Longtime Bitterroot Valley ranchers and agriculture boosters Cliff and Jane Trexler will be honored by the Bitterroot Stockgrowers at the group’s annual banquet on Saturday, January 13 in Hamilton.
From an early age on his family’s ranch outside of Bynum, Montana, and throughout his adult life in the Bitterroot Valley, Cliff Trexler has always been involved in agriculture. From raising purebred Shorthorn cattle to running race horses, he has been active in this industry and especially here in the Bitterroot. Jane, his wife of 66 years, has been there beside him, supporting and working with the family and cattle.
Cliff’s connection with cattle goes back a couple of generations. His grandmother, Minnie Nehring, ran cattle on her ranch in Bynum. Her daughter, Marion, also had a love of the ranching lifestyle and passed that on to her first husband, Clifford “Trex” Trexler and subsequently to her son Cliff. While Cliff grew up on the ranch outside of Bynum, Jane grew up in Utah and then moved to Bynum when she was in high school. The couple married young but the affection and support each have for the other is very evident.
Cliff left the family ranch and attended college at Northern (now MSU-N) in Havre and then completed his degree in education at Montana State in Bozeman. After teaching in Noxon for three years, the couple moved to Victor where he taught junior high and high school science for 24 years, retiring in 1972 and going into the real estate field.
After living in Victor for a couple of years, they moved about a half a mile to the west where they purchased a small farm. This was when they began raising purebred Shorthorns.
“With a small acreage, we could run fewer cattle but maintain a high quality,” said Cliff.
He chose the Shorthorn breed for a couple of reasons. He was familiar with the breed because when he was little he had four cows on his parents’ ranch. Secondly, the breed was very popular at the time and very versatile. The breed originated in northeast England in the 18th century. Although the breed was originally a dual purpose breed used for both milk and beef, the breed here in the United States in the 1950s began to focus more on the beef aspect of the breed. They are primarily red, white and roan.
Cliff recognized the many benefits of the breed and set about developing a breeding program that eventually led to him having the top selling bull at the Midland Empire State Fair in Billings, the Winter Fair in Bozeman, and the Western Montana Fair in Missoula. (This was not the same bull but three different bulls.) Cliff and his family showed cattle throughout Montana, at the Calgary Stampede, and even at the National Western Stock Show in Denver. They got into showing when their kids, Larry and Debbie, joined 4H in the early 1960’s. Larry continued to show throughout his 4H career and on into adulthood. Debbie also was in 4H and showed cattle. She went on to be a Shorthorn ‘Lassie’, and competed for the crown at the Denver National Stock Show.
In 1967, the Trexler family moved even farther west, onto Red Crow Road where they purchased a larger place. This allowed them to expand their cattle numbers. Cliff said he enjoyed all the aspects of the purebred cattle business from breeding and raising the calves to showing and selling bulls and heifers. Jane helped with the chores and kept the home fires burning while the family was out showing around Montana.
The Trexlers were the 4H leaders of the Bitterroot Wranglers Club in Victor where Cliff led the livestock portion of the club and Jane handled the cooking and sewing. During their tenure in 4H, the Trexlers were named Leaders of the Year one year.
About 1970, Cliff went to auctioneer school in Billings. He spent the next couple of years practicing on his students. (This reporter was one of the students.) Along with doing regular auctions, Cliff soon became the voice of the Market Livestock Sale held on Saturday mornings of the Ravalli County Fair where he sold many a steer, sheep or pig, and consoled many sad 4H-ers. He still does an occasional auction and does the pie auction for the FFA Alumni at the Ravalli County Fair.
Cliff also served on the Ravalli County Fair Board for 15 years. During that time he said there was an increase in all livestock exhibits and more people showing the animals.
Even though there is no more horse racing at the Ravalli County Fair, Cliff and Jane have always had a love of horse racing. “I remember when I was four or five years old, I would go with my mother to the racetrack at the Great Falls Fairgrounds where she would feed horses and then exercise the race horses while I played around the barn, so I guess I’ve been around for about 78 years,” concluded Cliff.
The couple owned and raced horses for about 35 years. They said they never missed a race meet at the Great Falls State Fair. Their love of race horses, cattle and family is evident in Cliff’s office where there are photos of race horses at the finish line and in the winner’s circle. There are photos of grandchildren and great grandkids with steers and goats with blue ribbons.
Cliff said that with the Stockgrowers honoring him and Jane on January 13, at the banquet, they are also honoring six generations of cattlemen and women: his grandmother Minnie Nehring, mother Marion Trexler Brandvold, Cliff and Jane, son Larry Trexler, grandson Reed Trexler, and great grandsons Cole and Cash Trexler. All have been or are currently involved in raising cattle. Add in granddaughter Karri Trexler Miles and her children Hailey and Wyatt who raise goats for a little diversity and another generation of stock growers.
Both Cliff and Jane are pleased the agricultural way of life is being continued by their families. They both think it is the best way for a kid to grow up. As for the state of agriculture in the valley, Cliff said it is a vital industry for the valley. With the Bitterroot Stockgrowers being more active recently, he feels that although it is changing, agriculture will continue to thrive here. They are very humbled by the Bitterroot Stockgrowers’ honor.