Thursday, January 26, 2023

Montana Historical Society Centennial Farm and Ranch  Eickhoff Ranch

by Jennifer Jacobson
Four generations of the Eickhoff family. Millie, Wayne, Allyn, Luke, and Makenna in 2002

Since 2010, the Montana Historical Society’s Centennial Farm and Ranch program has recognized our state’s agricultural traditions by celebrating the perseverance and stewardship of Montana families on their farms and ranches.

Eickhoff Ranch, 1910

Wheaton, Musselshell County

In 1909, carpenter William F. “Bill” Spicher and his wife Elizabeth, an assistant bookkeeper at the Joliet National Bank in Joliet, Illinois, became intrigued by news of free homestead land in Montana. In August 1910, they acted on that interest when Bill took the train west to Montana where he filed on a claim near Wheaton, northwest of Roundup in Musselshell County. Elizabeth stayed in Illinois while Bill improved the Montana homestead. After daughter Elizabeth “Lizzie” was born in the spring of 1912, the family settled permanently in Montana. A second daughter, Mildred “Millie,” was born in August 1916.

Elizabeth and Bill Spicher at the original homestead shack in 1912

Tragedy struck three years later when Elizabeth died after complications from surgery. The family traveled back to Illinois once more to bury their wife and mother, but Bill brought the girls back to Montana and raised them with the help of a housekeeper.

Growing up on the homestead, the girls helped their father raise cattle, sheep, chickens, and milk cows. They sold butter, milk, cream, and eggs in Roundup. Bill’s philosophy was to spend less money than he took in, and that is how the family survived trying economic conditions between World Wars I and II when so many other homesteaders gave up and left.

Lizzie stayed and helped Bill with the farming and ranching. They continued with the chickens, dairy, and garden produce and raised cattle, primarily Angus. Sheep replaced most of the Angus during the 1930s, and in the 1940s, Hereford cattle replaced the sheep. Bill and Lizzie delivered milk, cream, cottage cheese, butter, buttermilk, eggs, and butchered chickens to Roundup every Friday. In 1937, Millie married Roy A. Eickhoff and moved to land on the South Fork of Flatwillow Creek in the Little Snowy Mountains. Their ranch started small, with seven cows and one bull. Roy and Millie raised a family of three boys and two girls. Eickhoff Ranch was formed in 1967 and officially incorporated in 1977.

Roy and Millie Eickhoff on horseback in the 1940s

After Bill died in January 1959, Lizzie married Marvin Giese and continued ranching the original homestead lands until Marvin died in 1979. Lizzie sold the cows in the fall of 1979, leased the pasture to Millie and Roy, and had the farmland seeded to improve pasture. Upon Lizzie’s death in 1985, Roy and Millie’s children Lyle, Wayne, Patti, and Meri inherited the ranch. Over the next fifteen years, Wayne and Lyle acquired their sisters’ shares to bring the ranch size to over three thousand deeded acres.

In 2000, the Eickhoff Ranch was split into two Montana corporations. Lyle formed Elk Creek Cattle Co. and Wayne retained Eickhoff Ranch, which included the homestead property. That same year, Wayne and Ginger Eickhoff’s son Allyn and daughter-in-law Tiffani returned to the ranch as fourth-generation ranchers.

Since 2010, the Montana Historical Society’s Centennial Farm and Ranch program has recognized our state’s agricultural traditions by celebrating the perseverance and stewardship of Montana families on their farms and ranches. The MHS accepts applications for the Centennial Farm and Ranch register all year. Requirements for induction include:

  • Must be a working farm or ranch with a minimum of 160 acres or, if fewer than 160 acres, must have gross yearly income of at least $1,000.
  • One current owner must be a Montana resident.
  • Proof of founding date and continuous ownership by members of the same family beginning with the founder and concluding with the present owner, spanning minimally 100 years. Line of ownership may be through spouses, children, brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces, or adopted children. For homesteaded properties, ownership begins with claim filing date (not patent date).
  • $100 fee

To download all requirements and the application, or for more information, visit https://bit.ly/mtcentennialfarms; email christine.brown@mt.gov to request a copy by mail; or call Christine Brown at 406-444-1687.

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