Geology of the Rock Creek Valley
The land on which The Ranch at Rock Creek sits is part of the Rocky Mountain range, which stretches from New Mexico to Canada. The Sapphire, John Long and Pintler mountains that surround us were created from tectonic activity approximately 70 to 40 million years ago. The finer points of the landscape were carved out by Glacial Lake Missoula during the last ice age.
At that time, the Cordilleran Ice Sheet dammed the Clark Fork River at the Idaho border and the valleys of Western Montana were covered in 2,000 ft. of water. Approximately 12,000 years ago, the dam broke and the ensuing floods carved the mountainsides and plains of the Northwest. The receding waters redistributed rocks and soil across the Rock Creek valley.
Mining in Granite County
Following the Homestead Act of 1862, people over the age of 21 were allowed to claim a federal land grant in the Western territories. As was typical, The Ranch originally began as a mining claim. Granite County and its county seat, Philipsburg, came to life during the silver mining boom of the late 1800s. Philipsburg’s Hope Mill was the first silver mill in Montana, and the nearby Granite Mill was the greatest silver producer in the state. Sapphires were first discovered in the Rock Creek drainage in 1892.
The American Gem Mining Syndicate was formed by local mine owners in 1901, so that the gems could be mined and cut to supply sapphires to their watch company affiliate in Geneva, Switzerland. With the invention of artificial sapphires in 1926, the industrial sale of Montana sapphires stopped, and they have since been used primarily for jewelry. The Rock Creek mine, one of four active mines in Montana and the highest producing one, is now called Gem Mountain. Ranch guests can channel their inner prospector during our included sapphire mining activity to sift through freshly mined gravel, looking for these valuable, colorful stones.
Homesteading & Ranching in Montana
Alongside the mining boom, Utah cattle baron Fred Burr introduced cattle ranching to the Flint Creek Valley in the 1850’s–a pursuit that has persevered through the decades. In the late 1800’s, this land was homesteaded by W.W. Shaffer and P.W. White. It has changed hands through the decades, but has operated continuously as a working cattle ranch during that time.
The original 19th century barn and several other structures are still standing. The Historic Barn has been remodeled into three rustic but elegant accommodations. Guests can watch a ranch rodeo every Tuesday in the summer, which showcases horsemanship and herdsmanship skills that have been passed down from many generations of ranchers since Montana became a state.
In the 1940s, The Ranch was purchased by F.S. LeGrow. He hired well-known horse trainer, Grover Bowles as The Ranch’s manager. When Grover died, his wife, Hazel, and daughter, Sara Jane, took up the reins running The Ranch. Sara Jane’s Cottage is named after this enterprising woman.
To illustrate our history, designer Jet Zarkadas tracked down and reprinted photographs of Philipsburg and the surrounding area from the Montana Historical Society archives. These rare snapshots of frontier life pepper the walls of the Granite Lodge and accommodations.
Subsequent owners include a former member of the Roosevelt administration, named Hobson, rodeo cowboy Bucko Standinger, military officer Paul Burdette, Donna and Dean Strand and Max Watson. The current owner, Jim Manley, spent 20 years looking for the perfect ranch, following his childhood love of the West. Manley searched for specific qualities in a ranch, including a river running through the property, a nearby ski hill and an area that did not have venomous snakes or grizzly bears.
In 2007, his search for the perfect ranch ended. After several years of enjoying The Ranch with friends and family, he decided to share the experience with others. By adding accommodations and restoring historic buildings, it became The Ranch at Rock Creek luxury guest ranch it is today. In 2014 it became the world’s first Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star guest ranch. The Ranch at Rock Creek aims to preserve our environment for future generations, while giving guests a meaningful adventure in the still wild west. Philanthropy efforts are focused on giving back to the frontier community that supports us.