Tate’s Upper Canyon Ranch
A family with roots generations deep
The inclusion of the family name Tate as part of the Upper Canyon Outfitters (UCO) title is a no-brainer. Generations of Tates have ranched, taught, loved and laughed on their land in the Ruby Valley.
From Kansas, Earnest Parker ‘Peck’ Tate arrived in the Ruby Valley in the early 1900s to work on a horse ranch with his brother. Peck served in the first World War and afterward purchased a ranch in the same area to raise sheep and cattle.
Mary Mullen came out to the valley after a year of teaching school in Dillon. Out of a bunk house meant for employees, of which there were none yet, she taught three young girls who lived nearby. Mary and Peck married in 1924, “and then they tripled the school population,” Cassie Ubaldo, Peck’s great-granddaughter, said.
After the second World War, the ranch transitioned from a sheep to a cattle ranch. With the development of nylon and rayon, the need for wool was less as synthetic materials became more popular. Peck died in 1949 leaving his oldest son, Bill Tate, only 14 years old and Mary with three young boys to raise. She sold the ranch, but kept 300 acres for family use. It was not enough to raise cattle, but it was just enough for Bill to take people hunting.
After a friend suggested guiding, Bill bought two laughably old trailers and ran power out to them. In 1984, the ranch had no running water. “I was 50 years old and had no retirement, so I needed something to go with my social security,” he said. Up to this point, he had been in the service and worked in warehouses after his eight years of duty was up. Being a hunting guide was a way to make a little extra income.
“It grew from there. I had no idea and most of it was just dumb luck. Things just fell into place,” Bill said.
Bill and his wife Bernice of 60 years built everything by themselves and had basically no money to fall back on. “The two trailers paid for four and the four trailers paid for the A frame and each one paid for itself,” Bill said. They were barely a step ahead.
Donna Tate McDonald, one of the first women outfitters in Montana, bought her parents out 25 years ago, Bill’s leap of faith a good call in hindsight. She and her husband, Jake, added fly fishing and horse riding to guiding. Eventually, they offered a conference center and are now able to host up to 45 guests. Three and a half years ago, Donna’s daughter, Cassie, and her husband joined the family business.
With an undergraduate degree in psychology and a master’s in education and counseling, Cassie brought a unique offering to UCO. She created a horse-based program to work on leadership and communication skills called Equine Facilitated Learning, offered to corporate groups, individuals and veterans. This program focuses on aligning different parts of one’s life, working on congruency and being genuine. “It’s really just mental well-being,” Cassie said.
Both daughters and their families had plan B’s in case UCO was not fruitful. With three generations involved, the plan B’s ended up unnecessary. “It really is a family effort. No one person could ever do this job alone,” Donna said.
She and her father took a chance on this business and relied on their resourcefulness and their heritage to make it work.
“I had no idea the possibility. I was just hoping for a couple little trailer houses (so) I could pick up a little extra money to go with my social security. That was my original intent,” Bill said.
Five generations of Tates have been on this land and four live on it now. Each generation worked by the sweat of their brow to maintain and live off the land. Bill and Bernice hand picked rocks off the property to help it thrive. Cassie joked about all the knapweed they picked over the years to serve the same purpose. But it extends further.
“People look at land as an asset and we don’t really look at it as an asset. We look at it as our heritage,” Donna said.
Donna takes her insight about the value of land to national boards and goes to DC to talk to representatives about preservation and conservation. She understands the importance of looking past your property line and extending care and concern to adjacent lots to achieve a greater effect. “If you’re going to live off the land and you’re going to appreciate it, you have to be part of saving it and preserving it,” Donna said.