Gang Ranch History

Jerome Harper, one of the founders of the Gang Ranch. Photo courtesy BC Archives.

American brothers Jerome and Thaddeus Harper had been ranching and gold mining in California. They heard of the gold rush that started in British Columbia, how thousands of miners were migrating to the area and there were very little cattle to sustain them, causing a jump in cattle prices. The Harper brothers began to drive cattle north to British Columbia in hopes of cashing in on the higher cattle market. They were very successful in their drives and quickly became the largest land owners in British Columbia owning large portions of ranch land all through the interior. One of their most well-known ranches, the Gang Ranch, started in 1863, originally called the Canadian Ranching Company. In addition to the cattle business, the Harper brothers owned two saw mills and a flour mill. Jerome Harper died in 1874 leaving Thaddeus to inherit his estate of $150,000 including 1,000 hectares of land.

Daily British Colonist, April 20, 1876

Longest Cattle Drive in BC History

Thaddeus Harper continued ranching after his brother’s death and completed the longest cattle drive in BC history. As the gold rush slowed down, the cattle market had dropped to $15 per head in British Columbia, but in Chicago the market was high enough to net $40 a head after the costs of driving and freighting the cattle down. Harper set out with a crew of cowboys including, Newman Squires, Antoine Allen, Charlie Connor, Tom Moore, Joe Tenice, Louis Eneas, Jimmy Joseph, Jimmy Rendell (a boy) and possibly Johnny Twan and Bill Hart. They started down an old drover’s trail, established in the 1860’s, with 800 head of cattle, buying more on the way. He wintered the cattle near Walla Walla, Washington.

Thaddeus assessed the situation in the Spring; to transport the cattle by rail to Chicago they would need to drive the cattle about 600 miles and then pay $250 for a car of 20 head. The Chicago market had dropped drastically to $16 - $17 a head. Harper decided to summer the cattle in Idaho to fatten the cattle and wait on the market.

Daily British Colonist, February 5, 1878

In the winter of 1878 the drought in California elevated the cattle prices exponentially. Harper drove the cattle to San Francisco cashing in at $70 a head. Harper profited enormously and made arrangements for shipping additional cattle to San Francisco.

Thaddeus eventually started experiencing financial hardships and sold the Hat Creek Ranch property in 1881. After a severe winter in 1887, in an unsuccessful attempt to avoid personal bankruptcy Thaddeus sold the Gang Ranch in 1888 to his partners in the Western Canadian Ranching Company. The sale included ranch land at Canoe Creek, Clinton, Kamloops, and the Perry Ranch at Cache Creek.

Thaddeus Harper would go on the pursue opportunities in the mining industry, until 1889. While out riding alone Thaddeus Harper suffered a fall from his horse and was kicked in the face. He was found unconscious a day later and spent six weeks in the hospital in Victoria. Thaddeus Harper died in Victoria on December 9th at the age of 65.

Western Canadian Ranching Company Ownership 1888-1947

Big House Barn
Photo credit: Iris McNab

The Western Canadian Ranching Company, headed by London publisher, Thomas Dixon Galpin, bought the financially strapped Gang Ranch and all its holdings. The WCRC managed the Gang among other ranches in Canada and the Us until 1947. Under the Western Canadian Ranching Company, the ranches head quarters were relocated to the current location from its original location at Gaspard Creek about 10 miles west of where the head quarters are now. A grand house was built near Word Creek road for use when the English overseers would visit. Because of the size and the extravagance of the house and English furnishings the workers called it the "Big House." The barn that serviced the house still stands to this day and can be seen at a distance from Word Creek Road (2700 rd.)

Studdert & Skelton Ownership 1948-1977

1948 Western Canadian Ranching Company sold the ranch to Bill Studdert and Floyd Skelton for the rumored amount of $750,000.00. To pay for the ranch, the new owners sold off the majority of the 6,000 head of cattle and 2,000 yearlings. Bill Studdert took on ranch manager and moved into the elegantly decorated Big House, but the man had poor housekeeping habits and house deteriorated becoming infested with rats, mice and fleas. “Studdert also gained a reputation for penny-pinching as he tried to squeeze as much profit as possible out of the operation without putting much back in. He was known for having food orders for his cowboys and putting them on starvation diets and he did the same with his cattle” (Page 198, Bronc Busters and Hay Sloops, Ken Mather). The winter of 1957 Studdert disappeared. The ranch continued without a manager, but with no leadership very little hay was harvested and before the end of winter the ranch ran out of hay and cattle died off in record numbers.

1958 Skelton hired Melvin Sidwell, a successful potato farmer from Idaho, to manage the ranch. Under Sidwell’s management the Gang Ranch began to improve. Sidwell slowly added to the cattle herd, updated the machinery, improved hay production, improved the irrigation systems, added new infrastructure and brought electricity by generator to the ranch.  “In an effort to realize some return on the ranch, large parts of it were sold off, including the huge steer ranch north of the Chilcotin River, (now the Cottonwood Ranch)… By the end of the Sidwell era (1975) the Gang Ranch was back on its feet again and operating in the black.” (Page 199, Bronc Busters and Hay Sloops, Ken Mather).

Alsagar Ownership 1977-1984

In 1977 the Alsagar family, under the name of the Alsagar Holdings Ltd, purchased the Gang Ranch for around 4.2 million dollars. This would be the first time this ranch was owned by Canadians. At this time the ranch included 38,000 deeded acres and 700,000 acres under lease.  The Alsagar family was not known to be experienced cattlemen and it is said that they shortly let go their knowledgeable staff. With out proper management the ranch fell into receivership in November 1982. As a result, the Perry Ranch was sold off in 1984 to Mr. Kohler for $1.1 million in January.  In March Sullivan Pastures was sold for $27,000. But it took two years to find a buyer for the main ranch.

Nelson Ownership 1984

In June of 1984 the Gang Ranch was sold to Melvin Nelson from High River, Alberta. He only owned it for a couple months.

Saudi Arabian Sheik, Ibrahim Afandi Ownership 1987-Current

A few months after Nelson purchased the ranch the main Gang Ranch was again sold to John Rudiger, Clark and Susan Borth, Ross Adams, Wilber Griffith and Saudi Arabian Sheik Ibraham Afandi of Jeddah.

In 1987 Saudi Arabian sheik, Ibrahim Afandi of Jeddah, under the name BSA Investments, bought out his partners to purchase the Gang Ranch outright. He still owns the ranch to this day.

 

Sources:

BC Archives, http://search-bcarchives.royalbcmuseum.bc.ca/digitalobject/browse

Chris Kind, The Mighty Gang Ranch and its Neighbour, the Magnificent Empire Valley Cattle Co, BC, Safari Consultants, 2005

Daily British Colonist, April 20, 1876. http://archive.org/stream/dailycolonist18760420uvic/18760420#page/n0/mode/1up

Daily British Colonist, February 5, 1878. http://archive.org/stream/dailycolonist18780205uvic/18780205#page/n0/mode/1up

Ken Mather, Buckaroos and Mud Pups: The Early Days of Ranching in British Columbia. Surrey, BC. Heritage House Publishing Company Ltd. 2006

Ken Mather, Bronc Busters and Hay Sloops: Ranching in the West in the Early 20th Century. Surrey, BC. Heritage House Publishing Company Ltd. 2010