In 1889, Ray and Luella Moon filed their claim on 160 acres and began the homesteader's work of proving up. In those first five years, the Moons built a small claim shack, and a small barn. They built miles of fence, and planted one, then two, then five, then ten, then thirty acres of crops. Like many homesteaders in Montana, they planted an orchard of apple and cherry trees. After five years of hard work, after the Moons had proved up on their 160 acres, they sold their newly-owned land to relatives George and Helen Moon and moved on.
In 1907, the Randolph family purchased the homestead. Unlike the Moons, when the Randolphs moved to the Homestead, they intended to stay and make a living on this small parcel of bunchgrass prairie. Emma Randolph kept a flock of laying hens, at one point selling 55 dozen eggs per week. Bill Randolph grew vegetables, bringing them to town on his Casaba wagon and selling to stores and families in Missoula. The Randolphs kept dairy cows and a herd of cattle for beef. They kept bees and harvested honey. They continued to harvest apples from the trees Ray Moon had planted decades before. Like other families homesteading the North Hills, they prospected and developed a small coal mine on the property, at one point pulling enough coal out of the mine to hire miners. Theirs was a highly diversified, subsistence farmstead. When the Great Depression hit, the Randolphs were able to feed themselves, as well as relatives who stayed with them during those hard years.
The Randolphs farmed the property until Bill and Emma died in the late 1950s. Bill Randolph Jr., their youngest of three sons, continued living at the Homestead, keeping goats, until his death in 1995.
Hill and Homestead Preservation
Before his death, Bill Randolph Jr. placed a conservation easement on the property. In 1996, the City of Missoula purchased the Homestead and adjacent hillsides as open space. The old claim shack, barn, and other outbuildings lay fallow, the apple trees wild and overgrown. A year later, Northside resident Caitlin DeSilvey joined a group gleaning apples from the old trees up at the Homestead. She became curious about the old ranch, so close to town, yet tucked away behind the hills.
DeSilvey received permission from the City of Missoula to access the buildings on the site and began archiving the materials she found, which was no small task in a place where almost nothing--no scrap of paper, no piece of hardware--had been thrown away. She worked with historian Ann Emmons to reconstruct the Homestead's history from found materials and additional research. They told the story in a nomination that declared the Homestead eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places (granted in XXX) and in the book, Butterflies and Railroad Ties: A History of a Montana Homestead.
In 1998, DeSilvey and a group of concerned citizens from the North Missoula Community Development Corporation formed the Hill and Homestead Preservation Coalition to campaign to preserve the historic homestead site and its adjacent hillsides as a place to explore our collective, local natural and human histories.
Missoula's Public Homestead
Caitlin and her sister Sarah DeSilvey were the first of many caretakers who have maintained the orchard and garden and who have raised livestock in the old pastures. Caretakers also host Saturday tours, as well as many volunteer, workshop, and fundraiser events, including the springtime's Prune the Moon and the Fall Gathering.
Today, the Homestead is managed through a cooperative agreement between City of Missoula Parks and Recreation and the North Missoula Community Development Corporation, who work closely with the City of Missoula's Historic Preservation Office. In 2010, the Homestead was listed as a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places with 26 contributing buildings. In 2015, the Missoula City Council approved an updated Strategic Plan for the site.