Three Ringlings in Montana Circus Trains to Cattle Ranches

ByLee Rostad


The Ringling Brothers Circus—the world’s greatest shows!—made five brothers some of the wealthiest men in America in the early 1900s.

One of them—flamboyant John Ringling—came to Montana in 1903 looking for investments. He ended up building a railroad and launching a ranching company.

Richard, son of circus brother Alf T. Ringling, followed his Uncle John to Montana in 1917 and built a cattle and sheep empire. He and his family settled in a mansion in White Sulphur Springs.

Richard’s son Paul was born in Montana in 1920 and became a prominent rancher and state legislator. He still lives in the state as this book is published.

The Ringlings made their marks in Montana in many ways, from a town named after them to the historic Bozeman Roundup rodeo.

Author and historian Lee Rostad tells the Ringlings’ Montana stories, plus tales of the circus’s ups and downs, in this engrossing volume. Her research included access to the family’s private papers and photographs, including many images in this book.


Format: Trade Paperback
Size: 5.5 x 8.5 inches
ISBN-13: 978-1-60639-078-8
Author: Lee Rostad
Pages: 160

The Ringling Brothers circus family made its mark in Montana

Did you know the little Montana town of Ringling was named after the world-famous circus family, the Ringling Brothers?

Or that one of the brothers, John, who was one of the richest men in America in the early 1900s, started a ranching empire here, built a grandly named short-line railroad, dabbled in White Sulphur Spring’s famous waters, and took local black musician Taylor Gordan on trips around the country?

Smart and shrewd—some would say “scheming”—John rubbed some people the wrong way. One local businessman claimed, “There were crooks and crooks and there was John Ringling, the master-minded crook of the ages.”

Richard Ringling followed his uncle to Montana and, when he wasn’t helping run the circus, expanded the family’s agricultural operations. He raised hundreds of thousands of cattle and sheep on far-flung ranches, built a state-of-the art dairy farm, launched a cannery for sweet peas in the Bozeman area, and was a founder of the Bozeman Roundup, a multi-day rodeo extravaganza.

Richard loved the cowboy way. He sponsored The Association of American Cowboys and shipped rodeo stock to Madison Square Garden and other venues. But still drawing on his family’s world-wide business, Richard sometimes used old circus tents as temporary ranch buildings.

Later, Richard’s son Paul continued the ranching dynasty and became a state legislator.

In all, the three Ringlings created an intriguing and amusing history that is finally chronicled in a new book, “Three Ringlings in Montana: From Circus Trains to Cattle Ranches,” by author and historian Lee Rostad. She is the author of several books about the people and history of Meagher County.

The 160-page book is available at local bookstores and museums. It sells for $16.

Lee Rostad was born in Roudup, Montana, graduated from the University of Montana and spent a year in London as a Fulbright Scholar before marrying Phil Rostad, a rancher in the Musselshell Valley. She took her turn writing the social news for the weekly newspaper and took time from her ranching chores to write magazine articles. She is the author of the books Honey Wine and Hunger Root, Fourteen Cents and Seven Green Apples, Grace Stone Coates: Her Life in Letters, and The House of Bair.

In 1995, Lee received an Honorary Doctor of Letters from Rocky Mountain College and in 2001 received the Governor's Award in Humanitites. She served on both the Montana Humanities Board and Montana Historical Society Board.

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