| Innisfree Poetry
| Enskyment Journal
Scams | Stars & Squadrons |
By Clem Caufield
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It is seventy-five miles from Dubois to the nearest town: Jackson Hole
north, Lander and Riverton to the south. Yet, the Teton Wilderness,
Yellowstone National Park and the Wind River Indian Reservation are
Dudes flock to the many guest ranches in the area for summer vacations,
wilderness pack trips and to fly fish for cut-throat trout in the many
streams and rivers which offer some of the best fishing in the United
States. In the fall hunters come to harvest big horn sheep, elk, deer
moose and in the winter, snowmobilers descend up the community taking
advantage of the excellent deep powder snow which accumulates on the
Continential Divide mountain ranges surrounding the small town.
Dubois is a "chicken and feathers" town where folks depend upon seasonal
tourism to make a living. (During the busy tourism seasons, they have
chicken to eat, but in the lean off-season, they are down to the
Comprised of 800 hardy souls who live there year around, it is an
independent western community. A popular bumper sticker proclaims the
prevailing local sentiment "We don't care how you did it back home-you
in Dubois now."
It is also a summer vacation mecca for rich folks who head for warmer
climates in the fall when the temperatures plummet and the harsh winds
down from the Wind River Mountains. Walt Disney, for example, owned a
ranch in Dubois for years and the several members of the Schwin family
bicyle fame live there.
My former husband and I were recruited to Dubois by a very wealthy
gal who had, in her retirement, decided to become a rancher. As my Dad,
lifetime cowboy and rancher, comments that would be like him deciding to
become a fish.
Dubois is close to Jackson Hole, a highly commercialized resort area
the millionaires are being bought out by the billionaires. Many wealthy
people have purchased ranches in northwest Wyoming which they use as tax
write-offs and for recreation, to the exasperation of the local ranchers
have been eking out a precarious living for years. Many actual ranchers
have gone broke due to the dismal cattle marker and rising costs of
This lady had purchased a small neglected ranch in Dubois and was
millions of dollars to make it habitable, according to her standards.
Actually, she was creating an exclusive executive retreat, a guest ranch
her well-heeled executive cronies. Among other things, the ranch
$25,000 designer outhouse which graced the lawn in front of the main
This creation had won Best of Show at a Jackson Art Show. Obviously, it
couldn't be actually used.
Her ranching actual abilities were somewhat limited. When we arrived she
had acquired a wardrobe $10,000 designer western outfits which she
when she visited the ranch on weekends. She looked like a feminine Roy
Rogers. She had also designed embossed ranch stationary and perfected a
signature of loops and flourishes which she appended to the letters she
in her capactity as a "rancher." Obviously, she needed someone who would
attend to the less glamerous aspect of running the outfit such as the
I spotted her ad for a ranch manager in the Billings Gazette. It offered
an astounding salary, free housing and benefits including a 401K plan. I
had to explain what that was to Brian, for it's not a standard part of
cowboy compensation. Most ranch managers are lucky to get an annual free
Deciding, we'd found a dream job, I quickly submitted an application and
soon we found ourselves in Dubois for a job interview. The owner was not
there so we were interviewed by the Executive Assistant (a lady who ran
business office in Jackson, attending to other business enterprises of
prospective boss) and the housekeeper, whom I later learned had a lot of
clout because of her regular gossip sessions with the owner.
It was evident, that they were anxious to hire us. In retrospect, we
should have been alerted to the fact that the boss was not present, but
Executive Assistant assured us that she was detained by other business
one of her several other homes which included a condo in Houston, a
estate in Washington and a multi-million dollar home in Jackson Hole.
A tour of the ranch hooked us. It was primarily a horse outfit. They had
small remuda running around that they didn't quite know what to do with,
including a scrawny Arabian stallion named Traveler. Traveler was highly
spirited and had put the bluff on them. Therefore, he'd been standing in
the same pen for about a year. They were wondered if it would be
to somehow train Traveler so that he could realize his purpose in
life-producing babies from a harem of Arabian mares who were also
around the ranch, having managed to elude capture. Brian told them that
he couldn't handle Traveler, he'd better quit. They were impressed, but
was the simple truth which Brian later proved.
The designer barn was more luxurious and better equipped than the cabin
were living in at the Will James Ranch in Montana where Brian was
at cowboy wages. We were also duly impressed with the main lodge and the
million dollar building project they described.
I guess we should have stopped in Dubois to ask the locals a few
but we were blinded by our good fortune and jumped at the opportunity to
a ranch for a rich lady. We accepted the job and it didn't take us long
pack our possessions in the back of our old pickup truck, load our three
horses and tack into a horse trailer and head to Dubois.
In all fairness, I must admit that we enjoyed our first few months at
place because we were on our own. Our main job was to train horses and
a hunting camp which she had also purchased which was more like a
than the grueling work Brian was accustomed to on a working cattle
We were given carte blanche to equip the place for a trail ride
we bought all the bits, tack and gear we'd ever dreamed of, but couldn't
personally afford. She even gave us $30,000 and sent us to Oklahoma to
horses where we assembled a nice string of horses for her guests to
We were like kids in a candy store.
Eventually, however, the boss showed up. (I have to be careful about
write, for she has a great propensity for suing people). She is a woman
great physical beauty, a former model who had the wit and good fortune
become involved with the Republican party. She eventually landed a
presidential appointment to a high ranking post and spent several years
Washington, DC. From there, it was just a short jump to being the CEO of
couple of major corporations and being appointed to the boards of
of others. She is a self-made millionaire and I give her credit for
However, by the time we went to work for her, she'd become pretty much
unhinged by a love of the grape and an ongoing flirtation with Jack
who is ever a fickle, faithless fellow. I've had some encounters with
Thus, life on the ranch was unpredictable when she was there because
of the time she couldn't remember what she had said or done the previous
day. Though she was enchanted wit the notion of being a rancher, she
have the first clue of what running a ranch actually entails. That,
however, didn't keep her from issuing all sorts of ridiculous edicts.
She decided to go into the cow business, aptly figuring it would be a
tax deduction. At her request, I drafted a comprehensive memo outlining
pros and cons of this business and sent it off for her review. When she
called me to inquire about the difference between a "hee-fer" and a
figured we were facing a major educational challenge. Eventually,
she directed us to buy cattle. Our main objective was to find decorative
cattle-some with "pretty" horns which would lend an authentic western
ambiance. So we settled on Longhorns, which are the lowest grade of beef
cattle, but handy for team roping, so Brian didn't mind. On the summer
that she commanded him to leave his task of baling freshly hay in order
hang $250,000 of pictures and plant $5,000 of flowers, he began to sulk
mutter about team roping for a living.
She liked Brian. As cowboys go, Brian is as authentic as they come and
although she was proud of her own personal cowboy, she felt that he
use a little refinement. Soon, he was expected to wear ties and a
to the dinner parties we were required to attend with her. I found him a
nice selection at second hand stores for Brian hadn't worn a tie or suit
since he graduated from the eighth grade. (He didn't make it to a high
Soon, Brian was expected to be her dancing pardner on her weekend
We would go to town where one of the local bars featured live music on
weekends and Brian instructed her in the nuances of the two-step, the
and the cowboy jitterbug. He's a fine dancer and did look good in his
black Stetson hat (by then he could afford a new one) and tight
Though he liked being a ranch manager, Brian was a little unnerved by
this attention and soon he refused to enter the main lodge when she was
visiting the ranch. Soon, he wouldn't answer the telephone, for fear it
her. She called our home every night, obstensibly to check on ranch, but
always said to tell Brian "Hi".
After a few months, the housekeeper confided to me that in the three
of our boss had owned the ranch, we were the ninth set of managers and
body guard who had been employed at this ranch. All our predecessors had
quit. I began to see why.
Nonetheless, we dediced to stick it out and actually lasted better than
year. It wasn't too bad until the boss decided to move to the ranch
full-time. I won't detail all the things which happened after that,
I'm sure some slick lawyer would garnish what little pay I make for the
of my life. I'll just suffice by saying that by the spring Brian decided
he'd better leave before he resorted to violence, which is the typical
cowboy solution to problems. He high tailed it back to the Will James
for calving season and we tendered our resignation. I, on the other
offered to stay until they could recruit our replacements. I was
about the horses.
I stuck it out for the next six weeks, doing all the chores and work
because by then all the other ranch employees were long gone. Once in
awhile, Andrew, her $60,000 a year Personal Chef snuck to help me feed
cattle, because he found it amusing to play cowboy. He also felt sorry
me because by then my status had deteriorated to that of a "mule", to
the boss's words.
When they final found another set of ranch managers, we had an
parting. Although she had been generous while we were in her corner, I
to see the tough side of our boss at the end. I was summoned to the
for an "exit" interview and had to sign a formal agreement promising not
sue her for anything. Then, the embarrased Executive Assistant informed
that I had forty-eight hours to clear out. I was pretty proud of myself
restraint, but it was only because I didn't like the prospect of going
jail, which is surely where I would have landed if I'd settled things on
Though I found pasture for our horses, I couldn't find a hourse to rent
Dubois on such a short notice. So I wound up moving our stuff into a
storage unit and renting a room at the Wind River Motel, a refuge for
down and out victims of the Dubois ecnomy. Appropriately, it was April
I had to put in some time until June 1st, when Brian would be finished
calving. I found us a job for the summer dude season but it wouldn't
until mid-June. The most popular place to spend time in Dubois in the
off-season is at the bar. That's where everybody else it.
My favorite bartender in Dubois was Ruthie Scheer. She manned the Outlaw
Saloon on weekdays and was well acquainted in town. A kindly, good
grandma, she has a habit of taking in strays, calling her house a
for homeless children over the age of 30". When I first met her, she
remarked "My gawd! You're working for that woman"?
So I began to frequent the Outlaw Saloon. It was a good place to mend
fences with many of the local folks I had offended in my role as the
lady's "rep'. She had either fired, cheated or sued many of them. To
credit, they forgave my misplaced loyalty, understanding that I had only
been riding for the brand. They only wondered why it had taken Brian and
so long to come to our senses.
One afternoon as I strolled into the Outlaw, a large colorful poster,
prominently by the door, caught my eye. It advertized the "Red Ramsey
Memorial" a ten-mile cross-country endurance horse race which would be
in Pavillon, Wyoming, called "Pville" by the locals, on Memorial Day
Red Ramsy had been an old cowboy who worked for Manning Horses, the
horse leasing outfit in the country, for years. They own at least 1,000
horses which they lease to dude ranches, outfitters and individuals.
Red died at an advanced age, however when he was being treated by
in Billings, Montana, he often stayed at a bed and breakfast in Bridger,
Montana which was operated by a friend of mine, Dorothy Sue Phillips.
Dorothy Sue is a spry single lady who retired to Montana after years of
teaching in Alaska to realize her dream of raising fox-trotter and
horses. When she was well past sixty, she retired from the sport of
marathon running and took up endurance horse racing. It took her a few
years but she became a regional champion. Dorothy Sue is a real rancher,
singlehanded attending to the tasks of running her sizeable operation.
The only thing she couldn't do was train her colts. Thus, one spring,
while I was waiting to return to Wyoming to work as a wrangler on a dude
ranch, she offered to trade room and board for training several of her
colts. Dorothy Sue also talked me into helping condition her endurance
horses. They had to be exercised for a mere twenty-five miles a day. She
drug me off to a couple of endurance racews and I developed a great
the the folks who ride eight-ten hours at a grueling trot, just for
pleasure. Before that, my idea of a perfect run was a sixteen second
It was during this time that I met Red Ramsey who was Dorothy Sue's
I've always been enchanted with old cowboys and Red was no exception. We
visited for about an hour during which he shared fascinating stories
about the Manning horse operation, his early life as a cowboy and some
the great one hundred mile endurance races he had won.
Before the Humane Society began to protest, it was common in Montna and
Wyoming to have long distance horse races, some one hundred miles in
reminescent of the Pony Express runs. These races were not the
well-regulated, veteranarian supervised, walk and trot races of
endurance trials, they were "balls to the wall" running races, over
terrain, testing the mettle of both horse and rider.
In more recent times, these type of races are no longer held. There are
longer very many riders or horses capable of such extreme challenges. In
the era when horses were ridden daily for work, a hundred mile ride was
possible because both horses and riders were conditioned. Not so today.
When Red died, his friends at Manning Horses and the Buckaroo Bar in
decided it would be a fitting tribute to the the old cowboy to hold a
modified old-time endurance race. Thus, the Red Ramsey Memorial was
It has become a popular Wyoming event.
In the hinterlands of Wyoming, it is highly prestigious to win this
Although a purse involved, the race is not about money. Rather, it is
good horseflesh, the ability to train a horse for such an extreme
and the wits to run the race. Cowboys know what it takes to run a horse
ten miles over rugged terrain in a way that doesn't hurt the horse. They
respect such ability and knowledge and winning the Red Ramsey Race is a
feather in any cowboys hat.
On the day the poster appeared, Don Scheer was bellied up at the bar.
is Ruthie's husband and a Wyoming legend. In his sixties, Don is
and cultivates a rude and gruff disposition, but the accomplishments of
lifetime entitle him to the priviledge of acting sassy. He was the rodeo
bareback and saddle bronc rider of his era, winning the Wyoming State
Championship many times. Don literally won wall of trophy buckles during
Folks in Dubois say that he could have become a World Champion, but Don
couldn't afford to travel the professional rodeo circuit because he was
raising a family. Don had also been a champion pack horse racer and
well-respected teams of chariot race horses. Pack horse racing is a
form of competition in Wyoming-consisting of a racer who packs a team of
horses with gear and then races around a track. Speed and packing
are the critical factors. Don was good at this sport because he spent
of his life as a back country outfitter, running summer camps and a fall
hunting camp in Moon Creek, outside of Dubois.
I'd met Don a few times prior to that day, enough to greet him with a
Little did I suspect that the conversation I stuck up that day would
one of the finest friendships of my life.
The race poster intrigued me. It had been years since I'd left the field
of competitive barrel racing and I was aching to be in the winner's
again. The seasonal dude business had left no time for summer rodeo
The race sponsors offered three buckles and though I have a fair
one more couldn't hurt. Besides, I reasoned, if Dorothy Sue could become
endurance champion at the age of 65, I should be able to take a crack at
being about twenty years younger.
Don and Ruthie were the only ones in the bar. I sat beside Don and
him his customary swill: a can of Keystone Lite beer (it's cheap) and a
of peppermint schnapps (it's necessary).
"Know anything about that race"? I asked.
"Yep. Got the horse to win it," he replied.
"Got a jockey?"
"Not yet. Know any"? he gruffly answered.
"How about me"? I suggested with what I hoped was an endearing smile.
Scheer about choked on the swallow of beer he'd just taken.
"My Gawd! You're pretty long in the tooth, ain't ya"? he growled.
Though I was close to fifty, I've always been able to shave a few years
my tally and decided to try it on Scheer. "Forty ain't that old. 'Sides
it's old enough to know something".
"I doubt it", he replied.
I didn't care to seek clarification on which part he doubted so I sat in
silence for a moment trying to think of an appropriate come back. "I met
Red Ramsey once" I finally volunteered.
"Hmph," Scheer grunted.
" Sure be something to win that race," I continued.
Scheer drained his shot and put the glass on the bar. "Put my beer on
we'll be right back," he directed Ruthie.
"Nothing like an old fool", he sighed and then said to me "Let's go look
The Scheer's horse corral is right in town, Dubois being the kind of
where it is normal to have horses in your backyard, though some of the
moneyed newcomers are starting to write letters to the editor of the
paper complaining about flies and manure. "They're going to ruin this
town," Scheer predicted.
A buckskin gelding and a raw-boned bay stood in the corral alongside a
small gray mule. I later learned that these were the seasoned veterans
many packhorse races. Though Don had sold his string of dude horses
alongwith his hunting camp a few years earlier, he figured that three
had earned their ease alongwith him: Keystone, the mule, Jake, his
mount and Croppy.
Jake and Croppy were Morgans, originally bred on the Cross Ranch, the
oldest ranch in Dubois and the only one which is still an actual cattle
ranch. The others have succumbed to the dude ranch industry. The
third generation ranchers, are still making a living, albiet a
one raising cattle and Morgan horses. Morgans are well known for thier
toughness, stamina and endurance. These horses were favored in the Civil
War and also used by the Pony Express.
"Which one is it?" I quiered, hoping it wasn't the mule.
Don pointed to the bay. "Toughest damn horse in the country. Croppy
At first sight, I wasn't impressed. Croppy, whom I later learned has a
heart like the famous race horse Pharlap, was flat homely. His handle
from the fact that the tips of ears had been frozen off in the harsh
of his his birth. His knees were large and knobby; he had big hooves and
one foot was slightly pigeon-toed; he had a slight roman nose,
stubborness and he was shaggy, still sporting the remants of a heavy
coat. None of these physical attributes are indicators of speed.
as Don informed me, Croppy was thirteen years old, which would seem to
beyond racing prime. But then, I was in no position to fault a horse for
Thankfully, my father had schooled me early in life never to criticize a
man's horse. So I just agreed that indeed Croppy looked like he was
"You'll go a long ways to find one tougher," Scheer agreed.
We returned to the Outlaw to discuss the matter. Scheer, it turned out,
harbored a long-standing desire to win the Red Ramsey Race-it was
challenge he wanted to conquer. The previous year, he had mounted his
grandson Sean on Croppy in the race. They were doing well until Sean
to notice a large roll of wire on the race track which was obscured by
sagebrush. He ran Croppy straight into the wire at a full gallop. Any
of victory was upended as horse and rider went end over end several
Thankfully neither was seriously injured.
"Damn kid wouldn't listen," Scheer commented. "If you're going to do
there's gonna be some rules".
He laid them out:
He would be the trainer, coach and undisputed boss:
I would do whatever he said:
We would train every single day of the two months remaining before the
with no slacking:
I would lose ten pounds, putting me at 135, still a tad heavy for a
in Don's view (this observation really burned me, but I kept my mouth
no whining would be tolerated and
we would split the winnings.
The conditions seemed a bit severe to me, but since I didn't have
more pressing to occupy my time, I agreed. Ruthie assured me that Don
what he was talking about and gave the undertaking her blessing. Though
and Don often squabble and fuss, they have been married over forty
During that time, Don has often been in the public eye, enjoying the
limelight which Ruthie lent her quiet support, gave sage advice and
her own weight in thier outfitting business. Her step father, Nate Brown
from Grass Creek is a top hand and he taught her about horses. Though
doesn't affect the appearance of one, Ruthy Scheer is one of the finest
cowgirls I've met. Ultimately, in the Scheer outfit, she has the last
The next morning, I reported to the Scheer's house at 7:00 a.m. The
was ready and as we downed a pot, Don outlined the plan for the day. We
would load Croppy in the horse trailer and drive to the highwayd where I
would ride down the wide, smooth barrow pit. Don would drive alongside,
signalling advice-when to trot, lope, sprint or slow down. The first
said, we would take it easy, only covering ten miles. He figured we
gradually work up to twenty miles a day, which would bring Croppy to
condition by race day.
Don had the equipment ready. My jockey seat which was a light kid's
saddle, weighing about fifteen pounds, secured only be a front cinceh
breat collar. It was held together by copious amounts of duct tape. The
bridle was made of old leather, complete with original brass Calvary
chevrons and a severe gag bit, generally reserved for the most
"Do you always bit him up like this?" I nervously aksed.
"Nope, going easy today," Scheer grinned.
It crossed my mind that I might have been a tad rash when I initiated
scheme, but I kept my mouth shut. He knew his horse.
When we reached the roadside where we'd start, Don unloaded Croppy who
dancing like a colt. Don had to hold him while I mounted, which will
put a dent in a cowgirl's pride. When I finally got into the saddle, I
realized what a tornado might feel like. Following the Ray Hunt training
technique, I began turning Croppy in tight circles to prevent him from
"Don't waste time on that," Scheer advised as he strode to the pickup.
When he had climbed into the drivers seat he hollered. "Breeze him".
"You sure?" I yelled. Breezing means to open a horse up to maximum
"Damn it! You gonna listen or not?" Scheer screamed.
I didn't have time to reply for when I turned Croppy to the road and
momentarily eased pressure on the reins, the big horse exploded with a
lunge. We were off, hell bent down the barrow pit.
I've ridden a lot of fast horses (I used to gallop race horses and my
prized barrel horse, Smooth had a AAA speed index) but never before had
experienced the raw power that Croppy exhibited. Before, I'd ridden
horses in a enclosed area with some measure of control over the horse.
this time. Croppy was in control and I was just a passenger, along for
Riding a free running horse can be easy and magical - if you are in time
with the animal. Each horse moves a bit differently and it takes a
while to get the feel of each one. I'd been astride Croppy for all of
thirty seconds before we took off so, obviously, I was not yet in sync
"RIDE!" I dimmly heard Scheer screaming. The wind was whistling in my
and my cap had blown off and my hair was whipping in my eyes, obscuring
vision. That was fine though, because I didn't really care to look at
terrain which was speeding by in a blur.
I rode. There was no other choice. Dad always said that you should be
able to ride as fast as a horse can run, but I was beginning to wonder
there might be exceptions to the rule.
Six miles later, Croppy eased himself down from a full run to an easy
canter. I pulled on the reins and he obligingly slowed to a long trot, a
ground eating gait. Don clocked his trot at thirty-seven miles per hour
which is faster than many horses can run.
"Pull him up," Scheer advised through sign language. I tried, but
apparently walking was not a concept in the mind of this powerful horse
all I could manage was a choppy jog.
"Only two miles to go!" Don encouraged as he sped off to wait for us in
parking lot of the Dunoir Gas Station, ten miles from Dubois. When
and I arrived, I was red-faced and short on wind, but Croppy was still
energetic. When I dismounted, my knees and arms were shaking.
Scheer walked over and grabbed Croppy's reins. "How you holding up?" he
asked with an evil grin.
"Fine," I rasped in reply. I'd be damned if I would let the old fart
that he had nearly bested me.
While Don unsaddled Croppy and walked him around the parking lot to cool
him down, I hobbled to the pickup and sat down. I was resting on the
reclined seat when Don got in, dug underneath the driver's seat and
a pint of peppermint schnapps. "Have a snort," he directed offering me
I complied. He was, afterall, the undisputed boss.
"Well, what do you think"? he queried.
"He's a hellava horse," I replied thinking it was the safest response.
"Ah, you should have seen him when he was young," Scheer laughed.
After we bathed Croppy, fed and watered him, we went to the Outlaw to
report to Ruthie. This started a daily regime which we followed
until race day.
"How'd it go"? Ruthie asked.
"I don't know," Scheer replied, "She's going to need a lot of work".
I agreed, for it seemed to be the bald truth. Scheer later confessed
the first day had been a test. He needed to know if I could ride as
wouldn't be time to teach me if I didn't. I had passed the test. I never
admitted that I had only done so in order to save my life.
In the days to come, I developed a great respect fo this cranky old
He had set a goal and was determined to accomplish it. Though he was
frustrated because his beat up body no longer allowed him to ride Croppy
himself, by golly, we were going to win a horse race. It was serious
It took him two weeks to share the primary technique for riding in such
race-breathing. Actually, Ruthie reminded him to tell me. By then, I'd
gotten the feel of Croppy. I rode standing up in the stirrups to save
back and kidneys, stretched out over his massive neck, my face near his
ears, cluthcing his thick mane for balance as I moved with him. But,
at the end of an hour and half workout I would be exhausted.
"Anybody ever tell you how to breathe"? Scheer casually asked one day as
were headed home.
"Ever notice how a horse breathes? In through his nostrils and out
his mouth. Long and deep to match his stride. Maybe if you breathe with
him, it'll be easier.""
"Okay. I'll try it".
Sure enough, it works. When a rider breathes with the horse, a magical
rhythm is established which relaxes both the horses and rider. Then the
horse and rider can feels every nuance of movement and it is possible to
move as one. That is when you achieve ZEN, an effortless, magical beauty
I tried to explain the concept of Zen to Don. He just snorted. "That's
only horse sense".
Of course he was right.
When we started training, a lot of folks in Dubois decided we were
Afterall, Don was an ancient trainer, I was a forty-something woman
(by then I'd lied to everyone about my age) and Croppy an ugly thirteen
old horse. We were all well past our prime and we would be matched with
much younger horses and jockeys. One of them would be Ellsworth, a young
Shoshone Indian who rides bucking horses and trains his horses while
bareback. Don was worried about him.
One of the main detractors was Ron Penny, a huge hulking cowboy who is a
professional hunting guide. "You're too old. Can't do it", he bluntly
Ron started calling us the "Old-timers", a name which stuck. He was a
source of daily irritation.
Brian was also skeptical when I told him about the venture during our
weekly telephone conversation. "I guess you need something to do," he
dismissively. "Just don't get hurt.
He had more important things to worry about, like calving 750 first-calf
Don was banking on the training and he counseled me to ignore our
detractors. "No one else will train like we are", he assured me.
It didn't take too long for me to officially become Don Scheer's "Toby".
It must stem from his many years of being the owner of an outfitting
business, but Don has to have someone around to boss. These victims are
called his "Tobies". Ruthie also likes Don to have a Toby around because
then he's less likely to try and boss her, which doesn't work anyway.
So, each day after we had finished training and reported to Ruthie, Don
would inform me that we had a project to complete. Though he is
retired, the old coot always has something cooking: it might be hauling
horses or hay, training colts, some horse trading, fixing fence or
one of his rancher friends work cattle. Sometimes we went to rummage
It didn't take me too long to figure out the gist of this arrangement:
did the planning and bossing and I did the work. My reward was Happy
at the Outlaw. By then Ruthie was off work and over a beer, Don would
report the day's adventures to her in great detial. Ruthie was always an
interested and appreciative audience.
Soon, I was practically living with the Scheers. Brian started to get
jealous. "Seems like you are spending a lot of time with that old fart,"
groused after I had gone on and on about our activities. He didn't know
"You'll like him when you meet him," I reassured him. Sure enough, when
Brian returned to Dubois, he and Don took to one another right off. I
relieved when Brian became Don's Toby, but than Brian is much handier
because Don's project invariably involve physical labor.
A lot of people in Dubois wondered how I could tolerate Don Scheer.
everyone agrees that Ruthie is a sweetheart, Don has a reputation for
irrasible, given to occasional fits of temper and being somewhat of a
skinflint. Yet, his behaviour is affectionately tolerated. You can get
away with a lot when you are a legend.
Don and I got along for two simple reasons. First, I did listen to him
because he knew what he was doing and I didn't. More important, however,
was a new and appreciative audience for the many stories he loves to
I really enjoyed hearing of his exploits in rodeo, hunitng, packtrips
horse races. He often told stories about his children, Theresa and Tommy
who had been his proteges and jockeys before they left Dubois. Theresa,
big stout snuff-chewing gals can pack as well as any man and she's won
share of pack races under her father's tuteledge.
Don never tired of telling his stories. Though he often repeated them, I
didn't mind. I realize that the conditions which create men like Don
are rapidly fading and his life experience will seldom be duplicated.
Though I came to respect and admire Don Scheer, I fell flat in love with
his big bay horse. Croppy seemed to take a liking to me as well. As we
acquainted, we began to communicate and he gradually relinquished
me. My goal was to put him in a kinder bit, but first he had to respect
and listen to some body cues.
When I wanted him to trot, I sat in the saddle and held him with light
pressure; when we were going to run I'd stand in the stirrrups, lean
his neck and chunk the reins to his ears. "OK, Crop" was the cue to run.
As part of the training we did sprints, short bursts of ultimate speed.
asked him to do this by patting his neck and whispering "Give it to me"
he always responded. When it was time to slow down, I simply sat in the
saddle and stopped riding aggressively. Finally, after weeks of riding
after he had burned off some energy from an initial run, I was able to
him to walk on slack rein. That's when we graduated to a snaffle bit.
We varied the training terrain. Several days a week, we raced down the
barrow pit. Locals driving down the highway would honk and wave. Croppy
and I had become a familar sight. Often, we would meet the school bus
the bus driver would pace us awhile. The kids would lean out of the
and yell "Go!Go!"
We were developing a fan club and Croppy's progress became a subject of
interest to many people in town. They would stop me on the street and
"How'd it go today?"
Most days, however, Croppy and I headed to the hills. We did hill work,
gallping up steep hills and trotting down the other side, which is good
exercise to build up a horse's wind and thier backlegs, their "drivers".
horses power comes from the backend. Other times, we went to Mason Draw,
sandy creekbed wending its way across aobut eight miles of the Dubois
badlands. Though these runs were shorter, they were harder because
ran through deep sand, equivalent to running with heavy weights on his
Some of my finest hours were spent astide that bay horse, just the two
us, running strong and free in the hills. That kind of riding is good
your soul-it is sheer joy.
Croppy reached his peak about a week before the race. Don and I had gone
to help Phillip Cross gather cattle. I was riding Croppy to give him a
break from the regular routine. Gathering cattle is generally slow and
somewhat boring work, except at the Cross Ranch where it is usually more
interesting because Phillips cows are as wild as he is.
On that day, slow wasn't on Croppy's mind. He could barely contain the
energy which I felt coursing through his massive muscles. As Phillip,
and I loped across the pasture, I could barely handle Croppy. I was
him up, turning him sideways to prevent him from bolting. He was
sideways faster than the other horses were loping.
"I don't think this is going to work," I remarked to Scheeer.
"Take that old son-of-a-bitch and try to kill him," he advised.
So I rode to the highway and headed up Mabel's Hill, a long six-mile
towards the Continental Divide. Even in a pickup, it is necessary to
downshift to make the long gradual slope. When I gave him his head,
burst in high speed. Following Don's advice, I urged the big steed to
fastest pace all the way and he responded with a powerful surge. When we
reached the top, I dismounted and lead him around a bit, thinking I'd
the salt out of him. Not so. When I mounted, he was just as juicy as
"What the hell," I decided and gave Croppy his head. We ran all the way
back to Dubois, sixteen more miles. When we reached the city limits, I
pulled Croppy up. He gave a big sigh and willingly walked home. But I
think he could have done it again.
Race day was rapidly approaching. Don had finalized the strategy which
reviewed with me seeral times in the last days of our training. I would
wear his trademark yellow shirt. For thirty years, the Scheer racing
were clad in sunshine shirts, the color being easy to track in long
events. I would join the ranks of these racers and was reminded of what
honor it was. I must do the yellow shirt justice.
Second, Scheer informed me, we were going to lie in order to gain an
advantage in the Calcutta, a form of wagering which is very popular in
Wyoming. I would affect a sore hip. In the Calcutta, each team would be
auctioned off to the highest bidder. The people who buy the two top
teams split the resulting pot. Often, the winnters of the Calcutta get
more money than the racers.
W went to Pville a day early in order to ride the race course which was
staked with pink flagging. The exact cross-country course was a highly
guarded secret until the day before the race to ensure that no one had a
training advantage. I rode a fat paint gelding to further throw off the
Calcutta betters. Cropy would stay hidden at the country home of one of
Don's friend until just before the race started. I wondered what good
would do as everybody in Dubois knew about Croppy. Don, however, enjoyed
being devious and he explained that there would be racers from many
areas who would not know about Croppy.
Don explained it would be critical for me to memorize the race course,
the terrain is filled with hazards. "Croppy will go wherever you point
he reminded me, "it's going to be up to you to keep him out of trouble".
As we rode the course, Don pointed out various problem spots. "Hold him
here," he advised, pointing to a sheer drop-off which we would navigate.
"If he won't slow down, sit deep in the saddle and hang on".
As we rode down a narrow canyon road, Don emphasized that it was only
enough for two horses running abreast. The narrow road was flanked by a
mountain on one side, but the other dropped side off into a deep river.
"Move to the inside," he counseled. "It won't do you no good to wind up
He pointed to deep gullies and treacherous ravines on a long flat part
the course. "Detour here. You'll add about a half mile, but it's better
move to good ground and avoid the risk."
After we made a long climb to the top of a shale covered mountain,
advised me to dismount and lead Croppy over the slick surface.
he might slip and fall," he warned.
Once I got off the mountain, it would be simple, Scheer predicted. We
would be on a three mile stretch of flat ground covered with sagebrush.
Here it would be essential to constantly scan the ground to avoid the
gopher holes which can break a horse's leg if he steps in one. "Keep
eyes well ahead of your horse," he said. "Steer around the holes."
His final advice was simple: Save your hourse. Run in the back and let
the other jockies set the pace. At the mid-point, start picking them
"After that don't show no damn mercy," he concluded.
We got up early the day of the race. Croppy ate his customary ration of
whole oats and seemed calm. Scheer and I on the other hand, were nervous
wrecks. Over the big breakfast she insisted on cooking, Ruthie reassured
us. "Everything will be fine".
I was studying the map of the racecourse Scheer had drawn, trying to
it into my brain. "Now, what did you say about this spot" I asked for
"Clem! You've ridden that horse for about a thousand miles. If you're
ready now, you'll never be." Ruthie said in exasperation. "Just eat your
I meekly obeyed. Don smoked a whole pack of cigarettes before noon.
We arrived at the Buckaroo Bar at noon. The race would begin at 2:00
in the heat of the day, but country people from all around gathered
earlier to visit, drink and place side-bets on the race. When we entered
the little bar, it was packed. I found a seat in the corner because I
want to talk to anybody. Don and Ruthie joined a table of Dubois
supporters, including their children and grandchildren who had traveled
various parts of Wyoming for the event. Theresa came over to introduce
herself. "Even though he won't tell ya, Dad's pretty proud of you," she
grinned as she wished me luck.
An old rancher sitting next to me turned. "Got any idea who'll win
"Nope" I answered. It was true.
The Calcutta bidding was enthusiastic and three horses topped the list:
black gelding ridden by Ellsworth, a paint stallion owned by Manning
and jockied by an Australian cowboy from the Snowy River Country and
Scheer and Billy O'Neil, a prominent rancher who owns at least 750
and is a champion team roper were dueling over Croppy. When the bid got
$900, the highest amount bid, Billy relinquished. "Guess you got a right
buy your own horse," he grinned at Don.
"You don't have enough money to buy Croppy today," Scheer grumped.
I was starting to feel sick.
At 1:15 we left the bar to drive to the race course which was abouta
fifteen miles out in the country. Scheer, his grandson Sean and I rode
the pickup together, towing Croppy in the horsetrailer.
"How are you holding up"? Scheer asked with a sideways lance.
"I think I need to throw up".
Sean offered his advice. "Have a stiff one," he counseled, proferring a
Schnapps bottle. It seemed to be a Scheer family tradition.
"She'll be fine," Scheer told Sean, "just race jitters".
When we got to the starting line, Scheer lead Croppy around on with
horse. I would only mount at the last minute to keep Croppy from geting
overly excited and wasting energy before the race started. I took a pee
the horse trailer, tucked the baggy yellowshirt into my Wranglers, tried
do deep breathing and reviewed the race plan in my mind.
Finally, the starter was giving the third and final call for the racers.
Scheer brought Croppy and held him while I mounted.
"Where's my bat?" I paniced. I had tied a jockey crop to the saddle
but apparently it had fallen off while Scheer was leading Croppy around.
There was no time to find it.
"Jest talk to him," Scheer said. "he listens to you."
"Remember the plan"?
"Nope. I'm toast," I replied.
"Go to the end spot," he directed patting the toe of my boot and then he
added, "Win it."
It was an order.
Now it was up to me and Croppy.
As Croppy danced by the line of racers, I nodded to each and said "Good
Luck." I noticed how fit and confident these young men looked. I was old
enough to be their mother.
I wound up next to Ellsworth. "Good Luck to you too. You'll need it," he
told me with a happy grin.
I firgured he was right. What was I doing here?
The starter fired his gun and the horses exploded. Ellsworth, of course,
got the jump on us and as he leaned over his horse he gave an Indian
war whoop. The first few miles covered flat ground, gopher holes and
high sage brush the main obstacles. The course followed a power line and
was counting poles, for the the 17th one, I had to slow Croppy to
the sheer drop off that we would traverse to reach the canyon road.
As we approached, I tried to slow him up, but Croppy had no give in him.
"Shit", I thought, sitting down in the saddle, grabbing the horn and
my eyes. Croppy launched himself off the cliff with a flying leap and
though he stumbled to his knees when we landed, he recovered and somehow
stayed aboard. "One down," I shakily told him as I patted his neck.
Next came the canyon. Using all my strength, I was trying to slow
No use. He was in a horse race and loving it. We were running neck to
with Ellsworth, but the Shoshone had got the inside position. He was
on winning and that young man can ride. He manuevered his horse and
us. I don't know if he actually intended to push us into the river, but
seemed so. Thankfully, Croppy finally responsed and we fell in behind
Ellsworth. The Austrailian also passed.
"Yee-hah" Ellsworth screamed, looking back as he slashed his pony with a
My heart was jumping as I talked to Croppy, trying to calm myself. "Easy
now. Easy. You're doing fine."
Leaving the canyon we sped through a narrow cattle gate and were back
the plains. Several Dubois people had parked at a vantage point atop a
nearby knoll and they honked thier horns and yelled encouragingly as we
passed. My good friend, Laura Watson, a horse trainer who has qualified
the National Finals Rodeo as a barrel racer, was among them. She gave me
the "just right" sign and threw her hat in the air.
The next part of the course was a long sloping hill, similar to Mabel's
Hill, but not as tough. It was here that Don Scheer's training strategy
began to pay. Ellsworth's horse was beginning to weaken and the paint
stallion was gaining on the black. Croppy, however, was just getting
up. Heeding Scheer's directions, I began to urge him to a faster speed.
It was particularly gratifiying to pass Ellsworth. Screaming at the top
my lungs, I yelled at him. "Passing, passing!"
After we passed at him, I turned to wave good-bye. Ellsworth glared. I
Thus at the mid-mark, Croppy took the lead.
The next two miles was easy. I just breathed and rode and Croppy just
in strong free strides. "You are a great horse," I told him. He seemed
know it was the truth.
Billy O'Neal and his girlfriend Sharon were driving down the dirt
road which paralleled the race course. Billy grinned and gave me a
up" sign and Sharon yelled, "You've got them now. Go, girl!"
At the top of the shale mountain, I dismounted and looked back. No other
riders were in sight. My friend Laura later told me that Ellsworth and
Austrailian had a terrible wreck not long after I'd passed them.
Ellsworth's horse had stumbled in one of the gullies which we had
thanks to Scheers forsight. The Austrailian who was right behind piled
Ellwsworth's horse and they all fell in a terrible tangle of horses and
riders. But those tough young men recovered, remounted thier horses and
finished the race.
On the final two mile stretch, Scheer's directive to "show no mercy"
in my mind. So although it didn't seem like a horse race at that point,
leaned over Croppy's neck and we dang sure raised the praire dust in a
sprint to the finish line.
Scheer, who was watching from afar turned to Ruthie. "What in the HELL
she doing"? he said querously. "Ain't nobody even close to her".
"She's doing just what you said, dear," Ruthie smiled.
As we neared the finish line, I realized I had no hat. It is a Don
tradition to give a tip of the hat upon victory, but in the rush before
race I'd forgotten mine. I spotted Sean sitting in the back of a pickup
truck near the course. "Give me your hat," I pantomined.
He ran out onto the track and I snatched his ball cap from his extended
hand as we galloped by. So I was able to conclude the race in the proper
Scheer fashion. As we careened to the finish, I tipped the cap to the
crowd. They were cheering loudly and wildly.
"Hear that?" I said to Croppy. "That's for you."
Ron Penny was standing in the finish line. He held a fifth of Walker's
Whiskey, my personal poison of choice, aloft and he had a big grin on
face. I grabbed it as we passed, deciding to forgive him for his earlier
rude comments which he later explained where "motivational" in nature.
We had finished the race in twenty-three minues, which I think is still
fastest time posted in the Red Ramsey Memorial Race. So far, I am the
oldest person and the only woman to win the race.
Don Scheer was trying to hide the fact that he was crying. Ruthie was
laughing and hugging her friends. Croppy wanted to run some more. I was
Theresa came to get Croppy. I dismounted and went over to the Scheers.
I walked over to the Scheers.
"Whadda ya think Boss?" I grinned.
"Not too bad for an old squaw," Don said as he engulfed me in a bear
The finale to the Red Ramsey Race is the presentation of Trophy Buckles
held at the Buckaroo Bar preceeding a raucus country western dance.
Stagner, a Shoshone cowboy from Crow Heart, Wyoming, one of the race
sponsors and was the Master of Ceremonies. He presented the 1st place
buckle to with a joke: "These Cheyennes can ride pretty fast when
got a Shoshone on their tail."
Even Ellsworth had to laugh at that.
Though it is customary for jockeys to keep the buckles, I had earlier
hatched a plan in keeping with my Cheyenne heritage. Thus, when Austin
handed me the microphone to make a victory speech, I told the audience
I had met Red Ramsey and was honored to participate in a race held in
honor. Then I announced, "I would like to present this buckle to a
who made this possible."
Don got up and was making his way to me, but he halted in mid-stride as
said, "Ruthie Scheer."
Though she made it possible for Don to win all the others, it was the
buckle Ruthie every got. She proudly sports it now on special occasions.
After that the Scheers more or less adopted me. Afterall, I was still a
pretty good Toby, which are in short supply in Dubois. Often, while we
working on one of Don's projects, I subjected him to my cowboy poetry
he would "put up with". Every so often, however, he would causually
suggest, "That race story would make a good poem".
"Yep," I'd agree.
Don's 65th birthday party the next winter was a gala occasion. Ruthie
her many friends cooked a huge feast and their humble home was filled
friends who gathered to roast the old fart. That's when I wrote the poem
the "Old-Timer's Dream". I read it to him at this birthday party.
That tough old cowboy started crying again, but we all pretended not to
A copy of the poem is framed, alongwith a race photo of Croppy and I,
in a prominent spot on the kitchen wall, near the table where Don holds
court. It's a good prop for launching into one of his favorite stories
a stranger shows up.