Retired Bynum rancher and cattle hauler Victor Charles Perkins, 79, died on June 27, 2020, at Benefis Teton Medical Center in Choteau of internal bleeding and other injuries sustained when a small farm tractor rolled over him on his beloved Boneyard Coulee Ranch earlier in the day.
The family is holding an in-vehicle memorial service on July 3 at 10 a.m. on the ranch west of Bynum. For directions and special COVID-19 instructions, call Melody Martinsen at 590-1644.
He was born in Great Falls on Dec. 1, 1940, to Ira and Evelyn (Campbell) Perkins, their second son. He grew up on the Ira Perkins and Sons Ranch Inc. at Bynum, where he attended Bynum Elementary School and then graduated from Choteau High School with the Class of 1959.
After high school, he attended one year at the University of Montana in Missoula. Then in 1961 he enlisted in the U.S. Army, serving until 1963. As a member of the 101st Airborne Division, he was a paratrooper, platoon armorer and radio man. He loved to tell stories about his years in the service. He remembered having all his gear packed and waiting in the barracks for the word that the Army was being deployed to Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.
He was among the soldiers President Kennedy deployed to Mississippi in 1962 to keep peace while James Meredith became the first Black student to enroll at the University of Mississippi. He came back from the army with a great sense of the social injustice Blacks endured in the southern states. He remembered white southerners spitting at the soldiers and Black southerners bringing the soldiers cold lemonade.
In 1963, he met Brady native Phyllis Marie Thompson, when he accompanied one of his friends on a date with Thompson’s roommate. She remembers that he sat on the corner of his kitchen table and broke it and then fixed it. She fell in love with him right there. They were married on July 31, 1964, in the chapel at the old Great Falls Deaconess Hospital, where they moved the ceremony after his mother came down with pneumonia and was hospitalized.
He had returned to the family ranch at Bynum after his hitch in the service, and as a young married man, he also worked in the oilfields. On the ranch, he and his older brother, Earl, ran a successful commercial cattle-hauling service. In all his years of hauling, he never had a wreck. He loved to tell stories about hauling to the Blackfeet Reservation in high winds and driving side by side with Earl so both of their trailers stayed on the ground.
On the ranch, Vic worked tirelessly to build a herd of commercial Angus cows, bringing in Angus and Simmental bulls, and building an 800-head herd of cows with sound maternal traits. He also worked hard to build a flock of 1,200 highly productive Columbia ewes with Suffolk bucks. He and Phyllis and their daughters raised hundreds of bum lambs through the years and used the proceeds to send the girls to college.
He and his wife and girls spent many happy hours working in the hay field, the calving pasture and the lambing barn. He also loved the time he spent in the mountains, tending sheep camp and herding sheep on horseback on the ranch’s summertime federal lease.
In about 1997, the Perkins family split the home ranch, and Vic and Phyllis moved from East Bynum to West Bynum, settling in a new home just below the foothills, where they could see the beautiful Rocky Mountains from their kitchen table. They named their new place the Boneyard Coulee Ranch, and they brought dad’s favorite cows and a few bulls, and started over again.
Vic loved the sandstone buttes in Boneyard Coulee, he loved the ravens that lived in the two pine trees above the ranch, he loved his herd of cats, his fat, happy magpies, and even treasured the occasional grizzly bear that wandered through. He did not care much for gophers or badgers.
Vic served as the Bynum outlying elementary district representative on the Choteau School board from April 1984 to April 1990.
When he wasn’t working, Vic enjoyed collecting historic rifles. He wasn’t a hunter, but he enjoyed reloading his own bullets and doing target shooting. He took flying lessons in the late 1970s and had fun flying his 1946 J3 Piper Cub, landing on the alfalfa panels just north of the house on the home ranch.
He started playing the trumpet in grade school at Bynum and played all through high school, becoming a very proficient musician. After high school, he put down his horn until 1992, when he started playing with the Choteau Community Band during the summer each year. About two years ago, he switched from trumpet to alto saxophone. He played the sax in the Choteau Community Band and the Great Falls Community Band. He loved buying new reeds, mouthpieces and practicing every day. He leaves behind a collection of trumpets and saxophones and several guitars that he loved to strum.
Vic was an amazing mechanic and a not-half-bad electrician. He never found a manual that he couldn’t read, and he spent the last week of his life happily working with his grandson to rebuild several old three-wheelers and four-wheelers.
Vic struggled with social anxiety and depression his whole life, but out in public he was a bright, larger-than-life guy, who always replied to the question, “How are you?” by saying “Fantastic!” He was a dedicated and lifelong Republican, who enjoyed a rousing political debate. His favorite foods were tacos, popcorn, ice cream, and gummi bears and worms.
He had many good cow dogs through his life, including Pinky, Diogenes, Boone, Tootsie and Snuggers, his boon companion in the cattle truck. His last dog, Sarah, was a treasured pet, who misses him dearly.
Last January, he was dragged to an obituary writing class that his daughter Melody taught at the high school. In filling out his own obituary, he wrote, “My accomplishments in life are the rewards of raising three great daughters and having a wonderful partner who actually raised the daughters.”
He wrote, “Vic didn’t have many community service credits to his name. His daughters Melody and Natalie did those things for him. Daughter Lori kept up his love for livestock. What more could a man ask?”
Though he was blessed with daughters, he found he could love grandsons too as he was an integral part of the lives of his three grandsons, who enjoyed working cows with him, shooting his guns and mechanicking all manner of vehicles.
He is survived by his wife, Phyllis, of the family ranch; his daughters, Melody (Jeff) Martinsen of Choteau, Lori (Brent) Salmond of Forsyth and Natalie (Matt) Stern of Missoula; his grandsons, Elliot (Ashley) Salmond and Emmet Salmond of Forsyth and Madison Martinsen of Choteau; and his great-granddaughter, Elayna Salmond of Forsyth; his brothers, Earl (Dorothy) Perkins of Pendroy and Stanley (Gloria) Perkins of Great Falls; and many nieces and nephews, including Vicki (Marvin) Baker of Bynum.
He was preceded in death by his sister, Suzanne Miller.
Cremation has taken place under the direction of the Gorder Jensen Funeral Home in Choteau. Memorials are suggested to the Choteau Community Band, P.O. Box 320, Choteau, MT 59422; the Choteau American Legion, P.O. Box 151, Choteau, MT 59422; or the Bright Eyes Animal Shelter, 175 State Highway 221, Choteau, MT 59422.
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