The Last Heir



“A dishy, encyclopedic romp through twentieth-century Montana history. I was amazed that a book containing so many disparate nuggets could hew to a narrative structure that enticed me to read it so quickly.”  —John Clayton, author of Natural Rivals


THE ONLY THING the Herrins and the Burkes had in common was their Irish ancestry. Opposites in most ways, the families nevertheless personified two common threads in the history of Western America. As the owner of an iconic Montana stock-raising operation—the famous Oxbow Ranch on the shores of Holter Lake—Holly Herrin ruled with frontier violence and legal vehemence over an empire of cattle and sheep that covered thirty square miles. George Burke was a real estate agent, a deputy sheriff, a game warden and a civil engineer in a family of professionals—newspaper editors, lawyers and politicians, including a U.S. Senator. The country-mouse Herrins voted Republican; the city-mouse Burkes Democratic. Both patriarchs, fighting with their fists and their lawyers, were active players in the far-reaching dramas and ludicrous comedies that shaped the politics and economy of modern Montana.

In 1949 the Herrins and the Burkes married their fortunes together when rancher Keith Herrin, Holly’s grandson, was joined in matrimony to George's daughter, wire service reporter Molly Burke. The wedding was the beginning of the end of the Herrin's stockraising empire.


Colorized photo at top: Herrin Dairy in 1936, from left: Marie, Tom, Keith, Harland, Winton, Gordon, Wayne, unidentified hired hands.