Remembering a great father: Kenneth Duvall
Kenneth Duvall, of Gillette, Wyoming ranched in Campbell County, Wyoming 95 years minus the four years he was stationed in the Aleutian Islands during WW ll, right after he graduated with the class of ‘44 from Rozet, Wyoming.
While in the service for the Army, he was supply clerk and was discharged early because he did not take any of his leave. He said that on the Island there was no place to go, so he never took his days off. This allowed him to be released early, to return back to the family ranch in Wyoming.
The Aleutian Islands may only be 2,674 miles from Rozet, Wyoming, but to a young ranch kid fresh out of Rozet High School, from the class of ‘44, it could have been a million miles away from the country he grew up in and missed.
Before returning home, the war had ended and a ship load of female prisoners were released from Japan to return to the States. Duvall was one of the few men to escort the ship full of women back home. He was told the one reason he was chosen was because of his quiet nature and was never in trouble nor did he hang out with the guys that hung out with the woman. He said he could hear the woman’s shoes as they came up the metal steps up top and true to his nature, go slipped around the ship the opposite direction because he did not want to run into any of them, he laughs about it later, his shy nature.
A memory that he liked to share about being the supply clerk was they never ended up eating any of the dried fruit that was shipped in because one of the crew members knew how to use the dry fruit and make it into wine. He said the wine was strong flavored and a man wouldn’t want too many swallows because it made it hard to find the door to leave the supply room and find your way back to your own room.
Duvall enjoyed talking to kids at the local Rockpile Museum about his service in the war.
He says he is proud to have been able to answer questions the students had. The students really paid attention to him when he spoke of the war and he was proud that the museum recorded the presentation, and has made it available to anyone to watch and listen to.
Duvall had an older brother Merle, who had enlisted in ‘42 and served until ‘45. During the tour of duty, Merle was hit with shrapnel while on guard duty April 30, 1945 and spent time healing in a Paris hospital. Merle’s job included riding on the front of a tank looking for land mines. The gunner could pick off sniper filled church steeples at 55 mph. “These stories left quite a memory for me” said Duvall, proud of his older brother.
When WW ll ended in ‘45, rations all over the nation and the world were tight, with many items unavailable. “One time there was no tire to replace the flat on my ‘36 Chevy, so I used leather strips and wrapped it around the wheel so I could continue down the road,” Duvall recalled. Making do is what the nation had to do at the time, everybody gave up something because at then there was over 700,000 items no longer available – including work pants.
When the troops returned home after the War ended they were issued a pin to wear to prove they had not gone AWOL.
There was time during the war when no one state side could drive with headlights on at night for fear of being a target. “I was still in high school and was helping to build a second room at the school and had to take my horse over and ride home in the dark, I knew my horse could see to come home and I couldn’t in the dark. One time when I was riding, a wolf followed pretty close to me and my dog stayed almost under the horse for safety. When I got home I told my dad, a wolf followed me quite a ways and dad told me there were no wolves in the country. Well, it wasn’t too much longer a car pulled up and asked if we had seen a wolf, they had been tracking it and the tracks came right to our place. Dad believed me then,” Duvall laughed.
Duvall spent the last 71 years of his life ranching, most of it with his bride, Norma Lou (Hayden) before her passing in ‘05. When Norma Lou became sick, Kenneth wanted to take her to the hospital and she said, she would rather go to Branson, Missouri. So, he took her to Branson. “We rode a bus and she would get tired from all the stops and walks, so in order to keep up with the group, I would carry her. She was so little then it wasn’t hard for me to do. When we got back she went to the hospital and then between our two daughters and myself we cared for her at home as much as possible. She was the organizer for us and really kept us lined out and on schedule.”
“When our two girls were little I would take Kenna, the oldest with me to be my hired hand so to speak. At only five years old, Kenna and our sheep dog could bring the herd of sheep into the corral alone. Her granddad was sure impressed with that. Karen the youngest by only a couple years stayed more inside with her mom until she was a little older,” he said. Today, the sisters operate the ranch, with help from Duvall until his passing this spring.
Duvall felt fortunate to have his two daughters, Kenna and Karen home and working at first with him like they did growing up, except now they are running the ranch. Kenna taught school in Campbell County after graduating in ‘75 from Black Hills College, Spearfish, South Dakota, and taught until her mother, Norma Lou needed more care and medical attention, which also meant her dad needed more help on the ranch with the sheep and cows, thus she retired from teaching in 2006 to be full time on the ranch. The hours are about the same as teaching school, Kenna said: “Up before daylight and not done until after dark.” She smiles under her faded hat and says she wouldn’t have it any other way.
Karen, the younger of two sisters, graduated out of Rapid with two degrees, in 1986, taking a job as a Tax Professional shortly after and continues to do, making this her 32nd year, but cutting back more and more to help on the ranch and help with her dad. Karen mentioned that several people have suggested they sell the ranch and travel, relax and enjoy some free time from the stress of the predators, blizzards and droughts and other things that keep them so busy. Her reply was simple and to the fact, “Money can’t buy what we have here, we have family and that is the most important thing there is to me, my sister and dad, just like it was for our mom.”
Sheep shearing or docking are a couple times of year when extra help is needed and greatly appreciated, lots of years, it’s like a mini family reunion as cousins, nieces and nephews and their kids come out to the ranch to help. Meanwhile the two sisters gather the sheep in preparation and make sure all the items that are needed are ready and available such as vaccines, needles, syringes and including lunch and snacks for all the help. Things they remember their mom did so easy for years, they feel they struggle maybe forgetting some needed item. “Mom was very efficient with all we needed and we didn’t realize how much she really did for the operation until we we were left to take over,” Karen said.
Karen laughed when she told stories of the friends from town that couldn’t wait to come visit out in the country and help with the chores that at times seemed like work to Karen, but, her friends loved to feed the bum lambs, which was always a favorite chore when anyone came out, or go out to bring the sheep in if needed or tend to the cats or whatever chores that needed done. They seemed to bring a cheerful side out, just because they were in the country, where it was peaceful and quiet, no horns or loud motors.
Kenna and Karen remember their family had kids from town that seemed to get in a little trouble because they didn’t have enough to keep them busy, so, the kids would be sent out to work on the ranch. There was haying to be done which meant a lot of long hot hours stacking hay. Fixing fence was another common assignment.
One thing the Duvalls, were known for was teaching the three R’s, respect, resilience and responsibility, which straightened many of them out and they went on down the road to grow up and be solid citizens, one being a judge in Casper that spent time in the summers on the ranch, who now has started a program to help youth in the city find their way like he was taught so many years ago, he also teaches , the three R’s.
Many of the kids that spent time on the ranch like to return still from time to time and say how the memories of helping are some of their favorite times of growing up.
Resilience is one thing both of Duvall’s daughters are glad they learned growing up as they deal with the responsibilities of running the sheep ranch. As issues arise, like the BLM wanting their land for the coal underneath it, they would turn to their dad and ask what he thinks they need to do. He advised and guided them.
To the relief of the Duvall family, they can stay on the land at least for now, as long as they continue to make the main living from the land, which they do and plan to continue to do, as long as the coyotes and other predators and elements can be somewhat controlled. Drought last year was hard on the sheep herd as well as it was for so many.
Years past, Duvall mentioned the drought had been so bad, when winter came they had no winter pasture and had to take to torching the cactus, burning the spikes off for the livestock to eat. Winds in the past had blown dirt and silt over the fences because of the drought so bad the dirt had nothing to hold it in place. Duvall said he had to use a neighbors tractor to scoop the dirt away from the fence to be able to repair it and bring the livestock back to the pastures they belonged in. Odd jobs had to be taken in town to help pay bills and make ends meet. Duvall worked at the local co-op, at a coal mine and an uranium mine. Being handy, he could mechanic and carpenter and was often called on to fix a down tractor for a neighbor or get a vehicle up and running again.
In the last years, Duvall could get around now with a three-wheeled electric bike. Just last year, he used it to drive the bucks into the corral just before rain hit on shearing day. The bucks of course out weighing Duvall and his electric ride by double the weight and almost eye to eye contact for height. Duvall did win the challenge once again as he doesn’t know the word “quit” before a job is done.
When Duvall would bring his wife to Gillette for groceries or doctor appointments, they would stop at Dairy Queen for lunch or a snack, “It was her favorite place to eat.” He said, “So, we still stop there and visit with people who see the my WW ll cap I wear proudly and they stop to shake my hand and say thank you. One day, a young man stopped, shook my hand and told me thank you for my service to the country, I told him , thank you as well because he had a Vet cap too, he told me, he couldn’t have served if I and others like me, hadn’t served so many years ago.”
Duvall died April 22, 2022 at the age of 95.
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