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Stallion Showcase 2022: One in a Million: Christmans left their mark on North Dakota Quarter Horses

Black Jack was born on April 23, 1961. A tiny, weak, wobbly twin colt, he was black with white socks and a big snip on his nose. He was registered as Panda Bear, partly because his dam’s sire was Little Bear, and partly because he was black and white.  

“He was colored just like a Panda Bear, but we called him Black Jack,” Chuck said. “He walked like a giraffe for the first month or so. Dad gave him to me, and I nursed him to health. I halter broke him and eventually broke him to ride. I did everything with him.” 

Chuck’s older brother, Bob, recalled noticing the mare, Jenny Owens, waxing in December, before Black Jack was born. She had been bred to Wayne Evridge’s stallion, Lo Ho, the previous summer. 

“We brought her home and kept her in the west shed for a while and then she dried up,” he said. “Harry Smith, and old horseman that lived north of the Cedar River ventured a guess that she had twins and one of them died. It turned out he was right. Jenny was due to foal in April, but April came and almost went before she did foal. She gave birth in the west shed, and when Dad threw out the afterbirth he saw the remains of a small, decaying colt. The living colt was smaller than you would expect of a full-term colt, and he had legs that went every direction.” 

The little horse that had a tough start turned out to be one of the good ones. 

“He was one in a million,” Chuck said. “If you had a whole pasture full of horses like Black Jack you’d be set. He was as gentle as they come.”  

It had all started out of frustration. Chuck’s father, John Christman, was getting cows in one day when a calf ran back.  

“We were bringing in the cows from the big pasture to work them,” Bob said. “Of course there was one calf that got away. Dad chased the calf with Snooks, a brown pinto mare that was ‘wind broke.’ When you rode her at a lope after a while she would wheeze very badly. On this particular day, all of the cows and calves were in the corral but one calf bolted and got away from us. I don’t remember the final outcome but I remember when he came back to the barn the horse was sweaty and gasping for breath. That was when he decided we needed better horses.” 

John and his wife Blenda raised their children on the family ranch in North Dakota, just a few miles from the border town of Lemmon, South Dakota. As their youngest son, Chuck’s childhood was shaped by the horses.  

A carefully handwritten record book contains the names of the mares John purchased: Creeping Jenny, a granddaughter of Golden Chief. Jenny Owens, daughter of a Blackburn grandson, Little Bear. Sugar Clegg, a granddaughter of Clint Higgins. Ma Frisbie, whose sire was double bred Clint Higgins and dam was double bred Red Jacket. Plaudits Flag 2, who had Plaudit and Little Joe Springer on her papers. Tona’s Queen, whose sire traced to Old Sorrel three times, and whose dam was double bred to the Peter McCue grandson Billy Sunday Blond Rocket, a mare with Joe Reed P-3 on her papers. Ma Sandy, a mare with King P-234 on her papers. Pussy Clegg, Buttons Cat, and Nan Copper, daughters of Sugar Clegg that John kept back. Dixie Mays, Jo Copper and Jody Copper, daughters of Creeping Jenny. Ginny Copper, a daughter of Jenny Owens. Lotta Frog, a daughter of Tona’s Queen. 

These mares all traced their lineage to the early Quarter Horse stallion Steel Dust. Brought to Texas as a yearling around 1844, Steel Dust put his stamp on the development of the American Quarter Horse. “They were heavy-muscled horses, marked with small ears, a big jaw, remarkable intelligence and lightning speed up to a quarter of a mile,” to quote the AQHA. Long before the inception of the American Quarter Horse Association, quarter horses were known as ‘Steeldusts.’  

The record book also lists the stud each mare was bred to, breeding dates, foaling date, and sale records of the foals. 

John used a double-bred Royal King stallion for several years. Ruvio Copper, bred by John’s friend Wayne Evridge, was quick footed and cowy and his colts were the same way. Christmans also leased Frog W from the Whitcomb ranch in Colorado. A double-bred Peter McCue horse with Zantanon, sire of King P-234 on his papers, Frog W was a race winner as well as a halter winner, an accomplished reiner, and had his NCHA Certificate of Ability.  

“Frog W really gave dad’s already successful program a boost,” Chuck said. 

The horses truly were a family affair. 

“I showed Black Jack for ten years in 4-H, as well as in High School Rodeo,” Chuck said. “We participated in our local saddle club and went to shows all over the area all summer. Black Horse Creek, Isabel, Timber Lake, Lemmon, Mound City, Nisland; every other week or so there was a show. The saddle club members would hire Corcoran Trucking and fill a big straight trailer with horses, and then load their families in the car to travel to the more distant shows. We had halter classes for every age and type of Quarter Horse, horsemanship classes, western pleasure, and speed events: barrels, poles and so forth. There wasn’t much for roping classes at that time. They would have a flag race, scoop shovel races, cowhide races and chariot races. We hosted a show at the ranch as well.” 

These saddle club shows would have events for all ages, including calf riding, cow riding, barrel racing, pole bending, flag race, scoop shovel race, cowhide race, relay races, pony, horse, and chariot races. There wasn’t much for roping events yet at that time.” 

Starting in 1959, John Christman and his family hosted a North Dakota Quarter Horse Association approved show at the ranch.  It was held annually in June, with an AQHA-approved show held in Lemmon the following day. This made it handy for Quarter Horse breeders in a four-state area to participate in both shows. Events at these shows included halter classes for every age and sex of Quarter Horses, reining, cutting, western pleasure, and a couple of speed events, barrel racing and pole bending. 

“When we had the show, the yard was full of horse trailers and tents,” Chuck said. “Back in those days nobody had a trailer with living quarters. Some people would get a hotel room in Lemmon, but a lot of folks would just pitch a tent and camp out. We would clean out the garage and Mom’s homemakers club would set up in there to provide concessions. We had corrals and cattle, so we had cutting classes at home, but they did not have cutting in Lemmon.”   

The family rode their own horses for years.  

“Dad was tired of trying to find a good using horse, so he decided to raise his own so he’d know what he had,” Chuck said. “Bob Lynch worked for dad for a while, and part of his job was to start the colts. Dad would let him quit with other farm work at a certain time of the day and then he would go ride horses. I was really interested in what he was doing and he took me under his wing and taught me how to break horses. I didn’t realize until recently how far ahead of his time he was in his methods. He didn’t do it the ‘cowboy way’ of bucking them out. He taught me to take it easy, to gain the horse’s trust, and he did a lot of ground work before he rode them. He made sure they would give their heads before he got on and that prevented a lot of wrecks. He was really ahead of his time.” 

Chuck loved horses and enjoyed competing.  

“When I was fourteen, Dad took Jo Copper, a daughter of Ruvio Copper and Creeping Jenny, to Alvin Gabbert up at Lefor, North Dakota, for training,” Chuck said. “I wanted to learn how to rope and Alvin agreed to teach me. I stayed up there for two weeks with Black Jack, and every day I did chores, mucked out the stalls, and so forth. But every day I got to ride and rope with him.” 

Gabbert made a good rope horse out of Jo Copper, and she became Chuck’s rope horse through high school and college.  

John put together a sale a few times, but eventually sold most of his mares due to a low demand for colts. 

“Everybody used horses in those days, but nobody wanted to raise a colt and wait till he was grown to ride him,” Chuck said. “Plus it was a lot of work, and by then Bob was gone and I wasn’t old enough to take it over yet. Bob and I have often wished that we had figured out a way to keep the breeding program going.” 

John Christman was inducted into the North Dakota Quarter Horse Hall of Fame in 2014.  He was recognized as one of the first breeders of registered quarter horses in North Dakota, for hosting a show at his ranch, as one of the organizers of the North Dakota Quarter Horse Association and a member of the NDQHA board of directors.   

In the Ring and On the Range: Weber family’s shared love of Hereford cattle

The Fremont County Fair in Wyoming saw a unique group of young showmen and their cattle this summer. Kodi and Conor Christensen, Maddi and Corbin Marshall and Kaylynn Weber were all in the ring with Hereford steers. Four of the five were purchased from their grandparents, Ron and Becki Weber; Kaylynn’s steer was out of her parents’ herd but was out of a cow that was purchased from Ron and Becki as a heifer calf.

Ron and Becki celebrated fifty years of marriage on September 17, 2021. Both grew up on Wyoming ranches with Hereford cattle. Their son Steve and daughters Heidi, Tami and Becca grew up helping on the ranch, and now their grandchildren are spending time in the saddle with them. They make yearly trips up and down the mountains with their Hereford cattle every summer and fall, trailing to and from their summer pasture.

“My mom’s great-grandfather and great-great-uncle homesteaded in the Lander area,” Steve Weber said. “That’s where mom grew up, although it is no longer in the family. Dad was raised on the Laramie plains; his father was born in Michigan and came to Wyoming in the 1930s. They were on the historic Kite Ranch for a while. When mom and dad got married they purchased a couple of heifers from dad’s parents, and that’s what this bunch of cows grew out of.”

Ron worked for the Wyoming Department of Agriculture for over thirty years, simultaneously building up his herd of Herefords. Their home place is near Shoshoni, and they summer on a forest allotment near Lander. Steve and Angela Weber live on the ranch and summer their cattle with Ron and Becki, and Steve is also a professional firefighter and a Wyoming brand inspector. Tami is the librarian at Shoshoni; she and her husband Charlie also run a handful of Herefords that they summer with her parents’ cattle. Heidi teaches in Shoshoni, and Becca is an ag teacher in Texas. Steve and Angela’s daughter Kaylynn has been showing calves in open shows since she was five, and Codi, Conor and Corbin all showed calves last year, but this is the first time that all five cousins have been in the ring together.

Last fall, Ron stood back and watched as Codi, Conor, Maddi and Corbin picked out their calves.

“I just let them have at it,” he said. “We let the kids pick them on their own, I didn’t try to tell them what I thought. I kind of scratched my head over a couple of their choices, the calves were somewhat uneven at that point. But by the time they got them finished they were really close. The calves all looked really good. It made me pretty proud of the cattle. They sure represented the breed well.”

Besides her Hereford steer, Kaylynn also showed two heifer pairs, one a registered Hereford that she bought from her aunt Becca, and the other a registered Angus heifer. She also showed her cattle at the Wyoming State Fair and won the award for premier breeding beef exhibitor there.

Ron has put forty years into his breeding program, and while he doesn’t have a registered herd he has always acquired top of the line horned Hereford bulls to bring high performance genetics to his herd. He’s pushed for growth, maternal traits, good udders, and performance both on the mountain and in the feed yard. He also likes a little extra pigment to keep eye problems to a minimum.

“Those steers all finished about 1,300 pounds,” Ron said. “It just substantiated what we’ve been trying to do for so long. We have always bred to have a lot of growth, as well as milk and strong maternal traits. It has taken years but it has worked out as we hoped. We started way before EPDs were available, but we’ve learned our way through!”

“Dad has always pushed for getting high quality bulls,” Steve said. “He swears that the quality of the bulls makes the quality of the cows.”

Ron has used a lot of Churchill bulls but said that it’s getting harder to use them because the bloodlines are so close to his own now. Most recently, they purchased bulls from Van Newkirks in Nebraska. Their forest allotment has elevations ranging from about 6,500 to around 10,000 feet, so the cows’ hardiness and fertility are thoroughly tested.

“We do things a little differently than a lot of folks in our area,” Steve said. “We calve earlier because we run on National Forest all summer and we don’t take bulls to the mountain.”

Calving technically starts the first of February, but calves usually start arriving the last week of January, and they’re done about the third week of March.

“We calve through the barn, because the weather is definitely a factor that time of year,” Steve said. “Sometimes it’s pretty nice, but when we get a cold snap we can lose a lot of ears. We brand the third week of March. Depending on the range condition, we turn onto the mountain around June 16, give or take. We bring the cows home around September 30. It’s a pretty short grazing season, but at that elevation we’ve gathered off the mountain in snow many times. It takes quite a cow to make the cut, to raise a six to six hundred fifty pound calf and breed back under those conditions.”

Webers’ calves averaged 642 pounds when they shipped them this fall, so something must be working.

Ron has gotten some data back on how his steers have finished in the past.

“They grow well, and grade about eighty percent choice, with a few prime and select,” he said. “I think part of the reason they grow so well is their quiet disposition. There’s no orneriness in them and they don’t get excited. They’re pretty dang gentle. The kids usually have them broke to lead in two or three days.”

Codi has graduated from high school, but Conor, Maddi, Corbin and Kaylynn all have calves picked out to show next year.

Ron and Becki’s grandchildren are getting involved on the ranch as well.

“This fall when we came off the mountain we had all the grandkids riding,” Ron said. “We trailed them five miles and they were all business. When we preg tested those little gals jumped in and loaded chutes. Two of them were horseback bringing the cows up. It tickles me to death to have them helping. There’s no better place in the world for them than right here.”

Fordyce Ranching Legacy

Every day was an education for the cowboy in training

The Wyoming Fordyce Ranching legacy began in 1927, when young Iowa-born Joe Fordyce stepped off a train with his parents and half-sister. Father Edward filed on a homestead, which Joe had to help his Scottish immigrant mother Margaret “prove up” on.

Lacking money for necessary supplies and equipment, Joe walked to the closest ranch to ask for work. Owner Vern Barton showed the lad “a little roan horse he had in the corral,” telling him if he could ride it he’d pay him $5 a month more than his cowboys were earning. In spite of having never ridden anything but one big hog and galloping one work horse to the barn (which got him in trouble), young Fordyce was game.

A cowboy front-footed the roan and rolled him into the saddle. Another advised Joe, “Be on him when he gets up.” He was, and he stayed – to ride the rough string and milk cows morning and night for $35 a month. If he’d had a bedroll he could’ve traded it for a lantern, since he was soon calving first-calf-heifers ‘in his spare time.’ Rather than resenting the job, Joe saw it as his passport to “learning about the inside of a cow.”

The busy, diversified Barton ranch found out Joe could work a team, so put him to hauling feed and supplies. Then they moved him to the upper ranch and put him to mowing, bucking and stacking hay. Joe bought a $35 saddle and went back to riding the rough string.

A big 9-year-old stud that no one had ever touched was roped, other hands helped Joe roll him into the saddle, and the dust cloud headed West. It might’ve been 25 miles, maybe 30 when Joe hit the Eastern edge of the rugged Rochelle Hills and stopped the stud, after galloping him to the top of a steep, chalky knob. Apparently not winded yet, the stud spooked at cow drinking below, blew up and bailed off the cliff, somehow igniting the stick matches Joe carried in the pants pocket under his chaps. Tough, and not about to give up his saddle or the stud, Joe evermore wore the sulphur burn scars.

He liked and listened to old-timers like Walter Jenkins and Owen Morrison who shared tips and taught him a lot about handling livestock. In company with and working alongside many such men, Joe got handy with a rope – whether heading, front-footing, heeling, or catching with back hand loops; and was in demand at brandings and spaying yearling heifers, furthering his education on “the inside of a cow.” Joe also learned the skill of gelding stallions, and was soon frequently called upon for that job.

There was a good market for well-broke work horses and Joe worked for neighboring good hands (Cowger brothers Wilbur, Francis and Halley) breaking teams to work in harness while building stock dams and spreader dams. If Joe had any time and could find a trap or pen, he’d gather wild horses and catch them there. He’d then trail them to the Osage Stock yards, ride with a mane hold for fun, and pull mane and tail hair to sell to buy movie tickets. Another way to obtain spending money for dances or movie tickets was catching coyotes and turning their ears in for bounty pay.

Joe courted ranch girl Mary Noe, who’d been born on her parents’ Homestead in the corner of Weston County; Campbell and Converse County both only a stone’s throw away. They soon married and began raising a family. That required money for lots more than entertainment, so Joe worked scattered jobs to buy groceries and keep his young horses in training.

To facilitate that, he’d tie 2 or 3 together at the neck and trail them; but homesteader’s fences and phone lines soon messed that up. Recalling one time the phone line ran out away from the fence and “one horse went on one side and the second on the other,” Joe later minimized the resulting bloody wreck, declaring “That did not help one horse, and didn’t do the other any good!”

A broken leg from a horse accident while pulling a car out of the gumbo didn’t interrupt Joe’s horse breaking for long. He just utilized the ditch he’d been digging for a sewer line; having son John lead the horse down in the ditch so he could step off into the saddle. He then tied the casted leg up alongside the horse’s neck with a piggin’ string hitched to the saddlehorn, and headed for his next job.

That particular horse later proved excellent for calf roping in rodeos. A Southern roper visiting Joe’s region saw the horse work in a rodeo and offered him $2,200, then and there. Because he owed $2,300 on his ranch, Joe countered for that amount. The buyer just walked away. Bitter fate stepped in when strange horses mistakenly got in a pasture where that horse was supposed to be running alone, causing him to get severely cut up in barbed wire. They couldn’t save him, making the loss of the possible $2,200 even more painful.

The Fordyce family grew to include four sons and a daughter. Their one-room log home was drafty and didn’t afford a lot of space for a family of that size, but they had love and joy and music, health and the grit to bloom where they were planted. God always seemed to look after them. Better times brought a ’49 Chevy pickup with an Omaha Standard stock rack, making it much easier for Joe to take his horses to riding jobs. Then he formed a dance band and discovered his three eldest sons and all their instruments could be thrown inside and covered with a canvas to commute to and from the dances. Joe knew neon lettering on the doors of the cab would’ve made it look more “Nashville,” but money was scarce!

In town with their truck one day Joe bought gasoline for ranch use while his wife Mary got groceries, including matches and farmer stick matches. Joe bought a colt he was breaking and loaded it up to haul home. ‘Bally’ had never imagined the world could move under his hooves while the ground rushed at his face, and the fit he threw trying to escape lit the matches. That heated up the barrels and caught the gasoline on fire . . . fortunately the family got it out in time to save both horse and truck!

Once at a holiday picnic, there were horse races, and a guy with a white horse told Joe, “he can outrun anything here, I’d like to have you ride him.” Joe rode him in the race but when it was over he bucked him off. Joe recalled “not knowing what transpired” for a while after that, but “when he woke up he was on 3rd base playing baseball!”

Sherill and Baker Slagle really liked Joe. They wanted him to ride his Hereford bull with a saddle. Joe said he couldn’t, but they talked him into it. Once aboard he really wanted off; but couldn’t get off until the bull decided to throw him off! He landed on the barn roof, and rolled to earth from there.

Joe worked for the Works Progress Administration doing anything to make a dollar; driving truck, cooking, building, tearing down, cleaning up, and building government fences. Before he started custom haying with Charlie Rankin, Joe drove school bus, and when not doing that drove water trucks for C.J. Taylor out of Upton. While haying for Hagerman’s and the LAK Ranch Joe remembered one stack with 5,000 bales in it, which he loaded and hauled alone. He also went to the Pine Bluffs area to put up hay.

Ever looking to the future, Joe started crossing his Hereford cows on Angus bulls; soon expanding his skills by attending A.I. school. The extra riding involved was good for the colts Joe rode, producing fine cow horses. The Fordyce calves began to average 50 pounds heavier at fall market time, and the cows improved in quality. Then he added a little Limousine and Maine Anjou to the mix, and neighboring rancher Charlie Rankin helped him start marketing Club Calves.

The Fordyce legacy is ongoing, with Joe’s ranching, cowboy and horseman skills carrying down strongly. Most of his boys rodeoed at one time, and succeeding generations keep the tradition. Joe and Mary’s eldest son John worked all kinds of jobs to raise his family in Wyoming, and became successful as a race horse breeder, owner and trainer, well-respected on racetracks across the region.

John’s son Clint rode broncs through high school, then became a successful jockey and later Quarter Horse breeder in WY and SD. He married G’nene Escott at Faith, and they are involved in ranching there, with Clint also working as brand inspector and G’nene teaching school. Their son Garet rode broncs and daughter Jozelle rodeoed, and both went to college.

John’s daughter Jolene married Craig Devereaux and they raise cows and horses on their ranch near Newcastle. Along with being famous for their annual consignment horse sale in Newcastle, their kids have rodeoed successfully; still going at the college level. Johns other daughter Janine was a ranch cowgirl, and rodeoed as well.

Joe and Mary’s second son Buzz did some rodeoing in his young years, then married a rancher’s daughter and operated a big outfit near the Rochelle Hills for decades. He then worked feedlots at Garden City, KS and later Greeley, CO training his girls in the cowboy tradition. One daughter and some grandkids are still hooked on horses and cow work, ranching mountain country along the WY/CO border.

Son Tom grew up horseback. Starting at an early age he spent a lot of years living and working on historic ranches along the Cheyenne River, including the AU7 and 4W as well as Bill Dixon’s; often working nearby oil fields on the side. Tom and Della’s son Dennis is a career military man and son Kenny ranches with his family near Sundance, WY, carrying legacy and tradition in raising and showing cattle, breaking and training horses, and dayworking other ranches. Kenny perpetuates the Fordyce family’s musical tradition by playing, singing and writing songs; as well as playing for dances and entertaining for years with the Western Ramblers and now with the “All Cowboy Band” he organized.

Another Fordyce tradition is helping others. Any neighbor in need could count on them showing up to help. Each family member has mentored many others in their skills. Kenny is active with the Crook County fair, helping youth with livestock raising and showing.

“I appreciate kids that want to work hard at it, and we try to pass on what we’ve learned and the success we’ve had” he says. “Our daughters enjoyed showing; Riley has exhibited six Grand Champion Steers in Crook County, and showed horses successfully as well.”

Joe and Mary’s daughter Mary Jo stayed in Wyoming to rear her family and enjoy the lifestyle. Son Wayne also stayed in Weston County until he and his wife were killed in a tragic auto accident returning home from one of their son’s sports events at Torrington. Although neither Wayne’s son nor daughter rodeoed, his granddaughter Emily rode bulls some and grandson Derek rode broncs and worked ranch rodeos for a time. Both are still involved in working ranches.

In honor of his lengthy cowboy career and his family’s ongoing legacy, patriarch Joe Fordyce represented Weston County being inducted into the Wyoming Cowboy Hall of Fame in 2019.

Ag Pride: SOLD! Looking back at 85 years of Central Livestock

Wednesdays aren’t the same anymore in West Fargo, N.D. 

It was sale day at Central Livestock, but after 85 years of selling cattle, hogs and sheep, the sale barn closed its doors for good on November 30 of last year. 

There was little warning of the closure, said Kelly Klein, manager of the barn and one of its auctioneers.  

“We were doing dang good business, and they called and said in two weeks you have to lock the doors and shut it down,” he recalled. “I begged them, ‘why can’t we stay open till spring?’ We’ll do eighty percent of our volume in the next few months, and we’ll have time to plan our closure. They wouldn’t hear it.” 

The reason for the closing, Klein surmises, is mostly because of the sale barn’s location. When it was built in 1935, the town of West Fargo wasn’t close. But now the town has grown up around the sale barn, Klein said. “In the last ten years, we’ve been surrounded by buildings and businesses. It boils down to where the property is more valuable than our business was.” 

Tony Heinze was auctioneer at Central for 53 years, starting as back pen help in 1965. After attending auctioneer school in 1967, he started auctioneering that year. He remembers getting $5 a day as pay when he worked in the alleys, and quipped, “when I finished 53 years later, the pay wasn’t much different.”  

At one time the eighth largest sale barn in the nation, more than 300,000 head ran through the gates at Central per year. Heinze remembers, in the 1970s, when the yards were full of cattle, with no more room to unload, and trucks lined up for two miles, waiting to unload. He remembers one time, starting a sale at 9 a.m. on a Wednesday and finishing the next morning at 7:30 a.m., running nearly 6,500 head through the ring.  

When the sale barn opened in 1935, six different commission firms bought cattle, hogs and sheep by private treaty. Those firms were McDonald, Central, Farmers Union, Montgomery and Sons, Dakota Livestock, and Sig Ellingson. 

In 1962, the sale barn went to a live auction, and eventually the business was purchased by Central Livestock, with headquarters in St. Paul, Minn.  

“It takes a lot of money to operate” a sale barn, Heinze said. “As soon as I say, ‘sold,’ the guy selling cattle gets a check and they’re in the bank that day. Well, their check has to be good. And if they bought cattle for someone else, it takes a while for that check to be sent in.” Heinze estimates a sale barn needs a couple million dollars for a line of credit. “We had $3, $4 million sales. There’s a lot of money turned.”  

The people at Central became like family, Heinze said. “They were good friends. It was a great time in my life.”  

Order buyer Larry Christiansen had a longer history at Central than anyone else. 

The West Fargo native had spent 62 of his 81years working at the sale barn.  

He started straight out of high school, working for McDonald Livestock, putting hay in the mangers, scraping the alley, “what an eighteen-year-old kid does,” he said.  

In 1986, he opened his order-buyer company there, buying feeder cattle.  

“That’s 62 years I’ve been going to the stockyards there.”  

He remembers when the ring scale was installed in August of 1971, the first sale barn in the state (and one of the first in the nation) to have a ring scale. Prior to that, the way the sale barn is set up, the animals were weighed after the sale. “You’d try to figure out what they weighed in your head. That left something to be desired, sometimes. The ring scale was a real accomplishment.”  

The closest sale barns are Devils Lake to the north, Jamestown to the west, Bagley, Minn. to the east, and Aberdeen and Sisseton to the south. Klein went to work for the Napoleon sale barn, and Christiansen is still buying cattle, but driving a lot farther to do it. “There are guys calling me, telling me we’ve bought their cattle in the past in the sale ring, and telling me where they decided to go, if I want to follow. Sometimes a guy can do it, sometimes a guy can’t.” 

Christiansen has bought cattle at the Jamestown and Bagley sales, but the driving is getting to be a problem. “At my age, it’s getting a little harder to drive two hours to get to the sale and drive two hours to get back home again.”  

He remembers seeing a picture in the Central Livestock office, of its grand opening in 1935. It was Depression days, when “nobody had anything,” and Central offered a free meal, cooking 30 steers and 7,000 lbs. of meat in the ground and brewing the coffee in a big water tank. “There’s a picture of 300, 400 cars that came out there. I think the cabs were giving free rides from Fargo to the yards. It must have been quite a situation.”  

He, like Heinze, remembers some long days. “There were times, in the 1980s and ’90s, during some of those bigger runs, you’d be there till 1, 2 or 3 in the morning. You wouldn’t get much sleep before you’d have to go back to work. Put on a clean pair of pants and head back.”  

The sale barn had five full-time employees and on sale days, about 22 total. Many of the part-time sale day workers were N.D. State University college students and local ranchers. “You know, we had loyal workers,” Klein said, “a lot that had been around for thirty-plus years.”  

Heinze pointed out that stockyards in several big cities: St. Paul, Minn., Chicago, Sioux Falls, and Omaha, all faced the same demise. “The cities grew up around the stockyards,” and the stockyards eventually closed. “There’d be somebody who would buy a lot, build a house next to the stockyards, and not want to smell cows.”  

Everything in the sale barn was auctioned off by Kelly Klein Auction Service. The wood was reclaimed, to be sold later, and by January 1, a development corporation took over the property. “Everything’s gone except for a few piles of cement,” Klein said.  

It hurt when Central closed, Christiansen said. “It was kind of a jab in my heart.  

“My wife was asking me, when we were driving (to the sale barn) to take a look, how many times have you driven down this road to get there? I would hate to guess how many times I went down that road.  

“It’s an unfortunate thing that they had to sell it, but that’s life and it goes on.”  

Cowboy Billy Sherman

Born to E.E. and Winifred Kate Sherman at Alice, TX on May 15, 1894, William Elmer Sherman‘s father died soon thereafter, and by the age of 3 he was gone from Texas. His mother found work as matron of a Native American girl’s school at Ft. Washakie, Wyoming, and moved there in 1898 with Billy and his sister Hazel.

The late William Sherman’s biography as a 2019 Honoree to the Wyoming Cowboy Hall Fame shows he “was considered as a very good cowboy even at a young age.” The cowboy served the industry in many ways including as South Dakota’s chief brand inspector.

By the time he was 17 he roped and rode broncs well, placing at sizable rodeos like Lander, Riverton, Green River, Pinedale and Big Piney. Billy “worked on The ‘67’, lived at Angus’s in Daniel, worked for Bill Luce and worked at Halter & Flick at Pacific Springs, before moving to Opal to brand inspect for the railroad at the stockyards there.”

In the years 1911 to 1917 young Billy broke horses, played baseball, became a member of Woodsmen of the World, and continued claiming his share of wild horse racing, roping and bronc riding money at regional rodeos. A turn in Army green ended when the War was over and he was discharged a Corporal from Ft. Lewis, WA in 1919.

In 1927 Bill took a wife, and also filed on a homestead. The pretty schoolteacher he married was Leola Jeneva Coffey Shipley, and the wedding took place in Kemmerer, July 7. As for ‘proving up’ on the homestead – Bill “built a house 14’x16’ feet which cost $128 along with corrals that cost $12, 4 acres of fenced horse pasture which cost $20, and 3 1⁄4 miles of outside fence consisting of 3 wires and posts one rod apart which cost $487. He had to relinquish the land because he had a wife and two children and found it was impossible to reside upon the claim and support his family since his business was located at Big Piney, a distance of 60 miles.”

Phyllis Sherman DeSart, Bill’s first child, says “He was a devoted husband and father. My earliest memories are of him teaching me my numbers . . . with a deck of cards, teaching me to play 21, poker. It was a fun way to learn how to count and learn my numbers.

“He had a tender heart which was evident when he was deputy sheriff,” Phyllis remembers. “The crime rate was low, mostly runaways, young people he couldn’t bear to put in jail. So many times he brought them home with him, and we would have a dinner guest and overnight sleeper.”

Her brother Bill Sherman speaks to more rich childhood memories, saying, “He was a wonderful father to us kids when we were growing up. When I think of Daddy – I see him always happy and smiling. I cannot remember a harsh word. He just made you feel loved.”

Bill’s sister Jean Sherman Morrison, youngest girl in the family, fondly recalls her family’s enjoyment of dances held in Big Piney, “with the kids gathering at one end of the hall, adults at the other end.” She says, “During the evening Daddy would always come over to the kids end and dance with me . . . too young to know how to dance, I kept my feet on top of his shoes as we waltzed. What a great memory.” She also remembers the pistol her Undersheriff Daddy always had in the house and how upset her parents were when she, at 8, decided it was an interesting plaything! Maybe that’s why Bill got those Indian ponies!

“In those days wild horses roamed the prairie and Daddy always seemed to have two or three of these Indian ponies on hand for us kids to ride – range ponies and not saddle broke,” Jean says. “What else would kids whose daddy was a cowboy do but ride wild horses? A pony dust up was great material to brag about during school time.”

Patricia Sherman Haffeman recalls, “Dad bought two ponies for us kids to ride. The first time he put my sister on one of them, the pony bucked her up in the air. I was so scared and really hoping he would not make me try to ride it, so relieved when he did not.” He ended up selling the ponies and bought a horse named Bobby. Bobby was so gentle all four of the kids rode and played with him.

As father of three daughters and a son, Bill was unwilling to give up on becoming a Wyoming landowner. He “filed on a second stock-raising homestead entry on September 1, 1931, which was very near the original filing.” The record shows he “resided on the land starting September 16, 1931 while living in a tent as he built the house and did the fencing. He lived there until November 30, 1931. He moved back onto the land on May 1, 1932 through December 15, 1932, and again lived on the land from May 1, 1933 through September 15, 1933, May 15, 1934 through September 15, 1934, May 15, 1935 through September 15, 1935 and May 15, 1936 through September 15, 1936.”

Family records say, “Most of the land is covered with sagebrush, but about 80 acres has scrub pines and quaking aspen trees. Frank D. Ball grazed 300 head of cattle on the land each year from 1933 through 1936. Ball paid $60 per year for the use of the pasture. In 1932, Sherman built a house, feed and salt storage house, bridge for livestock and 3 1⁄2 miles of 4-wire fence around the property. In 1936, a barn, cow shed, corrals, 1 mile of fence was built for a horse pasture and 1⁄2 mile fence built for a wrangle pasture. All of these improvements cost $1,175.00. Ben Stewart, Ted Cantrell, Pete C. Wagner and M.M. Baker were the witnesses. William E. Sherman’s stock-raising homestead was approved on April 1, 1937.”

Billy Sherman was employed as both undersheriff and brand inspector in Big Piney, Wyoming, at the time he moved his family to Omaha, Nebraska, in 1945 to accept the job of brand inspector in the stockyards there. Phyllis remembers, “Oh, how we hated to leave Big Piney. We shed many tears about leaving good friend; and our loving grandparents, Frank and Dora Shipley. Since we were used to a small town, we found Omaha was not for our family. There again, Daddy put his family first and accepted a job managing a ranch in Pollock, South Dakota.”

The kids boarded in Pollock during school terms, the Horseshoe Ranch being some distance from town. After a few years managing there, Billy suffered an unfortunate accident while breaking horses. The wreck resulted in a compound fracture of his left leg. Knowing – in that condition – he couldn’t handle the ranch work his job required, Sherman moved his family to Mobridge, South Dakota, and took the job of area brand inspector.

Once the leg healed, he went back to roping calves in area rodeos on his top horse ‘Buttons.’ Billy earned Champion 50+ Roper honors for western South Dakota before accepting the Chief Brand Inspector position for the state in 1952 and moving to Rapid City.

Son Bill Sherman says, “Dad’s whole life revolved around livestock. While we were on the ranch in South Dakota he tried to teach me calf roping, but my heart was not in it. As a teenager I was more into sports and girls. He was disappointed when we quit, but he never said anything. I was so proud when he was appointed Chief Brand Inspector for the state of South Dakota.”

William Elmer “Billy” Sherman passed away in Rapid City May 24, 1955. He was inducted into the Wyoming Cowboy Hall of Fame’s ‘Class of 2019’ during ceremonies in Casper last fall. At that time Bill commented, “Our whole family was so excited to be able to claim him as their father, grandfather and great-grandfather that 34 members of the family were in attendance at the induction ceremony!” That might be a record.

Speaking for the whole gang Bill declares, “I believe this honor was well-deserved by my dad!”

The Weaver Way: Stan Weaver reflects on his time in AQHA leadership and the horses that helped him get there

A horse purchased in 1971 ultimately set the trajectory of Stan Weaver’s life. Born and raised a rancher, Weaver’s dad bought his first American Quarter Horse that year. The family has been raising Quarter Horses and Weavers on the Big Sandy, Montana ranch ever since. 

In 1981 Weaver and his wife, Nancy, purchased their first Quarter Horse mare, Stormy Dun Dee. From there they “just grew.”   

And grow they did– their broodmare band now hovers around 100. It wasn’t ever something Weaver pursued, it all “just kind of happened.”  

Raising cattle, horses and kids on the Weaver ranch was always the dream. Becoming a renowned Quarter Horse breeder, and eventually president of the American Quarter Horse Association, a role he will be concluding at the end of 2019, is a fringe benefit Weaver still doesn’t quite believe came true.  

“I just like raising good horses,” he said. “Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think we would have horses accomplish such great things.”  

A herd of legends  

A yearling out of that very first mare Weaver and his wife bought was named AQHA High Point Horse of the Year after qualifying in five events for the 2009 AQHA world show. Ima Tuff Missy took home the silver globe in the heading that year.   

This is just one of many stories Weaver has to tell of his colts. The accolades are nice, but each spring when new life hits the ground that’s what keeps Weaver in the game.  

“When we first started raising horses we just did it for our ranch like we did when I was growing up,” Weaver said. “It was in the mid ’90s that we decided to have a production sale and started acquiring more horses to fill that. 

Ima Bit of Heaven was the stud they built their foundation on. He was born in 1996, out of Smart Little Lena and Peppys From Heaven, an own son of Peppy San Badger. From that foundation they built a reputation that has seen horses in all 50 states and several foreign countries excelling in any discipline that involves a horse and a cow, and then some.  

Not just any horse meets Weaver’s high standards. Keeping with the definition of the American Quarter Horse, Weaver demands speed, cow sense, solid feet and versatility in his herd.  

“We have a lot of Smart Little Lena, especially in the mares,” Weaver said. “I really like the cutting bloodlines, so we are using two grandsons of Highbrow Cat.”  

 Speckled sorrel coats are evidence of the late Highbrow Cat, but the proof is also in the performance. As Weaver continues using cow horse lines, he’s started adding some new blood to the mix.  

“In the last few years we’ve added a little more speed through our grandson of Dash For Perks and a Frenchman’s Guy son,” Weaver said. “We’ve stayed pretty true to our cow horse lines over the years though.”  

Keeping with the foundational roots of the American Quarter Horse, Weaver also cited Grays Starlight, Tuf N Busy and Peptoboonsmal as major contributors to his colts. 

“Stan has a great understanding of what a good ranch horse is,” said AQHA CEO Craig Huffhines. “There are so many facets of our great Quarter Horse that can be utilized thanks to the versatility of that animal and Stan understands the impact the horse has on the different segments of the industry.”  

As a rancher, Huffhines said Weaver has his finger on the pulse of the equine industry. From his ranch in Big Sky country, Weaver stays connected to every segment of the Quarter Horse world: racing, western pleasure, cutting, reining, and everything in between.  

“What I like about Stan is his ranching roots,” Huffhines said. “I have an affinity for people who work with their hands, with livestock and natural resources, and who have an appreciation for good genetics and marketing good stock. Stan has all of that.”  

More than a ribbon 

In the early days, Weaver showed a lot of colts simply because he harbors a fundamental understanding of marketing livestock. When you have a high-quality product like Weaver, it essentially sells itself. Eventually.  

“You have to advertise a lot to promote your horses and we did that in the early 2000s,” Weaver said. “I think a lot of people believe just because other people can sell horses that means they can. Sometimes people just expect it to come and they don’t work for it.”  

Weaver worked for his place among the AQHA elite. Not only is he raising top Quarter Horses, he’s using them to run his commercial cowherd.  

“Everyone is different and has their own situation but running our horses and cattle together works for us,” he said. “Horses utilize some country that cattle won’t. Some of our country is rough and steep. The cattle tend to hang around water but horses will trail back and forth.”  

Weaver’s common-sense way of thinking can be attributed to his ranching heritage. Known for his quiet demeanor in even the most chaotic situation, perhaps it was developed through years of working cattle.  

“When you work with people who make their living ranching, you get a different perspective from them,” Huffhines said. “Within the equine industry things can be very fast paced and intense sometimes. Stan has been that really calming presence on our executive committee.”  

Servant leadership 

Big changes are never easy, especially when it comes to the technology variety. Stan stepped in to lead the AQHA through turbulent waters.  

“As president Stan had to navigate a really challenging year with a lot of transformation,” Huffhines said. “Stan brought a lot to the table, his humble, servant heart being one of them. He is always thinking about our members.”  

Through the summer months, the association didn’t just deal with the unrelenting Texas heat. They were also under fire from membership as wait times on registrations and transfers stretched long on account of the technological updates.  

“Stan has fielded hundreds of phone calls from members with concerns about the computer system,” Huffhines said. “He explained our situation and in extreme cases he helped make connections for those in crisis mode.”  

Although the AQHA is a member-driven organization, they are in the business of data management. It just comes with the territory. It’s also why merging new and old technology was mandatory for sustainable success as an association.  

“Stan’s legacy as president will be for charting the course during such a challenging time,” Huffhines added. “One thing we cannot forget is that each executive committee member sacrifices five years of their life.”  

The AQHA president finds his stride where the rubber meets the road. Stan spent a significant amount of time overseas making connections with international members.  

“This whole deal is a partnership – the ranch and my time on the executive committee,” Weaver said. “Nancy has had just as much to say about our success as I have.”  

Both Huffhines and Weaver agree, without a strong family foundation to keep the home fires burning the executive committee couldn’t do their job. It’s safe to say, the family behind Weaver helped prepare him for this challenging, life-altering year.  

“When you have leaders with a humble, servant heart, amazing things can happen,” Huffhines said. “That’s been Stan’s gift to the association.”  

Direct from the president himself 

Q: What are some things that helped you be successful during your time on the executive committee for the AQHA? 

A: Being on other boards – cattle and school boards – has prepared me to work with the other members on a committee or board. I think that’s the biggest thing about working in a group, is being able to work together and respect each other’s opinions. Even though we don’t always agree, by the time we get done and have a decision we all support it. It was a big learning curve for me when I got on the executive committee when it came to the show side of things. I showed in reined cow and cutting horse classes. The show team taught me a lot about the other disciplines. In return, I was able to expand their knowledge on the ranch horse industry. 

Q: What is it like to be the president of an association? 

A: The thing about it is you are on the committee for five years and each year you move up. When you’re president they have prepared you because you have watched the presidents that came before you very closely. I think the AQHA does a good job in the way they get their committee members ready to be president. Everyone has things they want to work on and for during their time on the committee and as president. This year we had a lot of problems with our computer system. We have gotten through most of it, but it’s been a real stressor for everyone involved.  

Q: What were some of the trials you faced in your year as president? 

A: We had to cut the budget down and try to find ways to raise money and increase our income. I am kind of proud of the fact that when I first started on the committee they had to withdraw from the reserve ever year. This year we will be running at a balanced budget. The new computer system has taken a lot of time this year as well. We had to write a new computer program and change everything over to the new system. When we released it to our members, it didn’t work quite like we thought it would. We had to make some adjustments while we were still operating in it. We did lots of testing before it went live, but you just don’t know what you don’t know until it’s functioning. We are starting to the see the light at the end of the tunnel.  

Q: What goals did you set out to accomplish? 

A: I had two goals: do more for the ranching community and try to do more for the international membership. We formed the ranching committee two years ago and that’s been a big step towards recognizing ranchers and doing more for them. We have our ranching heritage breeders and the challenges. Ranchers are the ones who founded the AQHA and we wanted to get back to that. I have always said that if you want to be an international organization then you need to act like it. I don’t feel that we reached out to our foreign affiliates like we should have and we’ve changed. We’ve made it easier to register their horses than it was before and we’ve improved our communication with our international membership. There are American Quarter horses in 102 countries with 52 of those registering 50 colts or more per year.  

Q: What experiences in your time on the executive board help illustrate what the American Quarter Horse means to you and its members? 

Direct from the President Himself

A: We have the ranching heritage program where breeders give a colt away to one of our youth. The letters I have gotten from those kids that got a horse has been hearting warming. They enjoy those horses so much and it means the world to them to have it. One of my favorite nights of the year is held at the AQHA Hall of Fame where we recognize breeders who have been raising Quarter Horses for 50 years. Almost all those people are old ranchers. They tell their life story and what horses mean to them and then they always thank the AQHA and tell us how proud they are to be members. I think the history of the American Quarter Horse and what it means to so many people showcases this association best.  

A C Land and Cattle Company: The Grand River Ranch

Perched on the hill overlooking the confluence of the Grand and Missouri Rivers just west of Mobridge, South Dakota, Darrel and Francie Smith’s home has a view that’s the envy of many. The ‘house on the hill’ was built by Darrel’s dad, Art (A. C.) Smith for his wife Hilda in the 1970s and served as an area landmark before the Grand River Casino was built. Darrel and Francie raised their four children, Shawn, Sherry, Corinna and Amber on the ranch where Darrel and his siblings grew up.

Art Smith grew up on the Knife River in North Dakota, and as a teenager worked for a neighbor breaking colts.

“They did it the old-fashioned way,” Darrel said. “They’d rope them, put a blindfold on, get a saddle on their backs, crawl on, pull off the blindfold, and buck them out. He learned to stay on because in that environment if you got bucked off not only did you hit the ground you got your ego ripped by the other guys too. I never saw Dad even close to getting bucked off. I’m pretty sure that if he had wanted to he could have been a national champion bronc rider.”

Art didn’t like the name Arthur Clarence, so he asked to be called ‘A. C.’ When he registered a South Dakota brand, he chose his initials: A over C on the right rib of his cattle.

Art married Hilda Rypkema in 1930. They farmed near Gettysburg for a short time, then purchased a gas station at La Plant, South Dakota. World War II made it difficult to get the supplies needed to run their business, so in 1944, the year Darrel was born, Art partnered with W. J. Foxley to run the Horseshoe Bend Ranch north of Glenham, South Dakota.

Art wanted to learn to fly, but in those post war days it was hard for someone who had not served in the military to get flying lessons. Undaunted, Art bought a plane, and hired a man to teach him to fly it. Things went awry one warm day when they were flying over some cottonwood trees and the plane stalled out. The plane crashed, leaving Art with a broken back. His doctor told him he might walk but he would never ride a horse again.

Art had fired all the hired help just before the accident, so Hilda stepped up to manage the ranch and get the work done.

“There was always a tone of pride in her voice when she spoke of that,” Corinna remembered.

Determined to prove the doctor wrong, Art would crawl to the warm flowing waters of the artesian well on the ranch and soak in it. Within six months he was on a horse again.

After a shipment of cattle going to market lost weight standing on a train all night and the next day, and Art lost money, he decided it was time to venture out on his own. Art purchased the Scott place west of Mobridge from a banker whose wife didn’t like to live out there, bought some Hereford cows from Foxley, and trailed them home; this meant convincing them to cross the old Highway 12 bridge that spanned the Missouri River.

“One of my earliest memories is of seeing the cattle at the bridge just before they crossed the river,” Darrel said. “I was in the car with Mom and she was saying, ‘I hope they go, I hope they go.’ I would have been not quite two years old.”

Their calves had just been weaned, so the first thing Art’s cows did was scatter to the four winds trying to find their calves.

Darrel’s other early memory was of his Dad learning to fly. After the crash he got the plane fixed, but now he didn’t have anyone to teach him to fly it. That hadn’t worked out too well anyway, so he got in the plane and taxied back and forth on the alfalfa field that served as a runway. One day he just took off. Hilda was watching out the window, and when she saw the plane leave the ground, she said, “Oh my goodness!” and ran to the next window so she could see Art as he flew past. She went from window to window as Art made a circle around the house, saying “Oh my goodness! Oh my goodness!” at each one. Art landed on the field, took off again, and Hilda repeated her journey from window to window.

“My sister says that mom wasn’t saying ‘Oh my goodness!’” Darrel chuckled.

The ranch headquarters sat where Claymore Creek met the Grand River, just west of where the Grand River flowed into the Missouri. Today the site lies beneath the waters of Lake Oahe, but through Darrel’s childhood the cottonwood trees on the river towered over fertile fields and hay ground. The house sat about one hundred yards off the Yellowstone Trail, the first intercontinental road built across the United States. The Fort Pierre to Fort Yates wagon trail also crossed the ranch, as did Old Highway 12.

Art and Hilda raised three daughters and two sons on the ranch: Frankie, Charlotte, Claude, Darrel and Margaret. The children grew up handling cattle horseback with their parents.

“One time we were bringing the cows down the hill into the yard and they didn’t really want to come,” Darrel remembered. “Mom came out of the house to see if she could help, but Dad waved her back, so she turned around and trotted toward the house. Just then a cow took off at a dead run after her. Mom didn’t see the cow and had no idea she needed to hustle. We were all sitting there watching this ‘race’ unable to do anything. We didn’t dare holler or we knew Mom would turn around and then for sure the cow would get her. Mom got to the house and went in the door, and the cow came to a sliding stop in the mud next to the porch, all four feet making tracks in the wet gumbo. Mom looked out the window and saw the tracks. ‘What happened?’ She asked!”

“Dad was an early riser,” Darrel said. “He always liked to be up early. When it came to branding day he would get up about three o’clock in the morning. I suppose he was nervous about how things would go and couldn’t sleep. He would get us up and we’d go get the horses in and saddled in the dark. Then we’d go to the house and eat breakfast. We would leave to gather the cattle while it was still dark. I can remember riding along and it was so dark I couldn’t see my horse’s ears. By the time we rode to the far end of the pasture to start gathering it would be just barely light.”

Art went to a horse sale in Mobridge one time to buy a horse for his youngest daughter, Margaret. He purchased a really pretty horse that was well known to be an outlaw.

“Dad took him home and saddled him up in the barn,” Darrel said. “He was just as quiet as can be. Dad said, ‘This horse isn’t going to buck.’ Dad got on him in the corral and he broke in two. He bucked so hard that he finally fell on his side and hurt Dad’s leg a little. Dad rode him till he had him bucked out and then he said, ‘Open the gate,’ and we rode out to get the milk cows. There was a steep hill behind the house and as we were bringing the cows back down the hill that horse decided this would be a good place to buck again. He bucked all the way down that hill. Dad stayed with him. He got him to where he was really a pretty good horse, and Margaret rode him for years. But every now and then he would give a big jump about fifteen feet sideways and come down doubled up and bucking. He would buck Margaret off, and then just stand there and wait for her to get back on and away they’d go.”

In the late 1950s the U.S. Corps of Engineers approached Art about buying his land along the river. They were preparing to build the Oahe Dam across the Missouri River near Pierre, and also planning to rebuild Highway 12 right across the Smith’s ranch.

“They wanted to buy the land without appraising it,” Darrel said. “Dad said no. The Corps ended up with three different appraisers because they didn’t want to pay what the land was worth. Dad finally got his own appraiser; he actually hired the appraiser who had trained the other three. It turned out that the Corps’ original offer was half the amount Dad’s appraiser valued the land at. The Corps still wanted to buy at half price, so Dad took them to court. They ended up settling on the steps of the courthouse for eighty-five dollars per acre, about seventy-five percent of the appraised value of the land. If Dad had won the case and gotten the full price he would have had to pay the court costs and would have ended up with about seventy-five percent of the money after costs, so he felt this was as good as he could expect.”

Art also traded land north of the new Highway 12 for land to the south so that he could keep a more contiguous unit. Art and Hilda moved the ranch house and headquarters up Claymore Creek about two miles south of the original location.

“The water of Lake Oahe came here in 1962, the same year I graduated from High School,” Darrel said. He spent most of the next two decades away from the ranch.

Darrel earned a Bachelor’s Degree in in Agricultrual Operations from South Dakota State University, graduating in 1966. He also got his pilot’s license while studying at SDSU. In the fall of 1967 he went to Montana State University in Bozeman to get a Master’s Degree in Range Management. While attending Montana State he met Francie Ahern. The couple married in 1969, just a few hours before boarding a plane to Germany where Darrel was stationed with the U.S. Army for two years.

“In ROTC training we were told to pick from the top three branches and pick our top three location choices. One of the branches was required to be combat. I picked armored tanks and chose Europe,” Darrel said. “This was during the Vietnam War, and everybody ended up in Vietnam. I was the only one in my Fort Knox class who went to Europe. I was stationed at Fulda, right on a major East/West invasion route, with an Armored Tank Cavalry Unit. It just might be a miracle that I was not sent to Vietnam.”

When Darrel and Francie returned from Germany in 1971 they returned to the ranch for a year but ended up leaving and going back to Bozeman.

“Claude, Margaret and I each came back to the ranch at different times with the idea of staying, but Dad wasn’t ready to let it go,” Darrel said.

Darrel went back to school at Montana State, earning a degree in Accounting and Finance, and taught there as a lecturer for ten years. Meanwhile he also bought a hardware store in Dillon, Montana, and bought his father-in-law’s business of supplying concessions to Yellowstone Park.

“Basically I sold potato chips in Yellowstone for the summer. June twentieth through August twentieth was the peak season,” Darrel said.

In 1981 Darrel got a call from Art.

“Are you interested in coming back to the ranch?” Art asked.

Darrel flew from Bozeman to Bismarck where his folks picked him up. Over the weekend they came up with a deal.

“I think Dad knew his health was not good,” Darrel said. “That was probably why it worked.”

Darrel and Francie moved their young family back to South Dakota, and Art passed away later that year.

Changes have come over the years, and Darrel noted two individuals whose influences have transformed the ranch: Allen Savory and Bud Williams.

“When I came back, the ranch was divided into about six pastures,” Darrel said, “And it was managed seasonally as was typical: one pasture for the summer, one for the winter, and so forth. Then I started learning about ways to increase productivity of the grassland.”

After hearing Allen Savory speak about intensive grazing management and rotational grazing practices, Darrel completely rearranged the fences. Water was the main challenge.

“We put a submarine in Lake Oahe to pump water to the ranch,” Darrel said. “We put in miles of pipeline. Initially we put in three major tanks.”

The pastures were split into a ‘pie shaped’ grazing system with about twenty pastures. The efforts paid off as Darrel saw both increased productivity and range improvement.

“We managed this way for years,” Darrel said. “Then I heard a guy speak who was doing the same thing we were doing only more of it. We had basically doubled our production, but he had quadrupled his.”

Darrel wondered what the difference was.

“I decided it involved work,” he said. “We put in more waterlines and started using a single electric wire and pigtail posts to split the pastures further for more intensive grazing. I’m amazed at how well it works. We now split things up into about eighty pastures, and we’re going to start putting in some more permanent fences using fiberglass posts and high-tensile wire.”

Bud Williams’ low stress livestock handling techniques also changed life on the ranch drastically.

“I grew up with a lot of ‘whoop and holler’ and high stress involved in working cattle,” Corinna remembered. “That doesn’t happen anymore.”

Darrel has AI’d his cattle for years, and AI’ing the heifers was always a particularly wild situation.

“After we learned to be on the edge of their flight zone it was totally different,” Darrel said. “The heifers were so relaxed they would just lie down and we could ride through them.”

There were still adventures along the way.

“We were just learning Bud Williams’ methods,” Darrel remembered, “When a heifer got out. She was in with some cattle across the highway.”

Darrel saddled a horse they called Boots, got a helper, and they rode out to get her. They quietly worked the heifer out using the new techniques.

‘Man, that worked slick!’ Darrel thought, as they trailed her down the ditch toward their gate and her herd mates. Just then a cattle pot came down the hill, and as he went past the driver laid hard on his horn.

“Boom! That heifer was back across the highway and over the fence,” Darrel remembered.

It quickly became obvious that gently bumping the edge of her flight zone was not going to work a second time.

“We went back to doing things the ‘cowboy’ way,” Darrel said. He roped the heifer, and Boots pulled her toward the highway while the others prodded her from behind. The heifer kept all four legs stiff and unwillingly followed in a series of stubborn jumps. They got about half way to the fence and Boots decided he was tired of the whole process.

“Boots was just done,” Darrel said, “So I turned him around to hold the heifer. Then the heifer turned around and decided it was time to go back to the herd. Now things were reversed; the heifer was dragging Boots back toward the other cattle. Pretty soon the heifer decided that she really needed to be in the Oahe Reservoir.”

“Boots had this trick where he would put his head down and narrow his shoulders when he was bucking,” Corinna interjected. “The saddle would slip over his shoulders. I remember seeing dad ride the saddle right to the ground!”

As the heifer headed into the water, Boots pulled his trick. Darrel quickly let go of his dally, the heifer headed into the water with his rope, and Darrel was left sitting on the saddle in the mud while Boots stood back with not a stitch on him. Even the bridle had come off!

When asked how they finally got the heifer back, Darrel just shook his head.

“We won’t tell that part of the story,” he said. “We went back another day.”

Today the cattle are mainly handled with four-wheelers, although ranch Foreman David Dagley still uses and trains horses and also trains some talented cattle dogs. Recently, a video of David’s dog ‘Annie’ gathering Darrel’s heifers went viral after being shared online.

“We’re pretty thankful for David,” Darrel said. “He does an exceptional job for us.”

Darrel and Francie’s children have all pursued other interests. Shawn followed his passion for computers and currently works on huge corporations’ computer systems. He and his wife Ivetta live in Sydney, Australia, with their daughters Alyssa and Milana. Sherry worked on the ranch for eight years before venturing further afield; spending time working on a dude ranch in Hawaii, guiding fishermen in Alaska, and caring for her grandmother in Montana. She and her husband Chris Mamaril now live and work at a resort on Little Cayman Island. Corinna and Amber both live in Lynchburg, Virginia. Corinna taught piano lessons for twenty years and also did in-home care for several elderly relatives and completed an internship in Biblical Counselling. Her husband, Marcus Ross, has taught at Liberty University in Lynchburg since 2005, and the couple has four children: Katriella, Micah, Daniel, and Sienna. Amber went to Romania after graduating from high school, then worked on two of John Thune’s campaigns before getting a degree at Patrick Henry College in Virginia. She currently works for Liberty Counsel (and her husband Mark is an administrator and teaches at Liberty University). The couple has three children, Hannah, Luke and Zachary.

Life on the ranch has been a wild ride at times, but these days the family traditions are being passed on to Smith’s grandchildren. Darrel and Francie recently celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary, and with family home to throw a party, Darrel took time to give his grandchildren some shooting lessons with his old .22 rifle. The children all got to ride horseback and explore the ranch, soaking in the scenery and the fresh air. Even though they are not a part of daily life on the ranch any more, Corinna and Amber want their children to know and appreciate what it’s like.

Darrel also stays involved with the South Dakota Family Policy Council, an organization he has supported since it’s inception. He is also active with the Citizens Equal Rights Alliance on Federal Indian Policy issues, a topic that very much hits home since the Smiths live on the Standing Rock Reservation in Corson County.

While Darrel and Francie are less active in the day to day operations of the ranch than they used to be, they still are grateful to call such a beautiful place home.

“I often pull into the yard and think, ‘Wow, what a hard place to live,’” Darrel said. F

Prairie Memories By Gary Heintz: School Days, 1930s

Dad didn’t walk uphill to school both ways when he was a kid, but many times getting to school was an adventure just the same.

The Heintz family lived at many different locations when the kids were growing up, including one just a half mile northwest of town. The rule was that unless you lived at least a mile from the city limits, you didn’t ride the school bus, so Dad and his siblings would cut across the pasture to the edge of town, then walk the half mile through town to the new school, built just a few years before they moved to Harrold. Normally that wasn’t a bad trek, and riding the bus wasn’t a luxury anyway in the early 30’s. Two benches facing each other with the door in the rear was the extent of it. The only warmth in the winter came from engine heat being channeled under the floor board. Walking to school in the winter across the open prairie was a different deal, and though the bus would drive right by the Heintz house, it seldom picked them up even on cold wintry days.

The Depression forced Dad’s family to move often, one move taking them to a farm five miles northwest of Canning, if you followed the road. The kids would walk a straight line across fields and pastures to get to school in Canning, cutting that distance in half. Once in a while someone would pick them up, letting them ride on the running board or on the flatbed of a truck, but they usually walked, rain or shine.

When Dad was in high school he worked at Dave Willer’s drugstore in Harrold after school and on weekends. The Heintz family was living on a small farm about a half mile southeast of town at the time. Late in the day of Dad’s high school graduation it hailed hard for about a half hour, breaking all the windows on the west side of the school building. Dad left the drugstore, hurrying home to get ready for graduation night, trudging across a field covered with hail still four or five inches deep. He was anxious to get home and put on his brand new suit bought for the occasion, and looked forward to showing it off to his friends and classmates. He was vain about his looks and his clothes all his life, and a new suit was a real big deal to him. The family piled into the car when it was time to go, and they slowly started up the hill on the dirt road leading to town. The rain and hail had turned the road into mud and when the car dropped into a rut filled with water, the tires lost traction. Dad and Uncle Kenneth got out and rocked and pushed the car, trying to gain some leverage in the slick mud. As they gave one big push, their dad gunned the motor and the spinning tires slid sideways spraying mud all over Dad’s new suit. He started walking home angry and disgusted with everybody and everything, vowing to not go to his own graduation. After much persuasion by his mom and sisters, he agreed to go, the problem now being what could he wear? A phone call to his best friend Dale Haas solved the problem. Dad could borrow his suit pants. Of course Dad being 6’1” and Dale being barely 5’10” and 20 pounds lighter made the fit a bit tight and Dad’s skinny ankles stuck out of the bottom of the pants when he stood up, but since he was in the back row, nobody seemed to notice.

The closest I came to having a walking uphill both ways to school story was my sophomore year of college when Dennis Marso, Norman Galinat, Wes Bjerke and I lived in an apartment twelve blocks from campus. Wes usually drove to school, but the rest of us walked, saving gas for the drives home to Harrold. It sometimes seemed like a long walk down the flat, tree-lined streets of Aberdeen to the college, but I sure wasn’t in grade school walking across the wind swept South Dakota prairie. Our parents’ stories of trekking miles to school may have been stretched by a mile or two over the years, but that walk would be one part of the good old days I would not want to experience.

AQHA Ranching Heritage Breeders Young Horse Development Program

Do you know a youth looking to earn scholarships and bolster his or her résumé? If so, you need to tell them about the AQHA Ranching Heritage Breeder Young Horse Development Program.

American Quarter Horse Youth Association members have the opportunity to participate in hands-on horse training as they complete a record book and submit assignments that teach the fundamentals of horsemanship. Then they can showcase their learned skills and knowledge, and earn scholarships and prizes through the Young Horse Development Program.

“The Young Horse Development Program was developed to help youth gain hands-on experience in working with and training horses,” said Craig Huffhines, AQHA executive vice president. “The program gives youth the opportunity to showcase their hard work and dedication to their project by completing a record book and participating in a show. This will, in turn, give participants a skill set that will set them apart when applying for scholarships, college and jobs.”

For the project, accepted AQHYA members receive a donated weanling from an AQHA Ranching Heritage Breeder. Youth who are not selected to receive a donated foal, but are still accepted into the program, will be able to purchase a weanling from a Ranching Heritage Breeder and participate in the program. Throughout the program, AQHYA members work with and train their foals, complete assignments and exhibit the foals at a show. The participants also get the opportunity to be mentored by an AQHA Professional Horseman. Ultimately, the project participants have the chance to be recognized and rewarded with scholarships.

Generous Ranching Heritage Breeders are already selecting weanlings to donate to this year’s program. A foal that has been donated by a Ranching Heritage Breeder is transferred to the participant’s name, and AQHA covers the transfer fee. To receive one of these donated foals, free of charge, AQHYA members should submit application and waiver forms by August 15. Applications will be accepted until October 1, however applicants have a better chance at admission into the program and being matched with a foal in their area by applying by the priority deadline of August 15.

The weanlings donated by Ranching Heritage Breeders will be announced and matched with the youth applicants between September and November.

The 2019-2020 participants are vying for $5,000 in scholarships and prizes.

1st place: $2,000 scholarship and an Awards Recognition Concepts belt buckle.

2nd place: $1,500 scholarship and a pair of Justin boots.

3rd place: $1,000 scholarship and a certificate for a pair of Wrangler jeans.

4th place: $500 scholarship and a certificate for a pair of Wrangler jeans.

To learn more about the Young Horse Development Program, visit www.aqha.com/yhd.

AQHA Corporate Partner Nutrena, the official equine, dog and cat feed of AQHA, supports the AQHA Ranching Heritage breeder Young Horse Development Program. Nutrena provides feed certificates to each of the participants in the program.


Warner Beef Genetics: Building on a legacy

The Warner family roots run deep in Furnas County Nebraska. 135 years and six generations raising crops and cattle. Otto Warner emigrated from Germany when he was 16 in 1884. He homesteaded in Furnas County, eventually marrying a local girl Leonie Kammerer. They farmed and raised a large family. Their son Robert carried on the family farming tradition, he also married a local girl Rose Hilker. Their son Robert Jr continued farming with his wife Marjorie Litz whom he married in 1945.

“My Dad, Robert Jr worked off the farm during the winter time. The biggest project he worked on was the Beaver City Municipal Pool. It was all built by hand and since it was winter they had to keep the cement covered and heated.” Monte Warner said. “The blizzards of 1948 & ’49 were tough. Dad walked across country to town to get groceries, it was a good 5-6 miles and he purchased only what he could carry back. Dealing with all the snow was hard. We didn’t have any equipment that could move the snow out of the roads, Dad’s only option was a shovel. The military had a depot in Hastings, Nebraska, 100 miles away. They brought Caterpillars out to plow out the roads. Those guys worked around the clock and the Cats didn’t have cabs. They used old house windows and wood to cobble up protection for the operators and to contain the engine heat for warmth.”

Monte married a Cozad, Nebraska girl Kristie Lammers in 1972 after graduating college in Hastings, Nebraska. “Dad said he couldn’t support four boys farming.” Monte said. “So in 1976 we purchased 320 acres of farm and pasture land and together with the starter herd of 20 Hereford cows I had accumulated while in 4-H, we started on our own. The land my great grandfather homesteaded is still in the Warner family but I don’t live on any of it.”

The couple had two sons Darren and Dan. While in high school Dan injured his back and was unable to play sports, his good friend Brian Helms got hurt too. So Dick Helms, Brian’s dad took the boys to the Gelbvieh Junior National Show in Oklahoma, that trip became a turning point in Dan’s life igniting a lifelong affair with the breed. “What started as a hobby has become an addiction.” Dan said.

By this time the family herd of cows had grown to 300, Monte went to an ABS AI school in 1975 and started improving his herd, introducing Gelbvieh genetics in the mid-1980s. “We bred up what we had.” Monte said.

Darren graduated from college and returned in 1996 to Furnas County to take over and expand the farming side of the operation. The family rented more farm ground and he married Amy Keir, the couple has three children Aubree, Bryson and Addelyn who are involved in the farm.

Dan attended college in Colorado, graduating in 2000, and he married Kate Kessinger. They moved back to Furnas County and focused on the cow herd. Dan and Kate have four children Gentry, Berkley, Kallan, & Creyton. The older ones are already showing cattle at the Junior National Shows, the National Western and at State Fairs. “We work as a family and have fun as a family.” Dan said.

Over time they grew the herd, now running around 400 registered Balancer cows and over 500 Gelbvieh influenced commercial cows. They have an extensive AI and embryo transfer program, using their own commercial cows as the recipient herd. The Warner’s began selling bulls’ private treaty in 1995 and held their first live sale in 2005. Now Warner Beef Genetics sells 120 to 130 young bulls at their annual sale the first Tuesday in March. They also have a fall female sale and have joined with two other producers; Andrea Murray from Oklahoma and Cedar Top Ranch of Nebraska, to hold the Red River Bull Sale in Texas during November, with the goal to increase demand for Gelbvieh and Balancer genetics in the southern part of the country.

Monte and his sons each have their own place, but help each other when needed. Dan handles the cattle side along with long time employee Cory Helms. Darren is the farmer of the family, growing the feed needed for the large herd along with row crops. They wean and background all the calves and sold for many years on the Superior video sale. This past fall they did sell private treaty with the goal to be able to follow the cattle all the way through the feeding and harvesting process to collect data.

“Balancer cattle work well across the United States; they adapt to and thrive in all environments, from the desert southwest to the mountains.” Dan said. “We guarantee our cattle and most of our cows are 5th, 6th, and even 7th generation Balancers so they are consistent and uniform.”

“My dad always said in agriculture if you aren’t growing, you’re dying.” Dan said. “We need to stay steady and grow at the rate our customers demand. We reach out to market the number of cattle we sell and are now seeing breeders and ranchers coming to buy replacement females. I hope to be able to be a source for our bull customers’ replacement female needs.”

Dan has been very active in the American Gelbvieh Association, having served on the board and also as vice president of the executive committee. Currently he acts as the breed improvement committee chair.

Dan and Kate were honored as the AGA Breeder of the year for 2018 during the awards banquet held at the 48th annual AGA National Convention in Nashville, Tennessee. They were honored because of the contribution Warner Beef Genetics has made to the breed, both in Genomics and in DNA technology to improve data collections. “We were honored to be selected by our peers.” Dan said.

Always looking to grow and improve Balancer genetics, Dan and Kate have created TransPacific Genetics. They partnered with Australian breeders to offer quality Balancer Genetics to producers in that country.

Sale cattle and contact information can be found on Facebook at Warner Beef Genetics and also on their website www.warnerbeef.com. They welcome calls and visits, always eager to share their cattle with producers.