Donated saddle keeps blessing as it finds its second new home
March 17, 2017
For people who make their living tending cattle from the back of a horse, a saddle is one of their most important tools. Handmade saddles can take a lifetime to acquire – and one wildfire to lose.
Mary Kaltenbach and her husband spent a lifetime building a cow herd. When three wildfires started burning in Kansas on March 6, no one could predict the devastation that would be left behind a week later.
The fires, called Starbuck, 283 and Selman, burned over 833,941 acres in Kansas and Oklahoma, according to George Geissler, Director of the Oklahoma Forestry Services. Seventy-five percent of Clark County, Kan., 461,000 acres, burned – more acres than any single fire on record.
Drummond Ranch cowboy Chris Potter from Maple City, Kan. and three friends, Lance Alcorn, Russell Powell and Connor Grokett, went to Ashland, Kan., when the fires were still smoldering, to lend a hand.
Along with many donated supplies, the cowboys were hauling two saddles, hoping to find a couple of people who had lost theirs in the fire.
Both saddles were handmade and new. One was a trophy saddle Potter won ranch rodeoing and the other had already had a productive life, though it had never been on a horse.
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Amy Potter, Chris's wife, said Justin and Brooke Cargill donated that handmade saddle for Junior Ranch Rodeo Association members to raffle.
"Our neighbor, Dave Harris, has given me $100 or $200 every year and told me to put it in the raffle – but he didn't want any tickets," Amy said. "His tack is 50 years old, so this year I wrote him some tickets." The JRRA raised $5,000 raffling the saddle.
Fate had a plan for that saddle. Harris won it in the drawing. When Harris learned of the trip to Ashland, he brought the saddle to Chris, along with $400, asking him to find someone who needed it more than he did.
When the cowboys arrived at Ashland, their first job was to help the Kaltenbachs find what was left of their herd.
"You know most of those people don't have big herds, but it's taken a lifetime to get them," Chris said. "We finally gathered up 28 cows and got them penned. I think they had to shoot 20 of them. You know that guy had worked in an implement company and had been putting his deal together, and he has just retired and was going to expand the ranch." The fire set that plan back to square one. The Kaltenbachs lost everything except the house.
During the trip, the cowboys learned Mary Kaltenback had lost her saddle. As it happened, the raffle saddle was just her size. "We knew she wouldn't take it if we tried to give it to her outright," Chris said.
So right before they left, the cowboys put the saddle on a rack at Mary's house and left a note on it weighed down with a T-post, along with the money. The note explained the saddle was sent to someone in need. The cowboys wrote that Mary "seemed like the right people."
On the way home, the Chris learned about a cowboy across the Oklahoma line who had lost everything he had in the fire. "We got an address and we are shipping that other saddle right to him," Amy said.
Those saddles are a symbol of what members of the ranch community do for each other. First Mary's was given to a junior association who made $5,000 raffling it, then it was donated to a stranger, any stranger, who was without one and in need. The other will be a welcome surprise a cowboy would never expect, from a cowboy he doesn't know. Just two examples of how ranchers have banded together and given help in many forms to the victims of one of the largest wildfires in recent history.
Donations poured into the Potter home when people found out the cowboys were going to help fire victims, including five pallets of milk replacer and creep feed. More will be needed and it will take a long time and many dollars to rebuild, but Mary Kaltenbach will be doing it from the best seat on a horse.