Van Cleve Family History

A ranch family with a deep and complex story

As one of the earliest non-Native settlers in Montana, the Van Cleve family history reflects the development of the West.

Paul II ("Scrumper") Van Cleve

Barbara’s Grandfather

His spur rowels sang as he rode. Scrumper had no fear for himself, only for his family; He was a first-rate horseman, a sharp cowman, a hard worker, and an astute businessman.

By 1960 he built a large ranch in Sweet Grass County.

Paul III (“Spike”) Van Cleve

Barbara’s Father

Spike was a native son and a 4th generation rancher born under the Crazy Mountains. Later in life, he went to Harvard, returning early to Montana to court his future wife, Barbara Knudsen. You could find him ranching with teams of horses, doing everything from cutting hay or working and feeding cattle.

Spike had a way with words, and his reputation was that of a writer of the West.

Paul IV (“Tack”), Carol and Shelly

Barbara’s Siblings

The siblings grew up ranching on the Lazy K Bar Ranch. Later they all went their separate ways attending college across the country; After college, each returned home to the ranch. Eventually, Tack, Shelly, and her husband bought the Otter Creek Ranch from Spike and later the Sweet Grass Ranch from Scrumper. 

Through Barbara’s lens and archival footage, you will come to know each of her siblings.

Barbara Van Cleve

Barbara is fond of saying, “the West is a way of life, not a place.” Barbara comes from a long line of Westerners — her paternal great great grandmother was the first white woman born west of the Mississippi. After begging for a camera, her parents bought her a Brownie Junior Camera for her 11th birthday. Since then, she’s never stopped capturing Western life and is known as an internationally-recognized photographer.

“Growing up on the ranch, I loved the life, the horses, all the ranch activities, and everything that went along with ranch life, not excluding the hard work, the long hours, and the bad weather.” She had a passion for seeing early on. She remembers her dad saying to her, “‘You can be anything you want, sis, you just have to work.’ And work I did! Now I’m back, close to where I started. A little bit older and a lot wiser.”