Cowboy Tuesday: The Range Riders

History is often recorded through the lives of prominent individuals, often affluent men of Anglo-European origin. Yet those same events were almost always experienced by others—the non-affluent and poor; women, children, and others; Indigenous, Black, and other ethnic groups; young and old; and the like. This reality creates challenges for historians seeking to understand the experiences of people whose lives were rarely documented beyond vital statistics, such as birth, marriage, and death. I encountered these challenges while researching my great-grandfather Eugene J. TenBrink’s time working for the XIT Ranch in eastern Montana (1905-1910).

The XIT Ranch was a big cattle outfit out of the panhandle of Texas, which had its Montana Headquarters in Miles City. It was a huge ranch with three million acres between its two locations. At its peak, the XIT ranch in the Texas ran around 150,000 cattle annually and employed up to 150 hands. The Ranch there was so large that it eventually had over 6,000 miles of fences. Cattle were transported north by trail and train to the rich grazing lands of Montana and Wyoming. The finishing ranch north of Miles City, Montana where Eugene worked could accommodate 10,000 head a year to be fattened for sale. Its primary grazing land consisted of 400 acres in the triangle of land between the confluences of the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers in Dawson County. The XIT Cattle Ranch began closing its Montana operation in 1908, in part because of the terrible winter the year before. By 1910, cattle drives from Texas had stopped and the XIT ceased northern operations entirely in 1912.

The area of Montana controlled by XIT Ranch at the turn of the 20th century. Created by Dina Rivera.

We know quite a lot about the syndicate of wealthy Chicago businessmen who owned XIT between 1885 and 1912. There are newspaper articles, business records, journals and diaries that document their activities. Yet the hundreds of men who worked for them remain largely anonymous. Range Riders Inc. was formed in 1940 to help preserve their legacy.

More than 800 former cowhands created the organization to celebrate “the unheralded and unsung men who made range history in eastern Montana.” They wanted to ensure that the memory of their way of life did not disappear. To join the organization, charter members had to prove they had ridden on the open range before 1910. Eugene was proud of his time as a cowboy in Montana and was a member of the Range Riders Roundup.

Eugene’s 1954 Range Riders 1954 Membership Card.

The Range Riders have their headquarters at the confluence of the Tongue and Yellowstone rivers, near the former location of the XIT Ranch’s Montana operations in Miles City. An absolutely brilliant museum preserves and celebrates the lives and labors of these cowboys. If you are ever in eastern Montana, be sure to visit the Range Riders Museum!

Learn more about the Range Riders Museum here:

To buy the book about Eugene’s time as a cowboy, please visit  


Miller, Michael (2015) “Cowboys and Capitalists: The XIT Ranch in Texas and Montan, 1885-1912.” Montana: The Magazine of Western History 65(4):3-28.

Miller, Michael M. (2020) XIT: A Story of Land, Cattle, and Capital in Texas and Montana. University of Oklahoma, Norman.

Ridenour, Eva (1994) “Range Riders Remembered in Montana.” Grit, January 2.

Sinclair, F. H. (1966) “Down the Trail with a Range Rider.” Montana: The Magazine of Western History 6(3):56-64.


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