Kenny & Roxie Fox, Ranching on the Big White River
“We are thankful to God for having this place to begin with, and basically the God-given freedom of living where we want and doing what we want. We appreciate everything and there’s so many blessings…I try to count them every day, but sometimes we get so super busy we don’t take time to really give thanks.”
That’s Roxie Fox’s philosophy. Ranch-reared near Alzada, Montana, she grew up tough but surrounded by some of God’s most beautiful creation as long as she can remember. Youngest in the Clyde and Darlene Raber family – the family that “had four girls and three boys and then Roxie” – she has rich memories of the freedom they experienced in that beautiful setting, even though times were often hard, and recalls Alzada as “a good community.”
Roxie’s dad Clyde shed blood for America during the Normandy invasion, and barely survived. “He was a disabled vet but we didn’t realize it. He’d spent a year and a half in a body cast, had no hip joint on one side and was missing part of his intestines, but he never complained or acted like anything was wrong,” she says. “Dad and Mom believed in being parents! They taught us to work, and if we were finished at home we better go do something for the neighbors, or hire out.” Clyde Raber, while calling himself “a cobbler,” was “really quite a mechanic” his daughter says. “He always had us out in the shop rebuilding something,” she says.
“I was born into the ranch and that’s always been the most important thing to me . . . just ranching,” Roxie says.
Horses are an integral part of that lifestyle, in spite of the “mean Shetland pony” her dad started her out on. “I did train some barrel horses, to sell, because the market was pretty good for a while,” the cowgirl says. “But when the market fell out of it I did too. I competed some, in nearby rodeos, just to season the horses I was training,” Roxie says.
“Basically, my whole life I’ve enjoyed ranching, and that’s been our whole quest together,” she says, speaking of her husband Kenny Fox. The self-effacing Roxie graduated high school in 1975 and hesitantly admits to having represented her area as Miss Rodeo Crook County before marrying Kenny in 1978.
“Roxie and I are both third generation ranchers, but we sure didn’t have much at the time of that marriage,” Kenny says. “I grew up on the South Moreau River, north of Newell in Butte County.” He was eldest of four boys and says, “Randy, the brother just younger than me, is on the ranch we grew up on. Our youngest brother is on a ranch south of Hermosa now.”
The first job the newlywed Foxes held down together was for Doug Johnson, on a ranch that joined Kenny’s dad’s ranch. “He let us run a few cows and we had room and board . . . and then we got that job in Wyoming,” Kenny says.
That was on an absentee-owner ranch between Hulett, Wyoming and the Montana state line where they lived for seven years of Kenny and Roxie’s early married life, and where their boys were born. “The boys” includes Shawn, now a law enforcement officer in Spearfish and married to Jodi; Wade who works for Dakota Mills and is married to Patty; and Jesse, employed by Peabody Coal, whose wife Supattra was born and raised in Thialand.
The Wyoming place put Roxie back in the land of her raising, among people she knew. She remembers, “People like Mary and Ivan Moore, who ranched right south of us, set a great example. Every year at branding, or maybe fall vaccinating, they invited everybody in the country. They invited the whole family, and it was always such a good time,” she says. “In that community, when you went to an event like that, the women in the family always took a dish to contribute to the big meal that fed everyone. Since we’ve moved here I don’t see that much, usually the wife where the work’s being done just prepares the meal and feeds everyone.”
“The fall of 1988 we bought this ranch,” Kenny says. That brought the Foxes move to the South Dakota country they ranch in now –midway of the state east to west, but closer to the southern boundary. “We were looking for a ranch to buy, and had looked at several,” Roxie says. “Then my brother saw an ad by a private owner and we came to look at it. It’s real pretty rough country, in the breaks of the Big White River – and having some roughs was a stipulation of Kenny’s.”
They decided the place would fit them, and it has. But it was a huge leap of faith. “In the ’90s when cattle prices got pretty tough we were in a tight spot like everyone else,” Kenny remembers. But he had a partner for better or for worse, and his eyes are a little misty when he says, “Roxie’s always had a knack for training horses and she did a lot of that then, which helped offset some of our lack. Paula Fowler is a good friend who helped her find a market for some of those horses, and it sure helped out.”
“Kenny is pure cowboy, and can really do things with a rope,” she says, totally free of the shyness she has when talking about herself. “I remember one time he was riding a runaway off the track and chasing a calf to rope. It took off down over a cliff that was so steep the horse’s rump drug the ground as they went out of sight! But when I got over there to look down, he had the calf caught. I have learned a lot from him.”
“We both love the ranching business, and we’ve stuck to it,” Kenny says. “I really enjoy working with family on the ranch, and it wouldn’t be possible without Roxie.”
The good fit of the South Dakota ranch became even sweeter in the late 1980s when they were able to buy an adjoining piece of property, which had been part of Governor Berry’s ranch. Enlarging their range with no cattle acclimating, trailing, hauling, or traveling involved is something most ranchers would give an eye-tooth for. Most would place similar value on the twisting rough breaks, in which cattle can find shelter, no matter which way the wind blows.
The supreme importance of such protection was underscored by the Atlas blizzard and other recent tough winters. “We’ve learned what pastures to keep our cows in each season of the year,” Roxie says, “and we didn’t lose anything during Storm Atlas.”
Fox pastures hold hardy black and black baldy commercial herds. “We try to keep the Hereford mix in there for the F1 cross,” Roxie says. Kenny says, “All our sons have some cattle here, too. We’re in another one of those tough times in the industry when prices are down and expenses high. That’s the history of this business.”
They’ve been on the place for 28 years and their boys spent most of their childhood on that ranch. “The boys grew up having the same ‘go get ‘em’ attitude I always had,” Roxie says. “They were all involved in the ranch, and they still come back to work with us.” Now she’s anxious for the grandchildren to get big enough to take their part there. Someone really should warn them though – for in spite of the mean Shetland Clyde Raber put her on, Roxie did the very same thing to her boys – and she’ll probably introduce the grandchildren to horses the same way.
Roxie feels very blessed in where they live, near Belvedere, South Dakota, saying, “It’s a super good community here. Everybody goes to help everyone else brand and vaccinate and share work. Beyond that we seldom get too far, except Stockgrowers events and church, but internet communications like Facebook kinda widen your world.”
One talent of Roxie’s that’s widened other people’s worlds is photography. She’s good with a camera and finds folk enjoy and cherish the photos she shares with them of their brandings or family events – always times they’re too busy to take pictures. “I say it’s my way of storing a memory or a moment, and I used to have camera in hand wherever I went,” she says.
Kenny became involved in R-CALF USA in the 1990s and has served as Chairman of the Animal I.D. Committee for them. The Foxes are also involved with the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association, where Kenny served as president from 2009 – 2011. He encourages ranchers to become more involved with others in advocacy groups that help educate the world and use the weight of numbers to push positive marketing and education programs. He noted increased membership in such groups when beef prices were at their lowest and says, “When prices get good people get involved in other pursuits. In this day and age, if you’re not active in an organization that promotes your business a lot, you are not employing good management skills.
“Consumers have way more votes than we have as producers, so they must be educated. They’re not aware that we have a lot of safeguards already built into our industry that protect the quality of our meat. We must continuously search for ways to promote ourselves and our product,” he says.
“The bottom line is, none of this would be possible without the good Lord’s help,” Kenny says. “My family and my wife’s family and our kids and grandkids are all part of it. It gives you a reason to get up in the morning and get after it.” Kenny says.
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Many students around the state of North Dakota will soon have the chance to try beef produced in their own backyard.