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COLUMBUS, Mont. (AP) - Actor Mel Gibson has sold his 45,000-acre Beartooth Ranch south of here in the Stillwater River Valley in a multimillion-dollar handshake deal with a neighbor, the buyers and ranch manager said.

Kent and Pam Williams signed the deed for the cattle operation this past week, purchasing 20,000 deeded acres and 25,000 leased acres, including all surface and subsurface rights, the buyers said.

"Pam and I were worried that if it got in the wrong hands, the valley would be subdivided and split up," Kent Williams told The Billings Gazette. "We would like to maintain the valley and, if anything, improve it."

The ranch extends along several miles on both sides of Montana 78 south of here and includes high grasslands, forested foothills, irrigated river bottoms, sporadic rimrocks and the ranch headquarters.

The actor/director bought the ranch in 1988. The Williams owned the neighboring 2,000-acre ranch to the north.

"We shared an awful lot of fence," Williams said. "He's been a real good neighbor."

Williams formerly owned Montana Silversmiths, now located in Columbus.

In early January, after a trip to California to visit Gibson, they made a verbal deal to purchase the ranch. "Everything was on a handshake," Williams said.

He said manager John Carrel and the staff of 16 employees will stay on and continue to raise Angus and Gelbvieh cattle. This year's Beartooth Bull Sale, set for March 14, will be held as usual.

Carrel, who managed the ranch the past 13 years and served as vice president of Gibson's Beartooth International, said Gibson declined comment.

Williams said the agreement with Gibson prevents either from divulging the purchase price.

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