Feeding those who feed America
Feeding those who feed America
Ranch wife: Sharon Cardwell fits the bill
by Savanna Simmons
“She’s stuck with us thick and thin, a lot of thin not very much thick,” Bob Cardwell, of Lusk, Wyoming, said of his wife Sharon, as she scurried around the kitchen preparing lunch.
Sharon Cardwell, as wisp of a woman stronger than most men, is the epitome of a ranch wife, from her deeply-tanned face, to her missing right forefinger and her no-nonsense Wranglers. She has known her share of hurts, but continues on each day with unimaginable strength.
She grew up in Iowa as a corn/cattle/hog farmer girl, as she described it and traveled west after high school.
Sharon grew up helping wherever she was needed inside the house or out. Her mom and aunt taught her how to fill everyone’s bellies; repayment for hard work was food.
“Back in those day we baled hay together with my Aunt Florence and Uncle Elwin and their family and so no matter whose place we were at, we came in and had a big meal at lunchtime,” she said. “There were no dishwashers and all the appliances we have nowadays to fix a big meal. Mom or my aunt would go out to their garden and get probably 90 percent of the produce and beef they had raised and put out a big meal for us.”
It didn’t stop there, she said, “We went out to the fields and worked all afternoon and at 4 o’clock whoever’s place we were at, my mom or my aunt would show up with roast beef sandwiches and cookies and Kool-Aid religiously, and everybody ate again like they hadn’t because you were working.”
She continues to feed a hungry crew, though these days it consists of cowboys and cowgirls.
“I love when a bunch of hungry cowboys sit down at my table because you can put out just about anything and they’re going to wolf it down because they’re hungry,” Sharon said. “It’s very heartwarming to be able to have a table full of men and gals who have been out with you and working alongside you all day and being able to share that.”
Shipping is her favorite time of year; it’s the culmination of that year’s crop and work. On their ranch at the base of the Pedro Mountains, there were several families relatively close to the same age as Bob and Sharon when they were first married.
“The tradition in that community is everybody brought something in to help with the meal, so you knew you were going to have extra food coming in, which was a big, big help,” she said. “That’s how I got started in my cooking career was helping others. Then, in turn, helping me when it was my turn to feed a branding crew.”
Sharon said she loves the social aspect of helping neighbors.
“It’s been fun going to the different communities. That’s when we were exchanging recipes and trying something new to see if it was going to fly or not. The guys help each other out in their line of work, why don’t the women help each other?”
Sharon said there are two stories of how she and Bob came to be. They’ve been married nearly 40 years.
Sharon said Bob’s version is that “In a nutshell, I heard there was a good-looking cowboy out here in Wyoming and I was just attracted to him.”
Her version is slightly longer. “After high school, I worked on a dude ranch near Loveland, Colorado, and just fell in love with the area and the countryside. After college, I found a job on a ranch near Casper, Wyoming, as a ranch hand,” Sharon said. “This gentleman preferred to hire women as opposed to men because they would listen and do things his way. Then the neighbor gal set us up and the rest is history.”
She said both versions are true. Sharon works alongside her husband and has a say in ranch happenings.
“I think the most important thing is being a partner with your husband and being included in day-to-day activities in and outside of the home and in and outside of the barn and being asked your opinion and your opinion being valued, not that it’s always taken,” she said. “It was of course what I dreamed of as a little girl growing up and it’s a dream come true. I just happened to find me a good one.”
Sharon said her family is her greatest source of pride.
“She raised two kids and now she’s blessed with four grandkids that are the light of our lives,” Bob said.
She and Bob have a daughter Brenda Williams, who helps operate their ranch in Alcova, Wyoming. She and husband Clayton Williams have two children, Zade and Hannah.
Bob and Sharon’s son Tom died in 2014 at the age of 33 to kidney cancer. He and wife Heidi gave Sharon two granddaughters, Bristol and Reagan.
“Tom getting cancer is something we never ever imagined. He was going to be one of those cases where he would beat the odds, and that didn’t happen. So what we had thought we would be doing has changed,” Sharon said.
The Cardwells remain on their ranch north of Lusk, though their initial plans for that ranch were to get their son and daughter-in-law started in ranching.
“When Tom and Heidi leased it from us, that was going to be their way of getting started and we were going to be slowing down a little bit, we thought, and things didn’t go that way,” she said. “Tom fought tooth and nail to the very end and there’s just been days where you think you can’t go on and you don’t want to go on and that’s not the mindset Tom had, so you just take a deep breath. kick a rock, say a prayer and bail to it again.”
“We want to keep the ranch going because we want the girls to experience what their dad would have had them doing,” she said. “We haven’t had the hardships other people have had. My hope is that all the young people in this community and all of our friends and neighbors at the Pedro Ranch, I pray that nobody ever has to go through it.”
Her grandkids love visiting the ranch, Sharon said. They carve out time well-spent making memories.
“All the grandkids enjoy coming out to the ranch and they like to ride and be a part of it. We love including them and whenever they come, we take time to do some kind of baking of some kind,” she said. “Bristol’s pretty darn good at cake decorating; the more sprinkles the better.”
Sharon’s son lives on in her heart and she speaks with him frequently.
“I talk to Tom quite a bit, especially when we have water problems,” she said. “I say, ‘Tom, what are we not seeing? What are we overlooking?’ Those nights that we have the glorious clouds with the sun shining down through them, I say, ‘how does it look on your side?’” F
Tom’s Favorite Chocolate Cherry Cake
1 box chocolate cake mix
1 can cherry pie filling
1 teaspoon almonds
Mix and bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup milk
5 Tablespoons butter
Boil for 90 seconds then add 1 cup chocolate chips. Beat and pour on hot cake.
Fruit Swirl Coffee Cake
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon almond
Blend above ingredients and add 3 cups flour. Spread half of batter into greased jelly roll pan. Spread 1 can pie filling over batter. Drop remaining batter on top. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes at 350 degrees.
Grandma A’s Cucumber Slicers
Peel and slice cucumbers, sprinkle with salt and soak for one hour.
Boil 2 cups sugar, 1/3 cup water, 1 cup vinegar. Add salt, pepper, and celery seed to taste.
Squeeze salt and add to cool syrup with onion.
Three Envelope Beef Roast
3 to 5 pound beef chuck roast
1 cup water
One envelope dry onion soup mix
One envelope dry Italian dressing mix
One envelope dry brown gravy mix
Whisk together the water with ingredients from all three envelopes. Pour about 1/4 cup of the liquid in the bottom of the crockpot. Place the roast on top. Don’t be tempted to season the roast. There is plenty of salt and other seasonings in the envelopes. Pour the remaining liquid mixture over the top of the roast, cover and cook on low for eight or more hours or on high four to five hours.
To thicken gravy, remove the roast and tent with foil to keep warm. Carefully transfer the contents of the crockpot to a saucepan and stir in a slurry of one tablespoon of cornstarch with just enough water to loosen. Stir into the sauce, bring up to a boil, reduce and simmer until thickened.
Chocolate Chip Cookies
1 cup butter
1 cup butter Crisco
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 egg whites
3 teaspoons vanilla
4 1/4 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 3-ounce package instant vanilla pudding
Bake at 350 degrees and remove when still puffy. Let sit on cookie sheet for one to two minutes.