Build Me a Wyoming Rancher

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For some reason, small town newspaper publisher-types get called upon often to speak at funerals. I have done it many times.

Usually, these folks are capable speakers and often they can put into words those expressions of sorrow and loss that help family and friends cope with the departure of a person who was important to the community.

The best I ever knew at this was the late Bob Peck, long-time publisher of the Riverton Ranger. He was extraordinary when called upon to do this job.

So who did the job when Peck, himself, died?  His two sons, both newspapermen, Steve and Chris, were eloquent in expressing themselves both as good sons and also as newspapermen with strong senses of what community means.

The punch line, though, at Bob’s funeral was a eulogy by Gerry Spence, the famed Wyoming lawyer from Jackson. He was spellbinding.

But I digress.

Another publisher who does an excellent job at this is Jim Hicks up in Buffalo.  He sent me some notes of a eulogy he did recently for a rancher friend named Duane Foss:

“Duane and I were -- what you might call “partners in crime” on a number of adventures in years gone past. I’d guess nearly everyone here played cribbage with Duane at one time or another and it was always for money.

“Kyle Herman told me this week she played with Duane about three times a week. She played with Darrel Mauck and he’s gone. She played with Warne Stevenson and he’s gone.

Kyle, you and I are not going to play cribbage!

“I thought of several ways to describe Duane. One word kept coming to mind: Cowman. In my mind, only two ranchers I’ve known really deserve that title.  One was Duane and the other was Johnnie Nelson. Neither one was ever boastful but always willing to give expert advice if it was sought.

“When Johnnie died his family played a recording of a short essay tiled “So God Made a Farmer.” It was written by Paul Harvey. Duane’s family asked if it could be read today.

“With apologies to Paul Harvey, I took the liberty of re-writing it: So God Made a Rancher.  God said, ‘I need somebody who is willing to get up every two hours for three months each spring to check calving heifers, do chores all day and then not miss the Parent-Teacher conference that night after supper. So God made a rancher.

"I need somebody strong enough to toss 80-pound hay bales for hours, yet gentle enough to wipe a tear from his grandson’s cheek when his pet cat dies. Somebody to face a blizzard and understand why the pickup won’t start, miss lunch and be thankful for a late, cold supper. God said, I need somebody who can watch a four-day spring blizzard take half the calves then have the optimism and spirit say ‘we’ll find a way to keep going.’       

“I need somebody who knows his horse will respond best to a gentle word and hand. Who can make a halter out of bailer twine, repair a leaky toilet, re-roof the machinery shed, find the wiring problem in the tack room and fix fence until he runs out of daylight. So God made a rancher.

“God had to have somebody willing drive a swather until noon and then run a bailer until 10 p.m. because rain was forecast, yet be willing to let his own crops go if his neighbor is sick and has 100 acres of alfalfa on the ground. So God made a rancher.

“God said, I need somebody strong enough to change a tractor tire, yet gentle enough to help a lamb get its first drink of milk or lose a full day’s work to comfort and care for his cow-dog and constant companion after it was kicked by a bull.  

"With a list of work that grows faster than can be accomplished, I need a man who has wisdom to keep his children understanding what is important in life. A man with smiling eyes set in a face weathered by Wyoming winds. I need a man who knows his wife is the most dependable help he’ll ever have and somebody who’s thrilled to hear a son say ‘I want to be a rancher too.’ So God made a rancher.

Hicks continued: “In addition to his love of ranching, Duane also had great respect for the land. It was at the core of his character. Long before the word environmentalist became popular, anyone around him understood how much he valued clear air, blue skies, good water, healthy grass and the landscape that makes Wyoming special. From his earliest years Duane lived by two good rules. Treat the land with respect. Take good care of your livestock.

“More than 40 years ago when energy companies were buying up water and land in this area with plans to build gasification plants.  Duane called and asked if I would like to go fishing at Willow Park, along with my son, Robb, who was nine years old at the time

“Halfway up the face of the mountain his stopped the old jeep pickup, surveyed the expanse over Lake DeSmet and to the far horizon of the Powder River Basin. 

“He looked at me for a moment the turned to Robb and said: ‘Your dad thinks it would be good to build some power plants down there, but if it ever happens all you see from here is smoke.’

In true Foss fashion, the point was well made.

“So let’s just remove our hats, close our eyes, bow our heads for a moment while we think of those good times with Duane.”

 Check out Bill Sniffin’s columns at www.billsniffin.com.  He is a longtime Wyoming journalist from Lander who has written six books. His newest is “Wyoming at 125,” which is now on sale at fine bookstores. His books are available at www.wyomingwonders.com.