Category Archives: Blacktail Ranch News

Generations at the Ranch | Staff Highlight: Will Rittel, a fifth-generation at The Blacktail Ranch

March 25, 2021 by Caitlyn Allen

Continuing the theme from our last newsletter, a little more about the wonderful people that make The Blacktail Ranch such a special, family-owned historic Montana ranch.

Will Rittel represents the fifth generation working at the Blacktail. Before him were Eric (Will’s dad); Tag (father of Eric and grandfather of Will), Tag’s father, Frank; and Frank’s father, Gustav, who homesteaded the original land of the ranch.

From such a long history of one family come many stories, many of which Will shares with guests when they visit the ranch’s on-site museum. (No spoilers—You’ve got to come here to hear more!)

Will Rittel, a fifth-generation at The Blacktail Ranch:

Q: What is it you love about the ranch? 
I love the Blacktail because it captures Montana’s beauty. Resting just below the Continental Divide running down toward the high plains, it is one of the prettiest places I have ever seen.  And I get the privilege to call it my home. It is my family’s legacy and something I get to share with people from all over the world. 

Q: What’s your favorite spot on the ranch? 
It’s hard for me to choose just one spot. Every area has a memory. Most places remind me of my grandpa, Tag.
The best view for me is at the very top of the Continental Divide. Close to where we tie off the horses during a “Divide Ride”, there is a ledge you can sit on and look down the whole valley out to the prairie. I look forward that ride every summer to get that view.  

Q: What’s it like to work here? 
 This will be my fifth season working on the Blacktail. Every year I remind myself how lucky I am to be there and work with the people who make it all happen. The Blacktail is a machine with a lot of moving parts; it takes a crew to keep it going smoothly. I enjoy being a part of that crew. 

Q: There are lots of activities here for our guests. Which is your favorite? 
My favorite activity is the campfire we make at the end of the day. When everyone gathers around and gets to know each other better. It always seems new friends are made and by the end of the week, no one wants to say goodbye.

Q: What’s the best-kept secret on the ranch? 
That would be where all my favorite fishing spots are, which I’m not gonna say! Other than those, I tend to tell the guests most everything I know about the ranch. 

Q: Wranglers or Levi’s? Why? 
Wranglers any day. They are tough and good-looking. My other go-to would be Cinch because they are breathable and really comfy but you go fencing one time and they are done. 

Q: All cowboys have a favorite horse. Which one do you have a soft spot for and why? 
My favorite horse as of right now would be Champ. We got him a few years ago and he has turned into a really solid horse. He does everything I ask of him. He’s a very gentle, kind horse but has enough spunk in him to keep me excited. 

Hospitality at the Ranch | Staff Highlight: Jodi, kitchen manager and head cook

February 17, 2021 by Caitlyn Allen

Hospitality—true hospitality—is more than having a huge staff scurrying about taking care of things on a property, checking people in and out, cleaning rooms, and preparing food.

When you think about it, authentic hospitality can be felt by guests; there is no faking it.

We are blessed with a staff that loves the Blacktail and our guests as much as I do. Several of them have been with us for many years and I want to share more about each one with you in the coming months. If you’ve been with us before, you’ll recognize their smiling faces. And if you’ve not yet visited with us but are planning on it, we hope you’ll consider these notes a kind of an introduction from each of them. A peek inside the other side of the Blacktail from the people that know it best. Today, we are sharing from Jodi, our kitchen manager and head cook.

Jodi, kitchen manager and head cook:Jodi Elrod, Ranch Kitchen Manager and Head Cook

“The Blacktail Ranch is the perfect place to be employed, I should know; I’ve been there nearly half my life!

For the past 30 years here, I’ve worked in such a beautiful place. I’ve been able to see all the wildlife you would expect: bears, cougars, moose, elk, deer, even a wolverine once when I was driving in early one morning. Tag and Sandra respect this wilderness, and keep the footprint as small as possible.

My favorite place (besides the kitchen) would be down by the creek, on the bridge looking down at the rushing water. It’s relaxing, beautiful, and inspiring all at the same time. Sit down and hang your feet over, wow, maybe have a glass of wine. Can’t beat that!

My other favorite place is the Hideout, a cabin up the creek about five miles, which leads me to my favorite activity here—the Divide Ride! I’ve done ‘the divide’ three times—it’s spectacular. A full day of horseback riding in the most beautiful countryside anywhere, two nights of socializing with guests and staff, eating delicious ranch meals–one never forgets this experience!”

Making Memories – The Fall Round Up at Blacktail Ranch

February 6, 2019 by Caitlyn Allen

Get ready for the time of your life! As the summer will be drawing to a close and the cows want to head home before the snow begins to fall, join us for the fall round up. Plus, this year we have a special surprise… We are offering two weeks of the Fall round up for the 2020 season, the Spring Cattle Drive, from June 7th through June 13th, and the Fall Cattle Drive: August 30th through September 5th.

Help us find those strays and bring them back to the heard as we  “Head UP The Creek” to round up Cattle from the hillsides and creek drainages. Let’s pack a lunch, leave right after breakfast to begin our daily mountain adventure.  Riding with our experience and knowledgeable “real Montana cowboys” will be an experience you will long remember.   

Blacktail Ranch RoundUp Photo 3

Elk will be starting the annual rut and the sound of elk bugle will surely be heard echoing throughout the valley.  Riding goals will be spontaneous and we’ll go where we need that day. The days are sure to still be warm and the nights cool.  Be prepared to dress in layers and be prepared to breathe the fresh, crisp air of Montana. 

Sign up for our six night inclusive package and for no extra fee you may wish to spend the night at our upper camp, what we call the “Hide Out,” where you can wake up even higher in the mountains to bacon frying in the pan and the horses right outside our door.  

Blacktail Ranch Round Up Photo 1Blacktail Ranch Round Up Photo 4Blacktail Ranch Round Up Photo 2








Contact the Blacktail Ranch office to talk about this remarkable and unique opportunity for you, your family, or friends. 

New News from the Ranch

January 30, 2018 by Caitlyn Allen

After many years of wishing to find the perfect reason (or excuse, however you look at it) Sandra finally had Tag to agree on moving the Saw Mill Cabin down to the ranch headquarters.

The Gang at the Cabin | The Blacktail Ranch

Thanks guys! The gang made up of Will, Dan, Doug, Matt, Joe and Ed and of course Will’s puppy Penny, Dan’s dog Oakley, and Joe’s dog Huck.

For those of you who have been to the Blacktail, the Sawmill Cabin is the old cabin that has sat up by the Blacktail Cave and has been there since the late 1920’s.  The original use of this building was as a bunkhouse.  A homesteading family from the late 1890, the Manix family built this cabin to house wagon drivers who were transporting ore from Mike Horse Mine to the smelter in East Helena.  They used the old county road that sits at the head of the South Fork of the Dearborn River.  Actually, this road is at upper end of the Blacktail Ranch.  We think they stayed over night, shared a meal or had a cool drink.

The mine closed and in the early part of the 1900’s the Rittel family acquired the land and the

Moving the Saw Mill Cabin | The Blacktail Ranch

Moving the cabin down the road was pretty interesting!

cabin.  They moved it to where it has sat since, on the creek bank right in front of the Blacktail Cave. The Rittel family moved in a sawmill where they sawed lumber up until the 1940’s it was used again as a bunkhouse.  Some of the artifacts can still be recognized and viewed at the site.

Many hunters and campers would stay in the cabin.  This is when it became know as the Saw Mill Cabin.  Tag staged a number of Muzzle Loading hunts out of the cabin as well as many other hunters and guest who were staying at the Ranch.

Over the years it was used less and less and of course began to deteriorate.  To help to keep it’s legend and stories alive we moved it down to the Ranch Headquarters in the summer of 2017.

Saw Mill Cabin - New Location | The Blacktail Ranch

Final resting place for the Saw Mill Cabin

July 12, 2017 by blacktailranch

In Loving Memery of Tag Rittel

It was said Tag’s smile was as wide as the state of Montana, 

we will miss that smile. 

John F. “Tag” Rittel, passed away suddenly on October 19 at his home on the Blacktail Ranch while enjoying breakfast with his friend Dan Burggraff and his wife Sandra Renner. His heart unexpectedly chose to take Tag, a cowboy, author, storyteller, “bear man” and outfitter on to his next big adventure. Tag was born in Helena, September 15, 1929. He was raised on the family ranch on the South Fork of the Dearborn River. He attended South Fork School just a three mile horseback ride away with his sister, Marybelle. Tag entertained us all with his stories about school. He was the head of the Gremlin Club and with his friends: Gary Murphy, Pete Burggraff and Bruce Williams, he kept life interesting at the old school. One day they pulled stingers off of bees and put the bees in the teacher’s desk while she was outside. They waited patiently for her return. She came back into the classroom and opened her drawer and was swarmed by bees. Chaos ensued. This was just one of their many shenanigans he reveled in telling tales about. It must have been a hard job to keep a teacher out at the Dearborn School.
Tag finished his education at Helena High School in 1947, spending winters in town and summers back working at the ranch. After graduation Tag returned to the ranch to work full time raising cattle with his father and uncles. He took up hunting and trapping and started building muzzle loaders. He was an excellent shot with those black powder rifles and won many trophies over the years. He was a published writer of articles and books. If he had an interest, he would make it happen. Tag had a good life on the ranch, his passion for archaeology was piqued every day with the artifacts he collected at the ranch. One of his favorite stories was finding the cave with his friends. The cave was a constant fascination for him and over the years he would delight on every new discovery that was uncovered within those stony walls. In 1955, Tag met Lyla Karlson. They were married and had four children: John, Jeri, Lori and Eric. Eventually, his parents retired and he took over the ranch. After raising cattle for a few years, Tag turned his interest to his true passion of outfitting. Lyla and the kids all took part in the guest ranch and outfitting business. In the summers, Tag led his children and neighbor kids on many adventurous pack trips and camping trips throughout the area exploring lost trails and mountain tops. In the fall, he would pack up the mules with Mike Bay, John Rittel and Dude Smith and head to hunting camp in the Bob Marshall Wilderness and then later into his Lincoln Scapegoat camp. After Lyla died in 1982, Tag changed to outfitting at the ranch. He met and married his second wife, Sandra Renner. They built the lodge and cabins at the ranch. Tag spent time raising paint horses, entertaining guests with the stories of his adventures and teaching his grandkids to hunt, fish and ride and continued the story telling to them. Tag and Sandra spent many years running the guest ranch and traveling to their home in Ajo, Arizona in the winter. They met numerous new friends and acquaintances. Tag continued his archaeology hobby out searching the desert for artifacts, before returning to the ranch in the spring to raise his beloved paint horses.
Tag is survived by his wife Sandra, his children, John Rittel III, Jeri Rittel, Lori Rittel, and Eric Rittel, his grandchildren, Corey Collins, Troy Ford, Kyle Ford, Jacqueline Malatare, Maggie Rittel, Will Rittel, Trew Rittel and Tag Rittel, and his great grandson Chase Collins, and many nieces & nephews, and his son-in law Mitch Lefebvre and Mitch’s family. He is preceded in death by his first wife Lyla Karlson, his parents Frank and Minnie Rittel and his sister Marybelle Rittel Smith.


We will be celebrating his life at the ranch on Sunday, October 23rd at 2:00 p.m. 
Join us if you can.





Press for The Blacktail Ranch

July 2, 2017 by Caitlyn Allen

champagne and cherries

Photography: Rawah Ranch

We are so excited to be featured on The Dude Ranchers Association’s blog in the article titled, 4 Honeymoon Trends at a Ranch Vacation! Are you thinking about taking a ranch vacation as your honeymoon? Their article shows you what many ranch options are, plus highlights the unique experiences you could have! Check it out here.