Montana Made: Cowboy culture alive and well in the Bitterroot

Posted at 5:26 PM, May 08, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-13 14:55:15-04

VICTOR – Montana is known for its “cowboy culture” and a way of life that takes you back in time. It doesn’t hurt if the look matches that feel.

In the Bitterroot Valley there’s a cowboy who’s forging, cutting and engraving functional works of art that are highly prized across the country.

The transformation of the rough pieces of iron takes weeks at the hands of Frank Schultz.

”I start from just plain iron and shape the piece and then I add silver or sometimes gold, sometimes stones,” he said.

Schultz’s talent for bit and spur making started out of interest and some necessity while managing a cattle station in Australia. In 1990, he moved back to the states with his family.

He attended a bit and spur making school in Idaho and settled down in the Bitterroot Valley where he would create what has now become a lasting and well-known legacy of work.

“I sort of specialize in the early California style which was very heavily silvered and there’s a lot of intricate work in it,” Schultz said.

It’s all one-of-a-kind, which gives it that “old school” look.

“If you look at one of my pairs of spurs, it looks like it could have been made in the 1900’s,” Schultz said.

Thankfully, he’s got some modern technology on his side to speed things up a bit.

”In the old days they had to hold an engraver and then hit it with a hammer, whereas I can use this…(that) has got the hammer inside of it so I can use my other hand to turn the work,” Schultz said.

But Schultz likes to take his time allowing his creativity and artistry shine, and that is what keeps customers coming back. His work is highly prized among cowboys and collectors.

”I don’t pump stuff out. I’m kind of slow. So, you know, there’s not a lot of my stuff out there so I guess that’s what makes it so valuable. There’s less of it around,” Schultz said.

Schultz is just being humble. His work is highly prized and has even been featured in a limited edition book.

“I don’t really take orders that much now. I will for people I know well. I mainly do something that I like to make and somebody always buys it so it works out,” Schultz said.

One of his pieces was sold a few years back at a price of $4,000 for the bit. The headstall sold for at least $2,000. But today, it’s probably worth even more.

”Old style spade bit and I did the headstall and everything as well. I hand make all these pieces. The bit hangers are engraved up like a little snake and all the suits and cards on there, I make those,” Schultz said.

“There’s a lot of people that have my stuff that don’t use it,” Schultz said. “They just collect it and keep it. Sort of an investment. But a lot of my stuff gets used and that’s good to see.”

Which happens a lot, since Frank spends a lot of time in the saddle himself with friends who cherish his bits and spurs. Even if he doesn’t always remember each of the countless one’s he’s made.

”You know, I used to but now I’ll see something and go, ‘did I make that’?” Schultz said.

Reporting by Justine Stewart for MTN news