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Last Roundup Nears in Cattle Drive

September 8, 1989

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) _ The Great Montana Centennial Cattle Drive, a raucous remembrance of American frontier settlers, ambles through city streets to its last roundup at the Billings stockyards Saturday after herding 2,700 bawling longhorns across the prairie.

The procession - with 100 drovers tending the herd and 200 covered wagons and 3,000 dusty riders trailing behind - headed toward its final camp Friday. Many participants in the six-day, 60-mile drive believed they were making history as part of the West’s last great cattle drive.

″I’d hoped to see a few more cows and not so many people,″ said Janet Kuni of Garden Grove, Calif. ″But this still kind of choked me up a little bit. I’m never going to see anything like tonight ever again.″

The drive, the biggest spectacle in Montana’s celebration of its birthday as a state, commemorates the great cattle drives of the last century, which began when Nelson Story brought the first herd of Texas longhorns to Montana in 1866.

Mike Story, Nelson Story’s great-great-grandson, still ranches in Montana near Yellowstone National Park and was among the drovers heading the procession.

But the drive’s end will bear no resemblance to Nelson Story’s arrival in unsettled Montana.

At least some of the wagons and cattle will parade through Billings streets on their way to the Public Auctions Yards, heading down three lanes of a six- lane thoroughfare.

The journey started Monday on the banks of the Musselshell River in Roundup. The drive, enjoying early fall weather of warm days and brisk nights, rolled south on U.S. 87 through the Bull Mountains, then on the prairie.

The pace of the drive was brisk until Thursday, when wagons spread out across the plain. As many as 20,000 people took advantage of the only opportunity to see the drive actually crossing the prairie, and 5,000 had to be turned away from a Thursday night country music concert for lack of parking, authorities said.

Red paint in the dirt marked the rows where cars and buses could stop and watch the five-mile long train of cattle and wagons. A mile-long plume of dust rose from the wagon train on the sunny fall day, later creating a glowing sunset over the Bull Mountains.

″This is great,″ said Bill Toothman, who traveled with his wife Violet from West Virginia to see the cattle drive. ″We saw it on the ‘Today’ show and knew we had to be here. So far it’s been everything we’d hoped for.″