the natural boundaries such as deep canyons and rivers to keep
our cattle on the ranch. Our location allows us to graze our cattle
in several climatic zones running from semi-desert to sub-alpine.
Weather conditions may change the way we move our cattle, but we
still have plenty of areas to go to. Rarely would there ever be
a complete drought over the entire range.”
Larry made managing
a ranch and cattle numbers of this size sound easy, but there is
much more to it than that.
Some of the land is privately
owned and some land that the ranch leases to run cattle on is Crown
Land, owned by the Provincial Government. (Much like U, S Forest
Service Lands in the U.S.) Larry follows a grazing plan approved
by the Crown Land officials. A flow chart is developed showing how
Gang ranch cattle are to be managed on Crown lands and their seasons
of use. It is very similar to an allotment-management grazing plan
used by The U S Forest Service in the United States.
a large ranch of this size, takes special people who are used to
living in a very remote area. Williams Lake is approximately 80
miles away on a gravel road. The ranch has its own post office and
small general store where the hired hands can get a few necessary
staples. Bev Ramstad makes the trip once a week to Williams Lake
to get groceries and supplies. The mail comes in on Wednesdays and
Bev is the postmistress for a day. The ranch employees try to get
together once a month to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, etc.
At one time, there was a schoolhouse and a teacher on the ranch,
but this school was closed several years ago.
During the summer
months, when haying is in full swing, there will be 28-30 employees
working around the ranch, including the managers, cowboss, a ranch
boss, a mechanic, two cooks and the farm crew. The cowboys will
be gone to mountains for the summer with the cattle.
crew puts up around 6,000 tons of irrigated meadow hay. Barley and
alfalfa are also grown on about 1,200 irrigated acres. A large water-storage
lake has been built to irrigate crops. The hay crop is put up with
modern tractors and haying equipment. The Gang quit haying and feeding
with teams of workhorses in the early 1960,s. Large round bales,
each weighing about 1,800 pounds, are fed to the cattle using tractors
and special feeding equipment. No off-ranch hay is bought to feed
the cattle in the winter months. Manager Ramstad said,” It takes
about a ton and a half of hay to feed one cow through the winter
here on the ranch.” The amount of hay that is put up on the ranch
dictates how many cattle the ranch can run.
The ranch today still
covers over a million acres. This remote and unforgiving piece of
real estate is not suited for people who do not want to be challenged.
The winter weather, at times, can be brutal. The Gang ranch is a
cowboy place where you and your horse are tested each day.
Larry and Bev Ramstad took over as managers
of the ranch in 1989. The ranch needed strong leadership and the
word is that the Ramstad’s have provided just that. Larry is a quiet,
unassuming, experienced cowman and manager who came to British Columbia
as a young man from Alberta after graduating from an agricultural
college. Larry said, “I have worked around ranches, horses, and
cattle all my life. Never worked at logging, truck driving, or such.
I always made my living horseback around cows.”
cowboying in Nicola Valley, British Columbia then headed for New
Zealand and Australia to work on remote ranches in those countries
for a couple of years. He then came back to British Columbia and
cowboyed on and managed a number of different ranches before taking
over as manager of the Gang. His wife, Bev, grew up on a remote
British Columbia ranch and is from a third generation ranch family
and has been around horses, cattle and cowboys her whole life.
When Larry and Bev took over the reins, they knew the reputation
of the ranch. The Gang ranch was a very difficult place to run.
Larry said, “When we took over as managers of this ranch in 1989,
the place was falling down around us. Corrals had to be reworked;
buildings needed to be repaired; irrigation systems and hay grounds
needed attention. A cowboy and ranch crew needed to be hired. The
cowherd was in bad shape and we needed to upgrade our horse herd.
We had to take care of the cattle’s welfare first and then plug
away at the ranch improvement as we found time.” It has been said
that it takes three crews to run this huge ranch, one coming, one
leaving, and one working. Through all of this the Ramstad,s have
toughed it out and carved themselves a place in Gang Ranch history.
This ranch today is a showplace with green well-cared-for lawns,
a cookhouse with waxed floors where the crew is fed by the ranch
cook (you take your boots off outside the cook house door before
you enter) and freshly painted headquarters buildings and horse
Larry said, “Many of these young single cowboys
come from small family ranches in Alberta and British Columbia.
Most of the men are hired by word of mouth. They will talk in town
or at a rodeo to some cowboy who had worked at this ranch and decide
they want to give it a go on the Gang. The ‘cowboy telegraph’ on
who is hiring, who has the best cook and which ranch has the best
horses etc., works in B.C. just like it does in the U.S.”
A major figure on a ranch this size is the cowboss. The cowboss’s
job is to take care of the cattle, and supervise a crew of cowboys.
He also assigns the cowboys a string of horses from the ranch cavvy
for their daily use. The cowboss must be a strong leader, a good
teacher, and have lots of patience. He must be handy with horses
and a rope and be able to find his way through the country. He also
must know the ways of cattle and horses. The cowboss takes his orders
from the General Manager. Many highly qualified cowbosses have come
and gone on this historic ranch since it’s beginning in the 1860’s.
Ed Russell was the cowboss while we were there and had been at the
job for several years. Ed and his wife Racquel and infant son Dally
lived in the cowboss’s quarters near headquarters.
are usually from 8-10 full-time cowboys employed on the Gang. Most
of the cowboys the ranch hires are single. The ranch quarters are
not set up for married cowboys with families. The men are hired
to ride and tend cattle 12 months a year. They do not hay or fix
fence. They ride on cattle. There are very few days when cowboys
on the Gang do not saddle their horses, regardless of the weather
conditions. Each man is responsible for shoeing his string of 8-10
horses issued to him by the cowboss. These horses are his to ride
and take care of until he leaves the ranch and no other cowboy,
including the cowboss, may ride them unless they ask. In the horse
barn at headquarters, each man is assigned a stall to grain and
saddle his horse and to keep his personal gear. He is responsible
for keeping his area swept and clean. No other cowboy can take over
his stall until he leaves the ranch. The Gang Ranch buckaroo protocol
is very similar to the Great Basin “straight up buckaroo“ outfits
I have been around through the years.
In the summer months when
the cattle have ”gone to the mountain” as they say on the Gang,
cowboys stay miles from headquarters in isolated log cabin cow camps
in five different locations in the mountains with their cattle and
horses. A two-way radio system is used between the camps and headquarters.
There are two men to a camp and supplies and food are packed in
with packhorses, because there are no roads in many of the cattle’s
summer-range areas. These cowboys will stay in the mountains holding
the cows on mountain meadow feed after the calves have been weaned
and shipped until after Christmas. There will be years when the
temperature can drop below zero with deep snow before they get to
the main ranch with the cows.
photo by Racquel Russell
cattle and bulls are still out after the cows come home in the winter.
The lost cattle will be found from the air using a fixed wing aircraft
or a helicopter flying just after a fresh snowfall when you can
see the tracks. When these cattle are found, a note is dropped from
the aircraft to cowboys on the ground with a map and directions
to the cattle. The cowboys, followed by their dogs, will ride in
horseback busting a trail in the deep snow and bring the remnant
cattle out, sometimes on the end of a rope!
One of the young
cowboys said, “Riding on cows is what we do. Things always look
better from the back of horse.” Gang ranch cowboys’ feet spend more
time in the stirrups of their saddles than they do on the ground.
Many young cowboys that go to work on the ranch are very “green”
when they first show up. They need be taught and to learn about
handling cattle and horses in a big outside county amid lots of
timber. Manager Ramstad had this to say about the young cowboys,
“The first cowboy job is always the toughest. If these young cowboys
can make a hand on the Gang, they can probably go on to work for
any other ranch.”
Through the years, many Indian cowboys from
their near-by settlements at Dog Creek, Alkali Lake, and Canoe Creek
have worked for the Gang. Several years ago, before immigration
laws became so strict, cowboys from the United States would drift
onto the Gang and hire on for a riding job. Nowadays, it is very
difficult to work on this ranch if you are not a legal Canadian
Cowboys come and go today on this ranch much like they
have done for over 100 years. There is very little social life in
this remote place so if these young single cowboys need a taste
of seeing the girls and the bright lights, chances are they will
“roll their beds” and head for town or the next best ranch.
One of the cowboys said, “Ranches in British Columbia have tried
everything from tractors, pickups, 4-wheelers, airplanes and helicopters,
but cows are still more comfortable with a human on horseback and
are easier to work. Chances are cowboys on horseback will still
be around as long as there are cattle on Canadian ranges.” The men
we met at the Gang were working cowboys and were proud of their
occupation, no matter how hard the conditions were. Their world
revolves around cattle, horses, and dogs.
Ed Russell, Cowboss,
said, “There are very few places left in Canada where you can get
a straight riding job. The Gang is one of those places.”
The cowboy dress worn by these young men looks like they
just stepped out of the Old West, 100 years ago. All of the men
wore cuffs on their wrists, big colorful wild rags, and chinks.
Most rode slick-fork saddles (Wade Tree Preferred); with bell stirrups.
A snaffle bit and McCarty set up was used on their younger horses.
A spade or half-breed bit with California-style rawhide reins were
used on their bridle horses. They were packing 50-60 feet of nylon
rope with a rawhide hondo and no rubber on the horn. Cowboss Russell
said they do not use metal or aluminum hondos on their ropes as
they may break if you have a big cow or bull roped in cold weather.
In the winter, some of the cowboys wear “wooly” chaps that are made
from angora goat hide. They also may ride “eagle beak “ taps to
help keep their feet warm.
Larry said, “In the late 1970s,
the horse gear, saddles and clothes began to change in British Columbia.
Before that, you would see split bridle reins, grazer bits, swell-fork
saddles, and rubber on the horn. When Ray Hunt starting doing horse
clinics throughout Canada and the Great Basin Buckaroo was photographed
and written about in American magazines such as, Western Horseman,
the gear began to change. At one time, there were a number of Hamley
and Severe saddles from Pendleton, Oregon used in Canada. Now days
there are a number of top-notch Canadian custom saddle makers around
from whom the working cowboys can order a saddle.”
Dogs are a very
important tool in moving and finding livestock in a country with
this much timber. It is very easy to miss cattle in a timber patch,
if you do not have dogs to send in that bark when they find the
cattle. Most of the cowboys have a dog or two that they use daily.
They like one dog that will find the cattle, hold them up and bark
so the cowboys on horseback can find the cattle and dog in the heavy
timber. They also use a silent dog that drives the cattle from behind.
One of the older cowboys we met at a remote cow camp said, “A good
dog is better than two cowboys. They eat less, follow orders, don’t
ask stupid questions, and are good company.”
Several years ago,
a stock handler visiting from New Zealand introduced the New Zealand
Heading Dog and the Huntaway and they have become popular breeds
used on the Gang by the cowboys.
Larry said. “If you send out
your cowboys and dogs to bring back four stray cows that were spotted
along a logging road earlier that day and they come back empty handed
because they never found the cows, you can’t let it upset you because
it can happen to anyone in this timber country, including me. The
trick is to not let cows get away if you do spot them on horseback.
If they get away from you once in this thick timber, chances are
they will try to beat you again.” This was spoken like a guy who
been there and done that!
Due to financial problems on the ranch and several changes
in ranch ownership, the Gang ranch horses with bloodlines going
back in the late 1800s had been dispersed by the mid 1980s. After
he became manager in 1989, Ramstad started a new horse-breeding
program using a small band of broodmares bred to a leased stud named
“Tri Freddy,” an own son of Fred B. Clymer. In 1993, the ranch purchased
a Peppy San, Blondies Dude stud named “Winter Dude.” A “Boston Mack”
stud replaced him in 1997, but died in 1998. After that for a few
years, colts were purchased for saddle stock from two P.M.U. ranches
in Alberta that had good breeding programs standing stallions with
size and good feet. When the P.M.U business ended, this type of
colt was no longer available so the ranch again started raising
its own horses. In 2003, the ranch purchased two stallions of Hancock,
Blondie’s Dude breeding, “Bear Storm Dude” and “Hancock’s Top Dude,”
and placed them each with 10 proven ranch-bred mares. They were
still running these two stallions outside with the mare bands in
2005. The ranch halter breaks their colts as weanlings then turns
them out until they are started as three-year olds.
the horses and country, Larry said, “We like bigger horses here
on the Gang, at least 15.2 hands, with some horses going better
than16 hands, weighing around 1,100 pounds, with good feet and the
horses wearing a #1 or #2 shoe. We also like some mixed-thoroughbred
blood and horses with good withers that travel free and smooth.
This country is so big and rough that a horse with a lot of bone
in its legs is needed and you need lots of them. The miles are long,
the country is steep, and sometimes the snow can be deep. You need
to have tough horses to make it on the Gang. Horses here need to
be handy with their feet because we work a lot of cows in and out
of timber patches where logs are down and it is tough going. If
a horse is too big, it does not get around well in heavy, downed
timber. Ranch horses are shod during the spring and fall months
with borium welded on the underside of the horseshoes and tungsten
during the winter to help the horses maintain their footing on the
frozen slick ground.” The breeding program Larry began in 1989 has
produced horses with the size and stamina to fit the Gang ranch
Larry pointed out, “We don’t sell horses on the Gang.
We keep over 100 head of horses for the cowboys, packhorses, and
other ranch uses. If we have a good one, we keep it. They are too
hard to replace.”
When Larry and Bev took over the ranch as managers, there were eight
or nine different breeds of cows and bulls on the ranch. Larry has
slowly changed the breeding to more of a straight Black Angus cow
This ranch is a cow/calf operation. The ranch exposes
about 3,000 cows to bulls with a calf crop of around 90 percent.
Calving of the two-year-old heifers begins around March 1. The cowboys
ride on cattle daily and the “heavies” (cattle that are soon to
calve) are brought to the calving sheds. Crews take care of the
calving heifers around the clock.
The older cows calve outside
on the feed grounds beginning middle of March. After calving is
over, branding begins and pairs are kicked outside. Branding crews
will brand 150 to 200 calves in a day. These calves are “drug to
the fire” with a horse and rope, branded, bulls calves castrated
and calf medicine shots given.
Once branded up, the cows and
calves are started for the summer range. Crews of cowboys relay
herds of around 250 cows and their calves into the higher alpine
summer country. Bulls are hauled out or driven from headquarters
and placed with these small bunches of cattle. The ratio of bulls
to cows on this ranch is one bull to 18 cows. Cattle summer out
on the mountain, tended by cowboys in isolated camps. In October,
cows and calves start to drift down or are driven by cowboys onto
two huge mountain meadows where they are held. Calves weighing around
550 pounds are weaned there in sorting corrals. The calves are sorted
off, then sold, and hauled off in cattle trucks to Williams Lake.
Bulls, around 500 replacement heifers, and thin cows are trailed
off the mountain and placed on the hay meadows near headquarters
that had been harvested earlier in the year. The main cowherd remains
behind, cows are pregnancy tested, and stay in the upper country,
held by the cowboys, until around the end of December. Cows then
come off the mountain and are fed on feed grounds at the main ranch.
Ranch cattle and cowboys will make about a 150 miles circle
during the year. Larry said, “We never stop moving cows or looking
for cows, calves and bulls on this ranch.” That amounts to a lot
of horse tracks and cattle herding on the Gang in a year.
Land and Wildlife:
Much of the land surface within
the Gang is covered with timber. There is an active commercial logging
operation that goes on throughout the year, weather permitting.
Wild animals include moose, grizzly bear, black bear, cougar, timber
wolves, mule deer, and California Big Horn sheep. The most serious
problem caused by predators upon cattle is predation by black bear
on the newborn calves in the spring. Grizzly bears and wolves take
an occasional cow or calf in summer and fall. The number one and
two World’s Record California Big Horn Sheep were taken near the
Gang Ranch. An outfitter has the ranch leased and handles all the
big game hunting. No outside private hunting is allowed.
radios, fax machines, e-mail, computers and phones that Larry and
Bev have at their disposal, there are still cattle grazing and cowboys
riding just like they did 100 years ago when the Harper’s first
settled this land. It is a good feeling to know that some things
never change on this historic ranch. .
Thanks to the Ramstads
and Ray and Carolyn Hunt for inviting us to the Gang. We certainly
did enjoy the trip!
Ray Hunt at the Gang
Hunt, master horseman and communicator, has been doing horse clinics
in Canada since the 1970s. For over 30 years, Ray had been showing
horse people around the world a better way to deal with their horses
- using understanding and patience rather than trying to force their
horses to do something. As Ray often mentions, “The horse needs
to accept your ideas as his ideas.”
We asked Larry and Bev
to tell us how Ray Hunt first came to do clinics at the Gang Ranch
in British Columbia. Larry said, “In 1980, I attended a livestock
meeting in San Antonio, Texas. At that time, I was managing a different
ranch in British Columbia. A Canadian cattle rancher and horseman
I knew met me one morning in the hotel lobby where we were staying
and asked me if I was going to watch this guy work on a colt at
the horse clinic that morning. At that time, I did not know who
‘that guy’ was and hadn’t planned to attend. I thought, this is
just another clinic guy running a colt around the round pen with
some driving reins for a couple of hours. But my friend said, ‘If
you see nothing else while you are here, you need to go to this
clinic.’ So, respecting his judgment, I decided to attend.
guy’ was Ray Hunt and in the round pen he had a 3-year-old mare
that had been halter broke but never saddled. In about three hours,
he had the colt saddled, was riding around, doing figure eights,
backing up, etc. and the colt began to get real soft, with just
a rope around her neck. I was amazed at how easy this looked.
I got back to the ranch I was managing, I caught the first three-year-old
I could get my hands on. I worked on this horse like I thought Ray
had. I figured if it took him three hours that is what it should
take me. I got the colt saddled and crawled on and then it took
me most of the rest of the day just to get off! I thought, ‘I surely
must have missed something because Ray made it look so easy.’
I attended a number of clinics Ray gave in Canada during the
next few years and decided if I ever was in the position to do it,
I would have Ray Hunt do a clinic and help start my ranch colts.
Ray first came to the Gang to do a clinic in the early ‘90s
after we took over as mangers. He has been coming here every year
or two since then and has started over 100 ranch colts for us. The
Gang Ranch horses and cowboys have all benefited a great deal by
being around Ray.”
Participants from several provinces of
Canada and several states in the US hauled their horses hundreds
of miles to the Gang Ranch to attend the clinic in late July 2005.
helped the cowboys start about fourteen Gang ranch colts. He also
assisted the outside clinic participants with their colts. In the
afternoon, Ray held horsemanship sessions for the cowboys and the
clinic participants. The second day of the clinic, the folks were
riding their green colts outside. Many of them rode their colts
about five miles up to a lodge on the ranch where lunch was served,
then rode back to the headquarters.
Many of the horse people
in attendance had participated in a Gang ranch clinic in past years.
To haul horses as far as these folks did to come to this remote
ranch was a real tribute to Ray and his ability to teach.
a personal conversation with Ray after the clinic, he said, “Spending
time at the Gang is like taking a journey back in time to the days
when ranches of this caliber made good horses and buckaroos, while
getting the job done. This way of life is part of our culture and
is rapidly dying out. To my way of thinking, that would be a great
loss to our western way of life. Larry and Bev’s dedication and
loyalty to the Gang are almost unequaled in an era of changing jobs,
people looking for an easier way of life. The Ramstads are the kind
of people you are proud to call friends.”
Hunt passed away March 12, 2009 in Denton, Texas.
Bev and Larry Ramstad
Gang Ranch, BC VOK
Photos by Lee Raine