Chuck DeBoo creates guest-riding experiences of a lifetime, intertwining Blackfeet culture and Montana’s wilderness wonders.
Article & Photography by Mark Bedor
The scenic route is the only option when Chuck DeBoo takes you for a horseback ride on his sprawling cattle and horse ranch in Northern Montana, inside the vast Blackfeet Indian Reservation. On a cool, late September morning of blue sky sprinkled with big clouds, fall has painted the rolling prairie, brushy ravines and unspoiled foothills in shades of amber and other warm colors. I’m saddling up with Chuck and his lone guest,Vicki Willis, to explore the horseman’s spectacular 5.300–acre backyard. We’ll ride to ridge tops where you can see the front range of the Rocky Mountains, the peaks of Glacier National Park, and even Canada. Plus, there is a chance of spotting one of the growing number of grizzly bears that share Chuck’s property.
In this still–wild part of the West, DeBoo’s Ranch Adventures—Chuck’s guest operation—is aptly named.
“A cow went down to drink water right here,” Chuck points out, as our horses pass a watering hole. “And the grizzly caught her and killed her right there.”
I wondered aloud if he ever sees grizzlies in the middle of the day.
“Oh yeah!” replies Chuck in a matter-of-fact tone. “Especially on days like today when it’s cooler.”
But Chuck’s not worried about them, so we’re not either. I’m preoccupied with the pleasure of riding a Paint nicknamed Brownie, soaking in the horseback view of this vast, wide-open country. Chuck and Vicki are mounted on colorful Paints as well—they’re Chuck’s favored breed, since the flashy horses are beautiful, reliable and well trained. As we mosey through home turf of the legendary grizzly, Chuck shares stories about some of his most interesting encounters.
“I had the experience of checking out a den and not being smart about it … with a bear inside of it—.I was a white man for a week!” the cowboy laughed, as he finished the tale. “Scared to death!”
Path of Desire
Chuck comes by his connection to the land and all that inhabit it honestly. He’s a member of the Blackfeet nation, but the lifelong rancher is as much cowboy as he is Indian.
“ ‘Indian cowboy’… you’ll hear that term a lot,” he said. And that’s how Chuck thinks of himself. “I’ve always kind of felt that way. You’re an enrolled member of the tribe, so you’re an Indian, but you have that cowboy spirit. And it’s the way I grew up.”
Chuck grew up horseback, just southeast of the reservation outside the tiny town of Valier, where his Dad had a small ranch and a job in town delivering mail. DeBoo is a French-Belgian name, and his father’s family was part of the Belgian community that settled in the area. Chuck’s mother was a Blackfeet, and while Chuck can remember his Blackfeet grandparents speaking their native language, his mother, who went to a reservation boarding school as a child, never did.
The rancher grew up cowboy, and rode bulls for a time. His grandparents owned land on the reservation where his father would run cows in the summer. But Chuck never heard much about the old ways of the Blackfeet; whatever tribal artifacts his grandparents might have owned were lost forever when their home was swept away in the infamous flood of 1964. It was the worst flooding in Montana history, and it included a catastrophic dam collapse and killed 31 people, most from the Blackfeet Reservation.
This is an excerpt from the full article—get the whole story in the Spring 2021 Chrome magazine, which is sent to all current APHA members. Not a member? Join or renew at apha.com/join.