MONTANA COWBOY HALL OF FAME & WESTERN HERITAGE INDUCTEE 2019
Walter E. "Wally" Congdon
Walter E. “Wally” Congdon was born in Racine, Wisconsin on July 5, 1957 to James and Opal (Range) Congdon. The family moved to Missoula in 1961 where he graduated from Hellgate High School in 1975. In 1980, he graduated from the University of Montana, and from there attended the University of Montana Law School, graduating in 1983.
From 1984-1985, Wally was awarded a full ride Rotary Scholarship to attend Massey University, the largest Agriculture College in the Southern Hemisphere, in Palmerston North, New Zealand. He received a graduate diploma with a degree in Rural Towns and Regional Land Use Planning. While in New Zealand, he traveled around the country speaking to Rotary Clubs and organizations about agriculture and land use planning in the United States.
Wally is a charter and ten-year member of the Ridge Runners 4-H club. He has served with various clubs for the past 40 years including 4-H as a leader and mentor. Each year 4-H youth raise several of his bum Highland calves. He is also actively involved with FFA, teaching about meat, cuts, quality assurance and structure to yield in Montana and Wyoming and often in Canada regarding the same. He is actively involved with Winter Fair/Winter Fest in Bozeman by supervising the agriculture barn and visiting with thousands a day. He tells people Elvis isn’t dead, he’s in the building. He just doesn’t tell them that Elvis is his prized Highland bull.
Wally’s passionate love of ranching and farming started in 1970 when he went to work for Grange Alves and Bernard McLeod in Arlee. In 1974, he signed on with Carl Rostad of White Sulfur Springs. In 1995, Wally, along with his two children, Ona and Sam, and his late wife Ann moved to the newly purchased Garr Canyon Ranch in Dell, Montana. Big Sky Natural Beef was established in 1998. The family is actively ranching today, raising free-range Scottish Highland cattle.
You would never know the guy delivering your beef in jeans and tennis shoes is a well-known Montana lawyer. He assuredly can tell you all about the cattle and where your beef comes from. He sells 150 plus head a year – cut and wrapped to hospitals, food stores, restaurants and private individuals. The hospitals are especially interested in his beef because of the all-natural way the animals are raised and processed. Thus, enabling individuals with celiac or Crohn’s Disease to consume meat.
Always one to give the most of himself in any endeavor he pursues, Wally served as a board member of the American Highland Cattle Association for 10 years and only stepped down due to term limits. He is a member of the Highland Cattle Foundation and currently Vice President of the Montana Cattleman’s Association. He is also a member of the Agriculture Committee for the Missoula Chamber of Commerce.
In 2007 Wally combined his love of music, ranching and history in a story The Drover Road. “It is important to understand who we are, where we come from and what our story is” remarks Wally. The story is not just limited to Texas drovers, but includes trade in oxen, milking animals and the shipping of cattle from east to west by rail. It’s also of the minority cowboys, cowboy jargon and the affect it has had on our language.” He and “The Best of Bannock”, have presented The Drover Road across Montana and Wyoming. They’ve sang at the Bannock State Park in Dillon, historic societies, and colleges across the west. It was a highlight of the anniversary of our National Parks.
Wally, a practicing lawyer and currently the Deputy County Attorney for Civil Matters for Lake County was fresh out of law school when he went to work at his father’s law practice in Missoula. His legal career includes, city attorney for Lima, County Attorney for Beaverhead County as well as a Deputy County Attorney for Beaverhead County, Special Deputy County Attorney from Lincoln to Prairie County and numerous places in-between. Across the state, he’s known as the guy to call, about any help with federal agencies regarding preserving grazing, timber, agricultural opportunities as well as water quality and availability.
Utilizing his legal expertise, Wally authored all the state and federal law for certified natural and certified grass-fed beef that is in existence today. He also created the template that is used for every right to farm ordinance in Montana. Preservation of Montana’s “dirt roots” is a personal priority to him.
A strong advocate and supporter of Montana Conservation Districts, he served on the Missoula Conservation District for ten years. He was also selected as Supervisor of the Year for Montana Conservations Districts in 1993. He continues to assist and support them whenever and however he can.
While Wally is comfortable in a court room, he prefers a classroom. His love of speaking and imparting knowledge has been the impetus behind his continued teaching at the undergraduate and graduate level. His passion for “Ag” law came out when he taught Agricultural Law as well as Land Use Law and Regulation at the University of Montana School of Law. He teaches Natural Resources-Environmental Law at University of Montana Western in Dillon as well. One of his many writings include “Beef without Guilt,” all about raising beef rather than pounds.
Throughout his life as a lawyer, teacher and rancher, he has been an agricultural advocate. Faithful to our western culture, he stands for land stewardship to ensure our Montana history and resources are preserved for generations to come. Wally still drives horse and ox teams - a significant asset in his effort to get the public to support the field of agriculture.