T.A. Clay wrote in her article “A Call to Order: Law, Violence and the Development of Montana’s Early Stockmen’s Organizations” featured in the Autumn 2008 Issue of Montana The Magazine of Western History:
“Stuart’s opposition to a strike, however, was apparently a cover—an effort to rein in the group’s hotheads before they staked out a public position that would have ignited popular criticism. By calling for inaction, Stuart ensured that the cattlemen were on the record as being against harsh retribution. His position also gained the advantage of a surprise attack.”
Word got back to the rustlers that the Stockgrowers would not be taking any action and they became more brazen in their thefts, even stealing a prized stallion and other horses from Stuart’s own DHS Ranch. Just a few weeks after the tumultuous meeting in Miles City, Stuart held a meeting at his ranch where he directed the operations of a group of reliable and tight-lipped men, later known as “Stuart’s Stranglers.” They gathered intelligence on the rustlers and prepared to strike. Stuart’s Stranglers tracked down and killed at least thirty rustlers.
Legitimate and highly respected cattlemen, like Granville Stuart, were forced to band together to take action against rustlers since no laws were yet on the books to protect their interests. But they also pursued the enactment of such laws, which was one of the major reasons for the existence of the Stockgrower groups, both in Helena and in Miles City. In 1884, both groups campaigned extensively for stockmen candidates for the Territorial Legislature of 1885, which resulted in what is known as the “Cowboy Legislature.”
The Executive Committee of the Helena-based Stockgrowers group was in session during the entire Cowboy Legislature led by Granville Stuart, who became president of the association during the July 28, 1884 meeting (just shortly after his escapades to combat rustling). Bills that were passed during the Cowboy Legislature of 1885 included laws to prevent losses of livestock from theft and diseases. One law authorized the Governor to appoint a Territorial Veterinarian Surgeon to deal with disease in livestock. Another law was passed authorizing the governor to appoint six Livestock Commissioners in each of Dawson, Custer, Yellowstone, Meagher, Choteau and Lewis and Clark Counties to appoint and employ inspectors and detectives to protect the livestock interests of the Territory from rustlers. Another law prohibited the branding of cattle on the public ranges during certain months. Also, a law was passed detailing the legal process for rounding up strays on public ranges.
Today, the livestock industry in Montana is still realizing the benefits of these laws—we still have a State Veterinarian that is charged with protecting the state from livestock diseases. We have a Board of Livestock which oversees the Department of Livestock, including its Brands Enforcement Division that protects ranchers from the theft of livestock through our brand laws and inspections.
The Montana Stockgrowers Association celebrated its 125th Anniversary in 2009 in Miles City. While the first years of the association were very important for the burgeoning cattle industry in Montana, throughout its history MSGA has continued its work promoting a positive business environment for cattle ranchers. The association has continued to work through state and national legislative and regulatory channels to achieve the goals and needs of its members in regards to issues such as cattle theft, cattle diseases, federal lands grazing, predators and endangered species, international trade, and taxes.