Tag & Wife Sandra Renner Own Blacktail Ranch in Wolf Creek, Montana Giving People The True Experience Of The West.



Draw Of The West: Blacktail Ranch 

Tag Rittel & Sandra Renner Own Guest Ranch In MT Where Anyone Can Experience The True West, Close To The Land And Animals That Inhabit It

Fellas Crossing Creek On Horse [Courtesy/Blacktail Ranch]

As an American, the draw to the west is just in the blood.  Mark Twain has written and travelled extensively throughout the west and most of his famous writings, including Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, can be argued to further the western ideals and myth in an Easterner’s mind.  People are always excited to find out and to know it still exists.  Not only do cowboys still wrangle cattle, even if that’s from a four wheeler instead of a horse, there are places that people can visit to experience the history of the west, as well as the present day west. One of those places is Blacktail Ranch in Wolf Creek, Montana.

The ranch has quite a history - and it is a family history.  It started in 1885 when Gustav Rittel came to the west as became a brewer.  He got married and started a homestead on what is now Blacktail Ranch.  They had a son, who had a son name John Frank, who is called Tag.  Tag now owns the ranch with his wife, Sandra Renner. 

Renner came into the picture and it “was a natural fit for me. I’m a people person and I get to talk to a lot of different people,” Renner says.  She came from the suburbs of Detroit, but “even as a little girl, I knew that country life was for me,” she recalls.  As a young adult she moved to the west and met Laurie, Tag’s daughter, in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  “Laurie’s Mother was terminally ill and they needed a cook for their outfit - so I did that,” she says.  A while after Laurie’s Mother passed, as it says in the website, “As luck would have it, Tag fell in love again and married Sandra Renner.”  Since that time in the 1980s, they have been working together creating a guest ranch for people to come and experience life in the west.  

Friends On Raft In River Near Ranch [Courtesy/Blacktail Ranch]
A Women's Retreat, Western Style [Courtesy/Blacktail Ranch]

“I prefer guest ranch to dude ranch,” explains Renner, “dude ranch implies a very structured time, this is more a relaxed organized vacation.”  Another reason why it is more a guest ranch is because the land is actually used for agriculture.  “We don’t own any cattle ourselves, but our neighbors lease our land to graze, move cattle and go on cattle drives,” Renner says.   She says that a lot of what happens depends on the group that comes in for the week.  “We all know that women love horses and men love to fish,” she chuckles, “so we’ll set up riding for the women and go down to the Missouri River and fish with the men.”  She mentions that they are kid-friendly, but not necessarily setup for kids.  “We like having kids, but don’t have any attractions specifically for them” Renner explains.

The most interesting guests for Renner are the ones who are well-travelled, especially from other countries.  “We get people from Australia, South Africa, and Europe,” she says, “and their lifestyle is just so different so it is really interesting.  Right now we have someone here from Britain and another lady from France.”  This must be particularly appealing because the town of Wolf Creek, though only an hour away from Helena, has about 300 people in it.  “It is a typical Montana small town - convenience store, gas station, and a post office,” Renner explains.  She loves living there, though, and especially because she is able to talk to so many different people.  “I love the sky, the clean, fresh air and water - the water here is so fresh,” she exclaims, “it feeds the soul here.”  

Sky Full Of Sparkling Stars On A Montana Night [Courtesy/Blacktail Ranch]
The Field and Cabins At Blacktail Ranch [Courtesy/Blacktail Ranch]
On-site Montana Cave Tours and Artifact Museum Are Part of Your Vacation At Blacktail [Courtesy/Blacktail Ranch]

Coming from the midwest, Renner doesn’t see much major differences between midwestern culture and out west, except “when they talk much faster from the big cities like Chicago and Detroit,” there are little nuances though.  For example, in the East, as it has always been since the Europeans moved west, there is a romanticizing of cowboy life.  Renner says, “there really is nothing romantic about going on a cattle drive in heavy cold rain, though.”  She also noticed that people in the midwest or east tend to view horses as something to groom, whereas on the ranch they are a working tool.  Larger cities tend to be more liberal in thought then in the rural west, however there is a “live and let live” philosophy.  “In a town of 300, you can’t sweat the small stuff,” she laughs. 

Though cowboy culture as it is seen in the movies is something that either never really existed or just a hint of what it is actually like, real life cowboys are still alive and working up in places like Montana.  “There are more cattle here than people,” she says, “and cowboys are still around, it has just evolved.”  Instead of hiring crews to come do branding or fencing or whatever needs done, those processes have been expedited by bigger equipment.  For example, “during branding season you don’t have to wrestle cattle anymore,” Renner explains, “they are sent down shoots.”

Though things have changed in actual duties, the way of life stays the same.  The desire to stay free and in wide open spaces.  To be close to the land and the animals that inhabit it.  These are the things that make people like Mark Twain pick up and leave Missouri in the 1800s and go to ranches and learn what life is like underneath the rural big sky.  The desire to move west was there from when Christopher Columbus sailed over here and it continues today.  Luckily there are places like Blacktail Ranch to show people what has been happening out there for hundreds of years. 

Andrew Malo

A graduate of Northeastern Illinois University in Education, Andrew has taught for the past decade in Chicago, New Mexico, and Japan.  He  enjoys tinkering with trucks and motorcycles, woodworking, reading and computer programming.

Blacktail Ranch

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Blacktail Ranch, where one can discover the beauty and partake in new adventures on our historic Montana dude ranch in the heart of the Rocky Mountains at the base of the Continental Divide. The ranch has been hosting guests for more than 40 years.

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