Montana has long been a land sought after by the wealthy. The state's riches catapulted the likes of William Andrews Clark, F. Augustus Heinze and Marcus DalyMontana's infamous Copper Kingsto global prominence. Nowadays, it's individuals like philanthropist and mining magnate Dennis Washington or billionaire media mogul Ted Turner who tend to shape our perception of backyard celebrity. But in a state where two-thirds of the land is under private ownership and the phrase "land rich, cash poor" gets tossed around regularly, property is increasingly becoming a path to notoriety for the nation's elite.
This fall, Bozeman-based real estate brokerage Fay Ranches Inc. released the latest edition of its annual Land Report 100, a run-down of the top private landowners in the country. Turner, of course, maintained his station as No. 2, in large part due to his 113,613-acre Flying D Ranch in southwest Montana. Further down the list, however, several recent Treasure State purchases changed the board.
Stanley Kroenke, the owner of several major sports franchises whose estimated $5.3 billion net worth rivals even Turner's, jumped to eighth thanks to his $132.5 million purchase of the 124,000-acre Broken O Ranch west of Augusta last fall. Kroenke now owns land along a 20-mile stretch of the Sun River, a farm that spans three counties and is considered one of the largest agricultural operations in the Rocky Mountain West.
Forbes postulated shortly after the purchase that Kroenke's interest may have had to do with the farm's dual small crop/cattle operations and the escalating value of farmland in recent years. The indoor pool and access to some of Montana's best hunting and trout fishing probably helped.
The acquisition earlier this year of the Dana Ranch near Great Falls also managed to rocket the oil-rich Killam family further up the rankings. But the Land Report's biggest wildcards this year were Texan brothers Dan and Farris Wilks, founders of the hydraulic fracturing firm Frac Tech, which they sold to a Singapore company two years ago for $3.5 billion. Strangers to Fay Ranches' revered list until 2013, the Wilks brothers debuted at No. 28 with 276,000 acres. The bulk of those holdings lie in eastern Montana. They purchased the N Bar Ranch for $45 million from former Land Report ranker Tom Siebel in 2011.
The allure of the West isn't likely to waver, especially among the nation's elite. As more individuals seek to make their fortunes here, or simply sink those fortunes into vast holdings, we wouldn't be surprised to hear the phrase "land rich, cash richer" making the rounds."