It’s more than a bar to the Augusta community and those who pass through.
The Buckhorn is a restaurant, counseling center; a place to meet for a beer or a business deal.
If Augusta had a “town hall,” it would be the Buckhorn.
The current owners, Frank and Tammy Dellwo will celebrate the sixty years that have passed since Frank’s parents, Gordon and Francis Dellwo, purchased the bar in 1959. Prior to the purchase, the bar had been operated by Rosemary Schrader and her sister, Violet Steinbach, according to an advertisement that ran in a 1955 program for a basketball tournament held in Augusta.
Little is known of the Buckhorn’s history before the Dellwo’s acquired it from Rosemary Schrader. In January 23, 1953, under a column titled “Augusta News,” the correspondent reported: “Mr. and Mrs. M. Rice of Great Falls, former owners of the Buckhorn Bar here, have moved to Augusta again and are now connected with the Henry Cottle Garage and service station.”
Nowadays, the Buckhorn is more restaurant than bar. Tammy Dellwo told the Sun Times she saw a change in the crowd starting in the 1990s as DUI laws got tougher. Early on a Friday evening almost all the dining tables are filled; about three-quarters of the barstools are occupied.
Frank Dellwo said his dad returned with his mom to Augusta after his dad left Monarch Lumber Co. in Conrad.
In January 1974 disaster struck when the Buckhorn and a single-wide mobile home that was put next to the building to serve as a café were destroyed in a fire.
The community came together to help the bar rebuild. In March 1974, a community auction and trapshoot were held at the “Augusta Rodeo grounds in an effort to raise funds for the owners of the Buckhorn Bar and Café,” read an article in the Great Falls Tribune.
Of course, in true Augusta fashion, the benefit became a story in its own right when a streaker “strolled onto the crowded dance floor at the Lazy B Bar in Augusta Sunday night, he was waltzed away, dressed and sent home,” the Great Falls Tribune reported.
The two-paragraph story continued, “The benefit dance for the Buckhorn Bar which fire destroyed in January, also benefitted the streaker. He left wearing britches borrowed from the bar owner.”
In early July 1944, the Buckhorn was the site of a deadly shooting. According to newspaper reports at the time, Augusta ranch-hand Bradley Reynolds was shot and killed on a Thursday night at midnight by Lou Randall, who operated the Buckhorn.
The Tribune reported in the July 8 edition that “The shooting occurred in the presence of Deputy Sheriff Walker Woods and nine other persons besides Randall, who surrendered to officers.”
Randall, according to the Tribune, claimed the shooting was in self-defense. Randall said the ranch-hand threatened him and refused to leave the Buckhorn when asked.
Reynolds reached into his pocket for what Randall assumed would be a gun. It was a fist-sized rock. Randall fired two shots, “one ripping through Reynolds’ right arm, the other hitting him flush near the left shoulder blade.”
A coroner’s jury exonerated the bartender.
In the sixties, Augusta and the Buckhorn saw business boom as construction crews came to town during the construction of area Air Force missile launch sites. An old black and white photo in the Buckhorn photo album shows John Boadle walking away from the Buckhorn.
In the background a sign reading “HARD HAT AREA” can be seen on the Buckhorn exterior wall.
Tammy Dellwo said that the missile site crews, in the days before cell phones, would communicate by radio. “Meet me at the hard hat area” was code for “meet me at the Buckhorn for a beer” that was used in case a supervisor was listening in.
Frank Dellwo, after graduating high school, attended The University of the Ozarks, on a baseball scholarship. He ended his college years at Western Montana University in Dillon and began teaching school in Browning.
By the early 1980s, the oil exploration boom made for big times in the Rocky Mountain Front town. Seismic crews were shooting lines to read the rock structures deep below ground while roughnecks spun the drillbits in search of oil.
While the oil may not have flowed, the money and long hours did. At the request of his parents, Frank returned to Augusta to help with the bar.
Tammy graduated from Augusta High School in 1980, and in 1983 she and Frank were married.
The Dellwo family tradition will continue. Frank and Tammy have no immediate plans to retire. Tammy said she still “loves” running the bar, and they may ease out in “about five years.” Their son, Beau and daughter Shayna work there now, with Beau talking on some of the management responsibilities.
According to Tammy, one of the challenges of running a bar in an area with rough winters is the slow months – in the dead of winter – February and March. This year, they have also been hit with a second round of flooding and the draining of Willow Creek. But, adds Tammy, there have been a lot of people passing through on the way to fish, or just check out, Willow Creek.
On a Friday afternoon about half a dozen bikers on Harleys pulled into the Buckhorn parking lot. They were coming from Conrad, Montana and from Canada, heading to Butte for their “first big ride of the year.” They planned to spend the weekend fishing, but before the ride to Butte they stopped at the Buckhorn for dunner..
“We get a lot of people coming here from Great Falls, Fairfield and Choteau.”
The Buckhorn has a staff of about seven. Some are seasonal. Ginger Balek just retried after 37 years of serving customers at the Buckhorn. “Ginger will be here for our anniversary party,” Tammy told the Sun Times.
While the Buckhorn, like Augusta, in known far and wide, Frank and Tammy know that it’s the locals – the friends and customers in Augusta – that have kept the doors open for sixty years. “Thank you for all your support… we wouldn’t be here without our local customers,” said Tammy.
Want to see more "old" Buckhorn photos? Take a look at the Buckhorn's photo album at https://www.fairfieldsuntimesphotos.com/Unlisted-and-Private-Galleries/n-VhbMkT/Buckhorn-Old-Photos/