The Leachman Home Place Ranch, 16 miles southeast of Billings, Mont., is going to see some changes. The 45,000-plus acres-including 9,500 deeded acres and more than 30,000 acres of Crow Indian Reservation leases, formerly operated by Leachman Cattle Company- have been tied up in financial and legal knots for years. The last of the knots were untied on the steps of the Yellowstone County Courthouse last Thursday when Stovall Holding Company, made up of Jay and Juanita Stovall who are members of the Crow Indian Tribe, and their son, Turk, handed over checks for $2.63 million.

The sale of the Home Place Ranch and the smaller Hairpin Cavvy Ranch was supposed to have taken place last year on the same date, but James Leachman filed bankruptcy an hour before the auction in a last-ditch attempt to save the ranches that have been known world-wide for their quality cattle genetics for the last 30 years. A judge dismissed the bankruptcy in April, ordering the federal government to sell the ranches in an attempt to pay off debts.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency, one of Leachman's creditors, bought the smaller Hairpin Ranch for $1.1 million

Stovalls have been neighbors to Leachman since James Leachman moved to Montana from upstate New York nearly 40 years ago. Stovalls have ranched in the area for five generations and plan to continue to improve their ranch and run more cattle with the new property. Previously they were able to run approximately 5,000 head of cattle on their more than 70,000 acres of deeded and leased property. Turk Stovall says the family hopes to be able to expand the cattle operation by adding a significant number of stock cattle and yearlings, but that it will have to happen over time.

"The expansion will be a function of a lot of factors," Turk said. "We feel that we can increase our herd of good quality cattle but we have to do it economically. We have to be conscious and cautious about how we manage money. We always try to talk about successes that have happened, we never talk about the operations that are trying to be successful. This is one of those stories that we hope is a success story someday."

Several features of the ranch offer some new opportunities, but for the most part, Turk says, they plan to continue their current operations, just with more of their Angus cattle. The Stovalls have already taken over about 90 percent of the reservation leases Leachman held. Leachman lost those leases because of mismanagement and nonpayment, Turk said. In addition to grazing land, which makes up the majority of the property Stovall's purchased, the Leachman Home Place Ranch has a feedlot, which the Stovalls hope to put to use. There is also some undeveloped meadow that they'd like to develop into hayground.

Before Stovalls can get to work on expanding, though, they have a lot of improving to do, Turk said. "The ranch is in really tough shape. There haven't been any improvements for 10 to 15 years and not even much maintenance. It's going to take a while to get it into operating condition again. The fences and corrals are all run-down, the water was left on with no electricity, so everything froze and all the water systems are a mess. But, it's our neighboring place and it suits us real well," Turk said.

Turk said they expect to hire one or two more hands to help on the ranch that has always been run traditionally. The Stovalls still work all their cattle on horseback and work out of cow camps spread across their ranch and intend to extend these management practices to the new property.

While Stovalls are making plans for the future of the Leachman Ranch, Leachman hasn't given up his own hopes for getting the property back. According to Leachman, he has a year from the date of the sale to redeem the property, which means he can repay the purchase price, plus 10 percent, taxes paid and any improvements, to regain ownership. According to Turk, though, the fact that the Leachman property was owned by a limited liability corporation and that James Leachman held only 12 percent ownership of that corporation makes the redemption law a little hazy.

The Stovalls are aware there are redemption rights, but say they will forge ahead with their plans for the place. Since the purchase the family has gotten a lot of phone calls from family ranchers and others in the industry. "The response has been just overwhelming," Turk said. "They're calling to tell us how glad they are that another family ranch bought this place. They're really supportive-even offering to send over their own cowboys to get the work done to get the ranch functional again. The support has been just outstanding."

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