Legacy Inductee (1941-2004) MCHF District 9

Born April 30, 1941, Donald W. “Donnie” Johnston began life on his family’s Butte Creek Ranch, 25 miles north of White Sulphur Springs. In 1949, the Johnston family purchased the Moore, then Ringling Ranch, along the Smith River. Donnie grew up working alongside his father, with time out to attend school, graduating from White Sulphur Springs High School in 1959. After serving in the military, Donnie went to Western Montana College in Missoula, while working as a meat inspector for Daily Meats.

In 1965, he moved back to White Sulphur Springs and went to work with a highway construction crew for a short time before returning to the family ranch. He decided to try his hand at rodeoing and entered the saddle bronc and bareback events on weekends. In 1969, he separated his shoulder at the White Sulphur Labor Day Rodeo, ending his rodeo days.

Donnie turned his attention to the cattle operation—raising, buying, and training a few horses for ranch work. He rode with ease and possessed a horse-whispering characteristic which allowed him to move and sort cattle, single handedly.

In 1973, Donnie married Rebecca “Becky” Ellison of White Sulphur Springs. In 1978, their daughter Elizabeth “Libby” was born and in 1981, daughter, Mari.

Donnie was a member and officer of the Whitetail Grazing Association, the Meagher County Rodeo Club, Montana and Meagher County Stockgrowers Association, and assisted whenever needed in various community functions. In 1994, he was awarded Outstanding Conservationist for Meagher County by the Meagher County Conservation District. He was a good and trusted neighbor who lent a hand whenever called upon.

In the late 1970s, Donnie became an outfitter. He owned and operated the Camp Baker Outfitting business on the ranch, as well as on leased property in the Smith River Valley. The Johnstons hosted fishing and hunting clients during the summer and fall months. Guests were bunked in the furnished cabin, built and located on the ranch property.

Tragically, on a spring morning in May 2004, Donnie lost his life doing what he loved most: moving and sorting cattle. At that time, Libby, was working in Billings, Montana as a dietitian and Mari was set to soon graduate from the University of Montana. When both girls decided they wanted to come back home, they partnered with their mother in managing the ranch. The women rolled up their sleeves and carried on.

The outfitting and fishing business that Donnie enjoyed so much has continued to operate by the Johnston family. He would be proud of this new generation of little ones who are learning and participating in the daily operations of his beloved ranch.

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