“The difference between me and the average person is that I see my world from four feet up. The rest sees it from five feet down.” –Stub Monnens
Francis “Stub” Monnens was a sheepherder, horseman, and border collie trainer who resided in Ladner, South Dakota for much of his later life. 2019 marked two decades since his passing, but many residents of Buffalo hold fondly to memories of a well-known man. He survived all manner of catastrophes: rattlesnake bites, asthma attacks, runaway teams, and once was drug behind a horse for over a mile near Castle Rock, South Dakota. Most astounding, however, was achieving all that he did while standing just 4’2″ tall. Stub was a dwarf, but he never allowed his “disability” to hinder a life fully lived.
Stub made his way through life with his animals. He used a team and wagon to build fence, herded sheep with the use of border collies and a saddle horse, traveled horseback instead of in a pickup while testing REA poles in rough country; and made a living raising chukars and pheasants during “retirement”.
Lex Burghduff said, “Animals trusted Stub. I never remember him spooking a horse or getting kicked. His horses were really accustomed to him. And horses usually trust kids, you know. I’m sure the horses associated him with a kid and trusted him.” Perhaps this is why the pups he sold and the small horses he gave away were so suitable for children. “He gave us the best kid horse we ever had,” said Alicia (Clarkson) Burghduff.
Stub’s saddle and gear are on display in the Buffalo One Room Schoolhouse & Museum. His chaps are shorter than the average person’s arm. His saddle was custom made for him by Ed Satler in 1946, a postman in Lemmon who made saddles to sell in the Gamble Store. It was built out of a 13 x 13” tree. The third stirrup, of course, was built so that he could mount and dismount unaided. In fact, few people can remember Stub asking for help in any task. He alone hitched up teams, saddled horses, pounded posts, and drove his 1950 Dodge pickup (and later vehicles) with the aid of homemade pedal extensions. If he was carpentering with sheets of plywood–a handful for any man–he simply used clamps to extend his grip to the edges. If he had to lift buckets over a sheep panel (chest-height for Stub) he worked it up and down by sticking his hands through.
While working for Deschamps near Castle Rock in 1961, Stub rode bogs to ensure no ewes were stuck in the tricky Butte County soil, which gave way at times. Finding one, he tied his rope hard to the horn and dismounted. He placed the loop over the ewe’s head to gently pull her out, but he tripped in the process. His horse spooked, pulled back, and Stub stepped into the loop. Jewel drug him all the way back to the gate as fast as she could run. His shirt remained buttoned and protected his hands and face, but the bare flesh of his torso picked up one mile’s worth of greasewood splinters, cactus, and grass burns.
Jewel waited patiently at the gate and Stub released himself from what could have been a noose around his foot. Getting back to the pickup, he realized the battery was dead. He waited a whole day for the feed truck to come, so he doctored his wounds with baking soda and unguentine. The feed man came for chores the next day and brought him into town, and the doctor in Newell picked splinters out of him for an hour before giving up and sending him to Belle Fourche. Stub laid in that hospital for five weeks.
Stub worked at Belle Fourche Livestock in 1978 after a brief trial period with his working dogs. He so impressed the owners, Dean Strong and Bob Petra, that they hired him four days per week for sheep and cattle sales. Once when he was gathering cattle that were loose in the parking lot, he came off the side of his horse, colliding with a corner post. The concussion resulted in memory loss for weeks and left him with double vision that halted his leatherworking, a favorite pastime, forever. Years later, Mert and Sue Clarkson gave Stub a vehicle to drive. Some concerned neighbors berated them, asking, “Why would you give a blind man a car?” They defended Stub, saying, “He’s not blind. He just can’t see very well.”
Dwarfism often comes with health problems, including arthritis and asthma, though most with the condition have a normal life expectancy. When he was a child, Stub’s parents moved back and forth from Firesteel, South Dakota and Madison, Minnesota when the western homestead would not go. When he was 19, Stub settled west of the Missouri to avoid the humidity and persistent asthma attacks he suffered as a teenager. He never said so, but he almost surely had arthritis in his aging years due to his stature and his lifestyle. Yet, he never quit. He merely began work on something else.
When he was unable to herd sheep anymore, Stub worked as an REA pole tester in the Opal, Stoneville, and Marcus areas. In 1987, he began his mission to repopulate Harding County with Chinese Ring-Necked Pheasants. Locals used to say, “You won’t see a pheasant west of Highway 85.” Then Stub raised them by the thousands–the remnants of which still linger in the Ladner area. He told Nation’s Center News in an interview, “I feel very good about what I could be doing to help preserve a great bird and at the same time help control some of the grasshoppers.”
A 70th birthday party was held for Stub in the Bullock Hall with 415 guests. His special friend, Stella, whom he met at a Little People of America conference, popped out of his birthday cake, herself standing just 3’10” tall. Stub passed away five years later in 1999, leaving warm memories of his love of a cup of coffee, conversation, and God’s creatures.