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McGill’s Restaurant & Saloon pays homage to the canyon’s first pioneers

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The front entrance of McGill’s at 320 Guest Ranch is the original homestead built by Sam Wilson in 1898. PHOTO BY MIRA BRODY

By Mira Brody EBS STAFF

BIG SKY – As Amber Brask rattles off the lengthy history of 320 Guest Ranch in Gallatin Canyon, just south of Big Sky, she recites years, acreage and names without consulting a notepad. That’s because she’s been working here since she was a little girl—the ranch’s history is etched into her upbringing since her father, visiting from Boston, bought it in 1986 after a night out at nearby Buck’s T-4.

The ranch was founded in 1898 by Sam Wilson on 160 acres. Wilson’s father, Clinton, then homesteaded an adjacent 160 acres, both of which were purchased by Dr. Caroline McGill, the first female doctor in the state and founder of Museum of the Rockies, for a combined 320 acres. At that time it was called the Buffalo Horn Resort and shortly after her death, it was purchased by Jim and Gail Walma who operated it as an outfitter, a space for guests to hunt, fish and relax beside Buffalo Horn Creek and the Gallatin River.

After Brask’s father purchased it, he had the cabins built that dot the banks of the creek. Her grandparents, who lived in Arizona, would come up for the summer and her grandfather would re-stain the cabins while her grandmother owned an operated Buffalo Horn Boutique—now the flower shop. Although Brask’s parents separated and she left Montana for a few years, she’d always come visit until returning permanently in 2017 where she manages the ranch and lives with her father and children.

“It’s just been wonderful to be able to live here and work here,” Brask said. “I have two kids, we got some bees and a green house and I love that I can take my kids and integrate them in my working life.”

Today, the ranch operates as a guest house, dining hall and wedding and conference venue. Although they no longer have an outfitter license, they do offer horseback rides. Currently, Brask and her team are gearing up to hire for the summer season and channeling her efforts toward rebranding the restaurant—now called McGill’s Restaraunt & Saloon, in homage to Dr. Caroline McGill.

When you walk into the restaurant, the front part of the building remains from the original homestead that Sam Wilson built. Brask points out the log chinking, noting that someone, during its construction, chose to wedge a few pieces of petrified wood into one corner. In fact, much of the decorum, even in the newer portion of the building, is from Dr. McGill’s time at the ranch, from old mule packs, to elk and bison mounts and saddles. The walls are adorned with one of the largest collections of original paintings by West Yellowstone artist, Gary Carter. They depict familiar scenes of Gallatin Canyon, Yellowstone National Park and the Beartooth Mountains.

Whether you’re dressed up for a night out or coming in from a long hike in the mountains, Brask wants patrons of McGill’s to feel welcome in the fine-dining restaurant saloon. McGill’s menu will also continue the land’s pioneer spirit, serving up hearty local cuts of bison, elk and trout, but elevating it with a nice sauce or microgreen. Brask’s favorite item on the menu is the poutine.

“Caroline McGill, she was doing something no one else was doing and we’re trying to continue that pioneer spirit through our food and the vendors that we select,” Brask said. They are partnering with local producers and farmers for fresh, local cuisine, which she said is important to keeping the legacy of the ranch and its history alive. “It’s about paying homage to the past.”

True to 320 Guest Ranch tradition, they are hosting a pig roast every Tuesday this summer and invite local musicians, vendors and a brewery or distillery to sell their goods for a local farmer’s market.

Part of rebranding the 320 Guest Ranch’s saloon to McGill’s was to provide it with its own identity. You don’t have to be a guest in order to come stop by for some good local food and enjoy the atmosphere. Whether you’re passing through on your way to Yellowstone or Big Sky, or a canyon local, McGill’s has plenty of history to go around.

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