A simple kind of life
Interstate 90 is abuzz with summer traffic on the afternoon of July 16. A modern medley of sleek sedans and robust RVs rushes past the hills of Greycliff Creek Ranch — oblivious to the historic display not far from their meandering course.
Fifty yards away, two black draft horses pull a wagon full of youngsters down an old ranch road.
Many of the girls are clad in brightly colored dresses, each garment cut modestly, covering them down to the ankle. Their long locks are done up in pairs of French braids and not a lick of makeup adorns their cheeks. It’s as if they were summoned straight from the 1800s.
But they’re not just visions of history — they’re part of a group committed to living it out.
Homestead Heritage is a Christian community, dedicated to a simpler way of life in the Anabaptist tradition. Six families moved from the group’s parent location in Waco, Texas, to Montana last year. Some of the members opened the doors to Big Timber Bakery, while others joined an already established timber framing company, Heritage Restorations.
The women are easily recognizable in their simple and modest attire. But rather than sequester themselves, members say they want to be a part of local society. In fact, that’s exactly what last weekend’s Harvest Day was all about.
“We wanted everybody to come out and see what we’re up to,” said Grace Bowden, an employee at Big Timber Bakery. “We are not out to be a cloister — we want to be mixed in with everybody.”
The festival featured demonstrations of traditional crafts, a barn raising and hay harvesting done the old fashioned way with horse and wagon. The day’s festivities were followed up with a barbecue dinner and an evening of bluegrass and gospel music — featuring Big Timber’s own Bakery Band.
“The music’s been good. They’re pretty awesome,” attendee Carol Beling said. “They seem like super nice people, and we’re glad to have them.”
More than 200 attended the evening meal and upwards of 100 visitors toured the ranch during the day, event organizer Matt Brandstadt said.
The group’s long-term vision for the property lies in sustainable farming and traditional craftsmanship.
“We’re in the process of developing a small-scale village that will be more based off of some traditional crafts which will consist of blacksmithing, weaving, perhaps some leatherwork,” he said. “We’ll do most of our farming — hopefully all of it — with horse-drawn implements. We realize that’s not the most economic way to go, but it is a great thing for your young kid to be able to get out there and drive a team of horses. It’s a great way of life.”
Preserving a simpler way of life — and its ensuing ideals — is what the group is all about.
— The beginning —
Homestead Heritage is a relatively new movement. It began in 1973 when founders Blair and Regina Adams started an inner city mission in New York City. The pair and their followers were dissatisfied with the frenzied pace of modern living and sought out a simple existence, first in Colorado and later in Texas, where approximately 1,000 people still live today.
Homestead has affiliates in Idaho, Mississippi and Mexico, according to their website, www.homesteadheritage.com. Their main location in Texas also hosts a harvest festival annually, which draws more than 20,000 visitors over the course of two-and-a-half days.
But Brandstadt said the group isn’t looking to get rich — their primary aim is preserving the ethics of the past while exemplifying scripture.
“It’s not so much a big profit venture as much as it’s trying to preserve certain values,” Brandstadt said. “I love the slower pace of life in which you can really be involved with your neighbor, helping your surrounding community, being able to rear children and actually be involved in their lives.”
A few families decided to settle in Montana after a chance meeting with the late Sonny Todd nine years ago. Todd got to talking with a friend of Brandstadt’s while helping him fix a tire.
“From there they began to talk and discuss our interest and our like for traditional crafts, high-end craftsmanship, and Sonny said that Sweet Grass County was the place to settle in,” Brandstadt said. “And after some exploratory trips, we ended up settling here on the Sonny Todd ranch after his passing.”
The members also purchased the neighboring property formerly owned by Gene Forster. In total, the combined properties encompass roughly 1,800 acres along I-90, southwest of Greycliff.
— Looking forward —
In the future, Brandstadt hopes to see a large garden on the property and perhaps some cattle and spaces for crafting.
“I would say sometime in the future we’ll build a larger facility that would house a bit of a showroom, plus a manufacturing area for woolworks, leather, all that type of stuff,” he said.
Brandstadt also wants community members to feel free to stop by, ask questions and even learn a trade if they so desire.
“We want this place to be wide open for any community members to come,” he said. “Typically, if somebody wants to get involved and take a farming course or a gardening class, or just come out and work on the farm together with us, we’d gladly do it. That’s what it’s all about. “
To read the full story, pick up the July 21 edition of the Pioneer or subscribe to our e-edition. Current subscribers are provided complimentary access to the e-edition with registration.
Story and photo by Mackenzie Reiss / Pioneer Staff Writer
CUTLINE: Hadassa Adams (center) visits with friends inside a small cabin at Greycliff Creek Ranch during the July 16 Harvest Day.