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56 Counties: Golden Valley County

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courtesy John Lehfeldt, Charlotte Ainslie
John Lehfeldt (left), Charlotte Ainslie

Golden Valley County is one of the smallest counties in Montana, with less than one thousand people. Ryegate and Lavina, the two towns that populate this county, both boast around 200 people, and were hit hard when the local railroad closed down. So they rely almost exclusively on agriculture for survival. My guests this month are John Lehfehldt, a sheep rancher whose family were among the first homesteaders in the area, and Charlotte Ainslie, who built a small business in Lavina with her husband George, who was a nationally renowned blacksmith.

John Lehfeldt’s great-grandfather Rudolph came to Montana in 1885, and was responsible for building the famous Adams Hotel, originally known as the Lehfeldt Hotel. Fast forward to 2020, John continues ranching sheep and cattle in Golden Valley County. He has devoted his entire life to agriculture, recently serving as Chairman on the Montana Board of Livestock. He is in business with his son, Erik, and mentoring his grandson, Thomas, age three.

Charlotte Ainslie grew up in Minnesota, and she and her husband George moved to Lavina in 1985, planning to stay for about a year. Thirty-five years later, Charlotte is still there. George was a gifted blacksmith, who become nationally renowned for his ability to recreate vintage metalwork. George died at the age of 56 as the result of an accident in 2013, and in Charlotte’s words, “George in life had made me a stronger person and in his death he has done the same. I have chosen not to waste a minute of the time I have left of my life.”