MONTANA COWBOY HALL OF FAME Living INDUCTION
DISTRICT 4 - YEAR 2024
Leon LaSalle was born in Havre, Montana to Robert and Jenny (Billy) LaSalle on February 10, 1965. He was raised in the Bears Paw Mountains with his five siblings on the family’s ranch, working alongside his parents who started their own operation in 1969, following both of their parents, also ranchers. Leon’s mother’s family was among the first cattle ranching operations on the Rocky Boy Reservation.
For family and community comradery, the family took part in the Little Bitches Rodeo events. Leon is a third generation of the LaSalle’s to raise livestock, being involved in ranching since he was old enough to ride and drive.
Graduating from Havre High School, where he played football, he continued his education at Montana State University in Bozeman and Northern Montana College, in Havre, until he had to return to the workforce. He was employed for a couple years with Baltrusch Construction while helping manage the family’s cattle corporation, LaSalle Ranch, which included a yearling operation. Leon then began what turned out to be a 33-year career working for the USDA Soil Conservation Service while continuing to manage his own cattle operation. It was during this time that his passion for helping farmers and ranchers developed. He assisted producers in Chouteau, Blaine, and Hill County put in hundreds of livestock watering systems. Many of these systems were done in some very severe drought years. Leon retired from the USDA in April of 2021. Shortly thereafter, Leon started his business, Native American Ag Consulting (NAAC). This allowed Leon to continue working with ranchers in North Central Montana to help them stay on the land.
Leon married Shannon Brough on December 2,1995. Together they began a lifetime endeavor of renovating an old farmstead, they purchased in the Laredo area and raised livestock. Shannon has been his rock of support often having to endure hours of listening to Leon’s take on the current issue he was working on.
Leon has served as past chairman of the Montana Stockgrowers Association Outreach Committee, sixteen-years president of the Rocky Boys Cattlemen’s Association; past president of the North Central Montana Stockgrowers; Tribal Delegate Intertribal AG Council, for the Rocky Mountain Region; on the board of the North Central Montana Stock Growers Association; member of the Beaver Creek Grazing Committee, and as NAAC consultant worked on USDA related issues in connection with the Chippewa Cree, Fort Belknap, and Little Shell people.
In 2011, while serving on the Board of Directors for the Montana Stockgrowers Association, Senator Max Baucus asked Leon to give a presentation to the Senate Ag Committee, in Washington D.C., regarding the disaster program concerning ranchers with emergency livestock provision needs. He was surprised to learn that after flying 2,500 miles, they would give him five minutes only to speak in front of the Senate. If he spoke longer, a buzzer would sound, meaning his time was up and he needed to leave the podium. This was very concerning to Leon; he had timed his presentation and could not say what he wanted to say in five minutes. He relayed his concerns to the Chairman, and she stated, “No worries. I am in control of the buzzer so take your time and deliver your message.” During this session, he presented the Chairman of the Senate Ag Committee, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, with a copy of “Big Sky Boots, Working Seasons of a Montana Cowboy,” written by Lauren Chase for the Montana Stockgrowers Association. In 2013, the LaSalle Family earned the Environmental Stewardship Award from the Montana Stockgrowers Association. Leon has also been recognized by the Hill County Conservation District as Cooperator of the Year and the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce as the 2015 Outstanding Agricultural leader.
Driven to help maintain and promote agriculture and the livestock business, Leon has fought for permanent disaster aid for ranchers, a safety net to help those struggling to survive a drought; assisted in the cleanup of the Milk River; supported new safety policy on open range on much of the Rocky Boy Indian Reservation; made efforts to improve water quality and protect sensitive grazing areas along the creek in Beaver Creek County Park; and opposed an increase in lease costs on state lands for ranchers. In 2022, Leon led negotiations for the Chippewa Cree Tribe to enter into an Alternative Funding Arrangement (AFA) with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and also assisted Fort Belknap with their own AFA. These two agreements are the first two such agreements in the United States.
One life experience that Leon does not want to relive is an elk hunting trip on horseback into the Big Belt Mountains. The trip was supposed to be taken for relaxation; however, a 34,000-acre wildfire broke out, trapping the men. The first thought was to saddle the horses and ride out ahead of the fire, although when preparing to leave, the fire could be heard closing in. Instead, they grabbed the horses, hurried to the creek and jumped in, believing they could survive in the water. As the fire grew, hunters from other hunting camps merged with their camp. The tall grass was burning as if gasoline soaked, the wind felt like it was blowing 40-50 mph and sounded like a tornado. They could hear propane bottles, gas tanks and ammunition exploding. Each man threw water on themselves and the horses. The horses seemed to understand the situation and were cooperative. Breathing was difficult; the smoke had the men gasping for breath as the fire that swept over them had sucked the oxygen from the air, something they had not thought about. The awful feeling of suffocating began to sink in. After a few hours, the worst of the fire had moved over their area, and they managed to pull themselves out of the creek. Leon was elated to find everyone alive. Shortly before midnight, the Lewis and Clark Sheriff’s Office arrived at the camp to evacuate the hunters. However, Leon’s group remained, watching the fire, to make sure that the hunters who left earlier on horseback were not forced to return. At daylight, Leon gathered up the remaining horses and rode out ten miles to the fire staging area.
Leon is helping preserve and invest in our Western heritage future for all walks of life. He shares the MCHF vision to promote and preserve the Western heritage of Montana for the enrichment of the public and strives to improve the economic opportunity for rural America.
- Independent-Record (Helena, MT) 11/15/1990, page 8
- The Billings Gazette (Billings, MT) 11/16/1990, page 1A & 9A
- Great Falls Tribune (Great Falls, MT) 4/11/2005, page 5
- Great Falls Tribune (Great Falls, MT) 8/11/2011, page 1, 5, & 6
- Great Falls Tribune (Great Falls, MT) 9/14/2011, page 4
- The Billings Gazette (Billings, MT) 1/1/2012, page 36
- Great Falls Tribune (Great Falls, MT) 2/15/2013, 1M & 3M
- Interview with Leon LaSalle