By Stacy Bronec
John Lippert had only $100 in his pocket when he and his cousin hid on a railcar from Minnesota to Montana. The stowaways arrived in Carter, which was under a foot of snow, with John’s team of horses in March of 1913. John was inspired by his brother, George, who had previously moved to Montana to homestead. They grew up on a farm in Minnesota, where there were several brothers and not much opportunity to thrive, and were determined to make a better life for themselves—and thought Montana was the place to do just that. They stayed for a few days in Carter until they could get out. Then with a wagon full of lumber, they made their way 20 miles north of Carter, where they would build John’s homestead.
An original claim document shows what happened next. John filed his notice of intention to make a three-year homestead entry to claim a piece of land on May 10, 1913. The cost to file was $13.50. On June 17, 1916, John made good on his claim, which required four witnesses to sign off on.
The vast prairies of central Montana didn’t take it easy on John in those three years. In the spring of 1914, he sowed his first crop in Montana—10 acres of flax. After he finished his harvest, a storm came up—along with the wind. The next morning, John came back and his crop was scattered all through the hills. But he didn’t let that stop him. His original homestead is still farmed today by his grandson and great-grandson, proof his determination and hard work could sustain his family farm for generations.
He was quoted at the time saying, “That left me with plenty of time for breaking broncos, which I loved to do.”
John grew up breaking and riding horses, and he had brought his own team with him to Montana. At that time horses were used to plow the fields; although they did have a threshing machine that was powered by an engine for harvesting. In John’s spare time he broke team and saddle horses, and if people had problem horses, they would bring them to John to break. In a 1985 family video featuring John and his wife, Betty, John tells a story about how he had been plowing with “four frisky broncos” he had purchased from a neighbor. After they had taken off on him he eventually tracked them down, and he said, “I set my plow as deep in the ground as it would go, and made the horses pull it back to where we started. By the time we got back, they were walking at a nice slow pace.”
Betty was originally from Montana but had come to central Montana in 1918 to teach school. She married John in 1929. John’s great-grandson, Josh, who farms on the original homestead, recalls a story he was told about his great-grandparents. Betty was pregnant with twins and they knew something was wrong and she needed to get to town. Being an accomplished rider and horseman was about to come in handy. John hitched up his team to a wagon and took off through a big snowstorm to get to the train in Carter. He ran the horses as fast as they could go, and some of them died or gave up from exhaustion along the way. John had to cut their harnesses from the rest of the team to keep going. They eventually made it to Carter, where Betty was put on the train to Great Falls. She lived, but the twins did not.
Facing adversity and never giving up was the way of the land in these times, and John proved to be no different. Though John was known as being “quite a horseman,” he was also a good farmer. According to a nephew, “John built his land up from 160 acres to nearly 10,000 acres before he retired at the age of 72.”
Horses were always a constant in his life, even after the first tractor was used on their farm around 1919.
Despite all the challenges, John said, “I shall always remember my homestead days and the good neighbors who helped me through my trials and tribulations.”