By Robert Lucke
Consider this. When Lillian Westin was a girl, she could ride all the way from the Missouri River south of Chinook to the Canadian border and never leave her father and uncle's ranch.
That is because her father was Chris Miller and her uncle was Henry Miller. Together they made up the famous Miller Brothers ranch.
They started out as sheep raisers but by the time Lillian was older, wool prices had forced them to go into beef instead, although her father was a sheep man through and through.
"I don't know how many bands of sheep we had," Lillian said. "But there were 2,000 in each band and when we gradually sold them out, my dad was still a sheep man. His woollies were important to him."
Lillian Westin was born at her grandmother's house in Chinook in 1907. She doesn't remember that but she does remember later when her twin sisters were born. When they were riding back to the ranch in a cart, her father was driving, she was next to him and her mother was in the back with the twins in a clothes basket.
Westin's mother was Carolyn Kuhr, daughter of another famous sheep family in the south country.
"The Kuhrs and we had adjoining ranches and we kids were together all the time," Westin said. "We walked back and forth all the time. We lived on Peoples Creek when it really flowed. We went swimming in it all summer long. And during the winters we shared teachers and were taught at home. Some days at Kuhrs and some days at our house until we got a teacher that my mother could not stand. Then we went to school in Cleveland until I graduated from the eighth grade."
After that Lillian Westin boarded in Chinook until she ran out of houses that would board her and her sisters. Then it was to the Ursuline Academy in Great Falls where she graduated from high school.
"I loved the Ursuline Academy," said Westin. "I took painting there and did a lot of painting after that."
Westin went to college for two years at Carlton in Minnesota and then finished her last two years at the University of Washington. It was there that she met her husband to be, Ted Westin. They were married on July 9, 1932, and moved to Seattle where he had a job.
Soon a letter came from Chris Miller.
"Since my dad did not have any boys, he asked Ted if he would care to come back to Montana and help run the ranch," she said. "We did. I was glad to come back to Montana."
The Miller brothers needed a bookkeeper and Ted was good at that so he fit right into the operation. They had one child, Linda, and moved into Chinook. While there, Ted got interested in feeds so he bought the Chinook Elevator Co.
"One nice thing about Dad and Ted was that they shared the same likes and dislikes so they got along well. Dad was always very fond of Ted."
Chris Miller suggested that Ted and Lillian take some time to tour Europe. They did and enjoyed it so much that the Millers had to go as well.
Lillian became very interested in gardening and travel. She took her grandchildren to any place that each of them wanted to see, and she and her sister took the Queen Elizabeth on a tour around the world.
"I have really seen most of the countries in the world," Lillian said. "I have done what I wanted to do."
Finally in the 1950s the ranch was sold to Wellington Rankin of Helena, who had the reputation of using Montana prison inmates for workers.
"I know when the ranch was sold, Mother and Dad were away on a trip and I went out there every day to clean out the house. When I got there I just locked myself in the house and did my work," she recalled.
Selling the ranch did not make Lillian Westin nearly as upset as someone tearing down the large old ranch house that was home to the Millers for so many years.
"I don't know why they did that," she said. "I heard that it was too big to heat or something like that."
Think of all the years she spent right in the cradle of history being made on that famous ranch. Without batting an eye, Westin summed up the best and the worst she has seen in her years in this part of Montana.
"The worst is that our laws are not right. Too many people do not do anything. I don't think our country is being run properly. There are just too many ways to get around laws. Too many loopholes," Westin said. "Otherwise it is a good country. I would stand up for it."
"And the best thing is so easy to remember," she added. "Electricity. It changed our lives. We could get so much more done. It was just great for the whole country. And you know when I look back, I wouldn't mind at all if I had to do it all over again."