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'Alive and well': Billings cattle drive back for first time in nearly 10 years

Cattle Drive in Billings
Posted at 10:35 AM, Oct 16, 2023
and last updated 2023-10-16 12:35:59-04

BILLINGS — Billings experienced some heavy traffic on Saturday, but it wasn’t from vehicles. The NILE held a cattle drive in the East Billings Urban Renewal District with more than 50 head of cattle making their way through town.

It’s not every day you see cowboys and cowgirls wrangling cattle in the streets of Billings.

Cattle Drive in Billings
Cattle Drive in Billings

"Part of our mission is to enhance and preserve the Western way of life," said Leah Clark, the general manager of the NILE Rodeo, on Saturday. "And what’s more Western than a cattle drive?”

The NILE, in partnership with the Billings Industrial Revitalization District and Alpha Overhead Door, brought back the Billings Cattle Drive which last took place in 2014.

Poster for cattle drive
Poster for cattle drive

"We're almost 10 years (later)," Clark said. “In 2014 it was a part of the NILE. We do a lot of things."

Long before that, in 1989, a 60-mile cattle drive from Roundup to Billings. It spanned six days and involved 4,000 cattle.

“That was the big cattle drive where they brought cattle in from outside of the city. That’s an awesome experience if you ever get to see it," Clark said. "I don’t know that we’ll bring that big of a parade, but you know what, we started back and we hope to grow it every year."

Steers from the 1989 cattle drive
Steers from the 1989 cattle drive

No matter the size, Clark said the cattle drive is about a lot more than just having a good time. It's about getting the youth engaged.

"Part of the purpose of the NILE is youth education. So not only do we have youth here, but on Monday and Tuesday we’ll have 1,700 fourth graders and we’ll have 1,800 4-H and FFA members," Clark said. “We would really like to encourage people to come to the rodeo on Sunday. It’s a matinee, it’s a great time to come for the family. But not only to come and watch, but that’s our high school showcase. So the top two high school rodeo competitors in the state get to actually come and compete right with the pro cowboys."

Leah Clark
Leah Clark

Clark said she enjoyed seeing families attend the event.

“I think my favorite part is seeing families realize that they really need to have their children here to learn about livestock. To learn about the cattle industry, that it’s very important, that it’s still alive and well," Clark said. "That the Western way of life is being preserved and that they can be a part of it."

A young cowgirl
A young cowgirl

The Western way of life--something the Mortensen family practices daily. The whole family rode along during Saturday’s event.

"(It's) just a good way of life we’re trying to get our kids involved in," Dan Mortensen told MTN News on Saturday. "We’re fortunate enough to have horses to ride and do that, so we’re just taking advantage of it."

Dan Mortensen and family
Dan Mortensen and family

Mortensen is a six-time world champion saddle bronc rider and a one-time all-around champion. He competed professionally for 17 years in the PRCA. You might recognize the Billings native, who is featured in a bronze statue in front of First Interstate Arena.

“It’s a good Western heritage event, livestock event. So (it) brings a lot of good people from throughout the state. I think this is the first time they’ve done the cattle drive in a while. There’s a lot of good events going on this week with the NILE," Mortensen said. "Beautiful morning and fun times. We get to see a lot of people we know and I’ve known for a long time."

The Taylor family attended to immerse themselves in the culture.

“Carter’s nana told us that it was in town, so we looked it up and decided to come. Carter loves cattle and he loves horses so it’s just right up his alley,” said Brittaney Taylor on Saturday. "Living in Billings is hard. I grew up in Whitehall in a really small town and on a ranch. So we just try to bring that into a little bit of the city, so that he grows up a little bit like how we did."

Brittaney (right) and Carter (left)
Brittaney (right) and Carter (left)

It's a way to blend Western heritage with city life while having a lot of fun along the way.

"Education is critical," Clark said. "I think that this is just a fun way to introduce children to that whole lifestyle."

To learn more about the NILE's upcoming events, click here.

Young steer
Young steer