Four Generations of History
by Malcolm Wallop, 1933-2011
In the early 1880’s, like many of his contemporaries, a young Englishman named Oliver H. Wallop pulled up stakes and headed to the great American West. The youngest of four sons of a Victorian English earl, he had opted for independence. He migrated to a little spot in southern Montana called Otter Creek where he bought a ranch and brought the first thoroughbred horses to the region. An engaging storyteller and a rugged new rancher, he became a famous fixture on the road west from Rapid City to Miles City as travelers would stop on their way to listen to his tales. Tough and courageous, he was well known and liked by everyone from old trail cowboys like Teddy Blue Abbott to adventuring westerners like Teddy Roosevelt.
By 1888, the visitors had become so numerous that O.H., as he was known, moved south to Big Horn, Wyoming, put his back to the mountains and bought what became known as Canyon Ranch from a man names Bear Davis. Full of wild game and fish possessed of incredible beauty, this became his home. He married, had two sons and continued to breed horses. His sister-in-law married a Scot named Malcom Moncrieffe, and at the turn of the century, the two began procuring horses for the British Army and Boer War. They would ride 140 miles north to Miles City, put together a little band of cowboys and ride west to the eastern edge of the Cascades buying horses then trail them back to the ranch at Big Horn. There the British officers would try out the horses, and play polo matches with U.S. cavalry officers from regional forts and local cowboys. The selected horses were then trailed back to Miles City, put on a train to Duluth, Minnesota and thence by freighter through the great lakes to South Africa.
The two became a legendary fixture attracting famous visitors to Canyon Ranch and Moncrieffe’s Polo Ranch from all over the world to shoot, ride, converse and visit. Old timers tell of watching Buffalo Bill and O.H. have pistol shooting contests when the former was up recruiting for the Wild West Show. The titled ambassadors, politicians, and fascinated Easterners all trooped through and marveled at the Canyon. In 1910, O.H. was elected to the Wyoming legislature and inspired the forest game and conservation laws of the young state. At home like most Victorians, he felt it was necessary to “water” for the sake of longevity. To that end, twice a year he saddled up, and, in a ride that would challenge most anyone today, rode 120 miles across the Big Horns and along the Big Horn River to Thermopolis and the famous hot springs.
By 1925 all of O.H.’s brothers and their male children had died and he became the 8th Earl of Portsmouth. With his life changed, the Earl never abandoned his love of America, the West, and Canyon Ranch, where he remained until his death in 1942.
With even more of a tale to tell at the foot of the Big Horns, the ranch and family attracted a legion of interesting people. His son Oliver took over the reins of the ranch continuing to manage for superb fishing, shooting and a nationally famous herd of Hereford cattle. Among the continuing variety of famous visitors were Queen Elizabeth; Prince Phillip; the Japanese, Saudi, and British Ambassadors; and the former French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing.
In 1976 Oliver’s son Malcolm was elected to the United States Senate, where he served for 18 years. A variety of well known corporate leaders, sports figures such as John Elway and political friends from Vice President Quayle to majority leaders of the House and Senate continued to visit as guests of the family and celebrate the rare attributes of Canyon Ranch.
Paul and Sandra Wallop
Today, the fourth generation has taken over management of the ranch. Paul Wallop and his wife Sandra bring the same love and reverence for the ranch that has made it grow in beauty and productivity. Visitors today are just as struck with the wonder of this magic land as were those in the days of O.H.
From 1889 to the present, The Canyon Ranch stands as a monument to the rare beauty of the Big Horns and the devoted love and care of four generations of the Wallop family.