The Black Hills Stock Show and Rodeo will honor an Ardmore, S.D., ranch Saturday for its longevity in the agricultural industry.
The Hunter Ranch will be presented with the Pioneer Ranch Award during a ceremony at the Hilton Garden Inn in Rapid City; doors open at 8 a.m. The Pioneer Ranch Award recognizes a ranch still operated by members of the original family. A Pioneer Spirit Award will also be presented to the Dale McPherson family of Rapid City, S.D., and John Johnson of Piedmont, S.D., Patty Brunner of Rapid City, S.D., and Bud Ireland of Box Elder, S.D., will all receive Pioneer Awards.
The Hunter Ranch’s roots date back to 1886 when Jesse Rineer settled in Fall River County after farming and mining in several states. The Lancaster, Penn., native arrived before the railroad and ahead of land surveyors. He squatted on the land and farmed it until a government survey was done, after which he homesteaded it.
“We just feel we have ties to the land,” said Jack Hunter of Crawford during a 2011 interview with The Chadron Record. Hunter grew up on and operated the ranch with his father and has now turned the reins over to his son, Ross. Rineer’s wife, Susan, joined him in 1885, and they went on to raise four sons and four daughters in the area.
“He became very active in helping settle that area,” said Hunter, who is Jesse’s great-grandson. Many of Rineer’s family and friends moved to the area throughout the 1890s. By 1900, Rineer had accumulated about 400 acres and planted it to alfalfa and spring grains. He also raised remount horses, traveling to France in 1912 to purchase a Percheron stud for his Standardbred mares. By 1914, he owned 840 acres.
Rineer did more than homestead and build up the ranch, however.
“He was a county commissioner, one of the very first county commissioners of Fall River County,” Hunter said in 2011. Rineer also owned the Ardmore State Bank for a time, though he lost the institution in the Depression. Jesse and Susan’s third child Marjorie and her husband, John W. “Jack” Hunter, Sr., homesteaded near her parents and took over Jesse and Susan’s property after Jesse passed away in 1930, eventually purchasing the original homestead. John W. Hunter abandoned the horse program and started raising beef in the 1930s. “He had some of the finest Hereford cattle in the country,” said Hunter of his grandfather. His grandfather was a World War I veteran and a member of the American Legion for 50 years. He also served as a member and the chairman of the Selective Services System Board 23 in Hot Springs, S.D., for 16 years before he died in 1968. Hunter’s father, John “Jack” Hunter Jr., returned to the ranch after serving in World War II in the Marine Corp. He served in the South Pacific during the conflict and went into partnership with Jack Sr. in 1946. Jack Jr. married Mary Bergquist, an ensign in the Navy, in 1947. The two met in Utah while they were mustering out of the service, Hunter said. Bergquist was born in the Philippine Islands and lived on Guam and spent time attending school in China before moving to the U.S. at the age of 13. While ranching with his father, Jack Jr. also competed on the rodeo circuit and worked as a rodeo announcer for the PRCA. He also belonged to several civic organizations, including the American Legion, and served as a judge for the Miss Rodeo America Pageant twice. He was part of the state’s fair board and was eventually elected to the Fair Association Hall of Fame in both North and South Dakota. He earned the recognition of Associate of the Year, as well, a title he also held in Nebraska. He was recognized as Man of Year by the National High School Rodeo Association and as Announcer of the Year by the PRCA Badlands Circuit.
The Hunter Ranch remained a partnership between Jack Sr and his sons, Jack Jr. and Darrell until 1974.
The Southern Hills Cattlewomen group named Jack Jr. and Mary as Ag Couple of the Month in December 1998, according to the Edgemont Herald-Tribune. The Hunter family continued to purchase land over the decades, building a legacy for future generations. Hunter graduated from South Dakota State University in 1973 and came home with his wife, Laurel, to operate the family ranch and raise their children, Kristen, Ross and Alicia. Today, Ross and his wife, Trisha, and their children, Tristan, Ashley and Jack represent the fifth and sixth generations on the land. The Hunters moved away from Herefords in the late 1960s, when Jack Jr. started using Angus bulls. By the early 1980s, Hunter was raising Angus cows and also had a purebred Charolais herd. He sold the registered Charolais cows in the 1990s. Like his family before him, Hunter was also active in Fall River County, serving as president of the Edgemont Jaycee’s and as a state director for the Agricultural Advisory Board for SDSU. He volunteered on the Ardmore Fire Department, doing a stint as fire chief, and was president of the Fall River County Predator Board.
Jack and Laurel lived in Gordon for a time and kept the cattle herd strictly to yearlings until Ross moved back to the ranch and re-built the Angus cow herd. The Hunter Ranch today has 9,600 deeded acres and another 20,000 leased acres, with 900 cows and 1,000 yearlings. They all still carry the Turkey Track brand recorded by Jack, Sr., in the 1930s.
Hunter, who said he always enjoyed the marketing end of the cattle business, also jumped into the sale barn business. He went to work at Crawford Livestock Market as a field man in 1980 and purchased the Edgemont Livestock Market in 1985. Two years later, Jack and Laurel and Doug and Janice Strotheide bought the Crawford sale barn and in 1992 they added Gordon Livestock to the list. Edgemont’s sale barn was closed in 1993. By 2003, Jack and Laurel were the sole owners of the Gordon and Crawford facilities. They sold Gordon in 2004 and today focus solely on the Crawford Livestock Market. Hunter is an active member of the Livestock Marketing Association and is currently the Nebraska State President.
Back on the ranch, Ross and Trisha are raising the sixth generation of Hunters on the land. In the 2011 interview, Hunter said family ranching instills a sense of responsibility and independence in each generation. “Every generation has tried to make the place better than the generation before. It’s a way of life money can’t buy.”