The Sheep and the Queen

Montana loves royalty. Other people’s royalty. It goes without saying that Montanan’s would not respond well to a monarch trying to rule us, but visiting us? That we enjoy. The town of Silver Star boasts that Prince Edward (later, Edward VII) spent three nights in the Silver Star Hotel in 1878 (frankly, I’ve been hard pressed to find evidence that Edward ever visited Montana, if anybody could point me towards a source, I’d appreciate it). Prince Maximilian of Wied-Neuwied earned his place in Montana lore by exploring and documenting the peoples and animals of the Missouri and Marias rivers in the 1830s. Then there’s the recently revealed story of Prince William spending a summer in Montana in 1992. To my mind, however, the best tale of a royal visit comes from the Twentieth Century.

In 1926, Queen Marie of Romania travelled by train from New York to Washington State. Apparently, the point of the journey was to see how Americans lived, and to dedicate a museum/curiosity shop in Washington, owned by Sam Hill, the organizer of the trip. That seems like an awful big production just to open a curiosity shop, and newspapers at the time suspected that she was really trying to schmooze the U.S. into giving Romania a loan. But, back to the story. Queen Marie took the Northern Pacific Railroad through Montana, which, she had heard, was home to the finest sheep in the world. She demanded to see a flock of these famous sheep. Organizers contacted Soren Beck, who ran a sheep ranch out of Garrison and arranged for him to have the pick of his flock grazing near the railroad tracks. When the train made its brief stop at the ranch, Queen Marie declared, “In the state of Montana, amid rugged and beautiful mountains, whose flanks are covered with the longest, finest grass I have ever seen, I viewed for a moment a flock of sheep of finest wool. These sheep were the property of Soren Beck, one of the world’s most successful sheep men.”

queenandsheepHis friends joked that Beck never sold a single sheep from that band. He felt his “royal” sheep were too good for market.

The story of Soren and the Queen comes from the Montana Stockgrowers Association collection of histories of Montana’s oldest ranches: The Weak Ones Turned Back, The Cowards Never Started: A Century of Ranching in Montana (Word Wright, 2009).

Tags: history, Montana Characters, agriculture, railroads

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