Rib Gustafson was born May 1, 1925 to William and Alice Klint Gustafson in Rapelje. He was the seventh of eight children. He started school at the Brennan Ranch in the Crazy Mountains. He and his brothers and sisters travelled to school on horseback or in their family wagon. On cold days they curled up in a buffalo robe in the back of a wagon.
In 1932 the family moved to the Brown Ranch south of Ryegate. His father died of Rocky Mountain spotted fever in 1933. Shortly after that they lost their ranch and moved into Rapelje, where they boarded teachers.
In 1935 the family moved again, this time to Bozeman. While living in Bozeman, Gustafson began one of his lifelong passions, skiing. From 1939-1954 he was a world class skier. While attending Colorado A&M School of Veterinary Medicine Gustafson won numerous ski titles including third in the Giant Slalom, fifth in the Downhill, and ninth Overall at the prestigious National Ski Tournament.
As a young man, he helped the family earn extra income by capturing wild horses that had been turned loose by broke homesteaders. He and his brothers broke these horses to ride, kept some for use on the ranch and sold the extras. Gustafson also worked at several dude ranches where he wrangled horses, played the guitar and sang cowboy songs to entertain the guests.
In 1939 Rib and his brothers traveled to Marfa, Texas, and brought back high quality horses that became the progenitors of Quarter Horses in Montana. They returned with three mares and two studs, the most notable being Sunburst, a stud whom they broke and sold in Oregon for $750. (a big price at that time) and Marfa, a mare who became one of his top rope horses. This preceded any official Quarter Horse registry and the merger of the American Quarter Horse and National Quarter Horse Associations. He went on to raise and train American Quarter Horses for the rest of his life. His horses were used widely on the ranch and had great success in the rodeo arena, on the race track and on numerous other branches throughout Montana.
In the early 1940s before enlisting in the Navy, he worked near Ennis, where they trailed cattle approximately 100 miles from Boulder to Ennis and then on to a shipping point in Idaho.
Gustafson served as a Navy pilot from 1943-1947. After WWII he took advantage of the GI Bill and attended Colorado A&M School of Veterinary Medicine. He graduated in 1951 and moved to Shelby, here he ran the stockyards and began his veterinary practice.
In 1952 he moved to Conrad and built the Conrad Veterinary Hospital. For many years he was the only veterinarian serving a large geographic area that included Conrad, Choteau, Browning, Shelby and Big Sandy. Most years he put at least 100,000 miles on his car. In his early years of practice, caesareans were rare and rancher’s cash was short. Gustafson was known for making “Chinese Doctor” deals. If the cow died, he received nothing. If she lived, he received half the cow. At the end of that first calving season he was the owner of 17-1/2 cows.
He had established his reputation as a veterinarian and had made his entry into the ranching business. Shortly after, cattle prices went up; his reputation as a veterinarian dispelled his clients’ disbelief in c-sections, and most began to pay cash.
Rib married Pat Galt in 1953. They had five children; Sid, Kristen, Erik, Barr and Wylie, whose occupations include veterinary medicine, novelist, attorney, law school professor, cattle rancher, math teacher, professional musician and horse rancher.
Like their father, his children are all hard working Montanans who have embarked on multiple careers. Despite the demands of his veterinary practice, yearling operation and growing family, Gustafson found time to enjoy two of his passions: skiing and rodeo.
He was well-known for training calf roping and bulldogging horses. He won many rodeos, including bulldogging, calf roping and all-around titles at Conrad, Birch Creek, Shelby, Havre, Choteau, Canada and all across the Hi-line from 1952-1975. He was instrumental in establishing the Conrad Whoop-Up Days Rodeo and produced that rodeo for many years.
In addition to owning and operating the Conrad Veterinary Hospital, Gustafson loved the cattle business. In the early years he ran yearlings on leased property. In 1962 he and Pat bought Aldrich Springs near Conrad.
This was the center of their yearling operation. In 1971 Rib and Pat bought the Gustafson +3 Ranch located on the Two Medicine River south of Browning. They increased their cattle operation to include yearlings and pairs. He continued to practice veterinary medicine from both locations. They also ran a herd of registered Quarter Horses carrying the bloodlines of Zantanon, Buck Hancock, Peppy, Oklahoma Star, Joint Bar and King.
In 1977 Rib sold the Conrad Veterinary Hospital to devote more time to the ranch. However, he maintained an active practice all through the years, and at the age of 87 still practices part time, inspecting cattle and issuing health certificates around north-central Montana.
He semi-retired from the ranch in 1998 when he sold it to his son Barr and daughter-in law Colleen. He maintains an active cowboy life and continues to help at the ranch where he enjoys riding, calving and haying.
Gustafson served as President of the Montana Veterinary Association in 1956, President of the Montana Quarter Horse Association in 1962, was a sanctioned AQHA and Cutting Judge for 35 years, served in the Montana Legislature in 1962 and served as Chairman of the Montana Board of Health and Environmental Sciences during the Racicot administration.
Gustafson is well-known as an entertainer who sings, plays the guitar and leaves his audiences laughing with his cowboy stories. He is also the author of five books: Under the Chinook Arch, Room to Roam, From San Antone to Bannock, Seaman-the Dog Who Helped Explore America, and York-the Slave Who Helped Explore America.
Pat passed away in October, 2012. He continues to live at the family home in Conrad. He rides cutting horses with his son Wylie, runs a small herd of cattle with his son Erik, owns a few Quarter Horses and enjoys his view of the Rocky Mountains and tells the I-O, while watching the Whoop-Up rodeo on Saturday “I am really excited about going into the Hall of Fame.”