Now is your chance to nominate someone for the Wyoming Cowboy Hall of Fame
Wyoming Public Radio’s Melodie Edwards sat down with Scotty Ratliff, a former legislator and a member of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe, to hear why he decided to start a list of Wyoming’s most famous and skilled cowboys.
Scotty Ratliff: My family is a ranching family, we were in cows and sheep both. We didn't have TV, we didn't have electricity, but then during the day, we were cow people. We did the things we had to do in order to make cows productive. And the kind of cowboys that I grew up with were guys that spent their life on horseback. It was their everything; it was their religion, it was their motivation. It wasn't for money. It was just to be a cowboy. They loved being on a horse, and they loved moving cows and checking cows and being a part of that whole adventure.
You know, then I went to college, and a lot of things happened -- I ended up getting drafted, went to the war, I lost this arm in Vietnam. And I thought, ‘Well, I'm going to need to probably get me an occupation that doesn't require a lot of physical labor.’ And so I went on to get a college degree. But whenever I had some time, I'd be back here, riding.
Melodie Edwards: So tell me about the Cowboy Hall of Fame and when this came about and why you felt like that was something that needed to be done.
SC: I was at a neighbor's house about 10 years ago and she said, ‘You’ve just got to meet my dad, he had a great thing happen.’ So this old guy came in and she said, ‘Dad, tell him what it was.’ ‘Well, I got inducted into the Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame.’ And I thought, ‘Well, hell, I've been a cowboy all my life. Who, I wonder, is in it from the state of Wyoming?’
So I got back to my house and I called the Secretary of State down in Cheyenne. I said, ‘Could you tell me anything about the Cowboy Hall of Fame?’ And they said, ‘Well, we’ve got a Cowboy Hall of Fame, but it has to do with football players from the University of Wyoming.’ I said, ‘Well, how could that be? Here it’s the Cowboy State and we didn't have a Cowboy Hall of Fame. What the hell kind of deal is that?’ So I checked around and checked around and a lady by the name of Paulette Moss, who runs the Wrangler – it's a magazine for cowboys and ropers and horses and stuff – I got a hold of her and I said, ‘I can't find that there's a Cowboy Hall of Fame. Would you help me?’ She said she would. ‘In fact, I was talking to a guy, Pinky Walters, and Pinky lives down around LaGrange.’ He had been a rodeo coach and single steer roper and I knew him for a long time and I called him up. I said, ‘Pink, I'm working on this thing called the Wyoming Cowboy Hall of Fame. Would you be interested?’ ‘Absolutely.’
So the three of us set about trying to [make it happen]. One of the things that we discovered is that the cowboy that I had known, that Pinkie had known, was a vanishing breed. There's very few people today that want to make a career as a rancher. There's a few people that will hire on in the summertime to be a ranch hand or they'll take a day ride or something, but it's not their career. It's not their life's ambition. So once a Cowboy Hall of Fame idea was moving forward, we said, ‘We want to capture that guy that spent a lifetime being a cowboy.’ Just being a rodeo cowboy wasn't enough to get you there.
I think it was nine years ago, and we held our first event in Douglas at the fairgrounds. We thought maybe we'd get 200-300 people. Lo and behold, we got almost 500. I mean, we literally did not have room in the biggest building they had for all of these people. So the board came together, and said, ‘What are we gonna do?’ And I mean, what a problem to be faced with! You got so many people that they have to move out. So we moved to the Event Center in Casper. And I think that one year we had 1,100 people show up. It was just amazing. I think we captured that spirit of Wyoming, that untold story, and we did a good job at telling that story.
ME: Can you tell me some of your favorite folks that have ended up inducted?
SR: I can tell you a couple that are just high on my list. The first year we did it, we got a guy by the name of Charlie Fenton who I've grown up admiring. I mean, this guy could do things with a horse that nobody should be able to do. He just had that touch, it was like watching an ice skater. He just was smooth and fine and his horses did everything he wanted. He worked for the pipeline company between Casper and Shoshone and he had to ride 30 miles one way and 30 miles back, every day, just to make sure there wasn't something wrong with the pipeline. So what he did is he took another horse, and he’d ride one 30 miles down the road and switch horses and ride the other one back. And he just learned those horsemanship skills.
A legend that I grew up with – most people in Wyoming grew up with – is Stub Farlow. He's the cowboy on the license plate. Lester Hunt was the governor at the time and Stub Farlow was this just amazing cowboy. This was back in 1935. Lester Hunt dedicated that bucking horse and cowboy to Stub Farlow. Stub grew up in Lander. His dad had been part of Tim McCoy's Wild West Show and they traveled all over the world. The old man spoke both Shoshone and Arapaho. And he'd gather up 50-60 Natives and some of these cowboys and they could do rope tricks and do horse tricks and stuff. There's hundreds of these stories of they're all just delightful.
ME: And are there women? Cowgirls in the Cowboy Hall Of Fame?
SR: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. One of my favorites was this lady, her name was Edna Hancock. I knew her. She was 99 when she died. She still trimmed her own horse's feet. And she lived not too far from where I used to live and I'd see her out there riding and stuff. And, boy, you just read her story and you knew straight away. And then of course, if you ever saw her horseback, you knew she was a cowgirl. Well, two years ago, we put her son in the Hall of Fame – he carried on that tradition.
And then the first year that we put in, we put in a lady by the name of Shepardson from down in Midwest, and last year we put in her son Franklin. It's just a family tradition of carrying on this cowboy stuff. So it makes your heart happy.
The Wyoming Cowboy Hall of Fame is taking nominations through the end of February.