Bernard “Bear Tracks” Betz
Bernard Betz was born the oldest of 7 children to Alvin and Mary (Vannoy) Betz on July 22, 1939 in Buffalo, Wyoming. He grew up for 15 years on their ranch 11 miles south of Clearmont, Wyoming on what is now known as Thompson Creek Road. Ranching was not an easy life, nor one that created wealth, but it did teach people how to work hard and be dependable; two traits that define Bernard.
Times were hard then and his father hadn’t heard of the concept of “kid horses” or horses that were “bomb proof.” He did always have horses around the ranch although they were not gentle, much less broke to ride. Bernard, not knowing any different, just figured if he wanted to ride horses, this was how you did it! So, he commenced to gentling and riding his father’s broncs through what could be best described as constant harassment and by any means that he could get them to submit. Even though the horses weren’t “kid friendly” when they met Bernard and his brothers, by the time they finished, they certainly were!
Bernard’s family lived on the homestead before, during and after the Great Depression. Ultimately, they not only survived the droughts, grasshoppers and general adverse conditions of the time, but thrived. After the depression, his Granddad Vannoy bought up several surrounding homesteads that people of less determination had abandoned, and this would begin what Bernard has spent his life working to develop into the successful cattle operation that it is today.
During the summer of his 8th grade year, he worked for Brown and Kennedy on their place. His main job was raking hay. Part of this task involved harnessing and driving draft horses since tractors weren’t part of Brown and Kennedy’s operation yet. After that he attended his freshman year of high school in Clearmont. Then, at what would certainly be considered a tender age by today’s standards, he was encouraged by his parents to seek work and abandon his schooling. So, at age 15, he struck out on his own. Relying on the skills he had learned to that point in his life, handling horses and punching cows he abruptly emerged from childhood to a working cowboy in a full-time job with Brown and Kennedy on their ranch.
He told stories to his children about trailing two-year old steers from one of their ranch pastures 30 miles to Moorcroft, WY. They had a cook wagon, and he remembers that after a long day on the trail, they just slept on the ground right with the steers. Then they headed out again the next morning. This drive would take 2-3 days to complete. Upon arrival in Moorcroft they put the steers on the railroad cars to ship them. Then, being the youngest guy on the crew, he drew the task to trail all the horses back to the ranch. He worked there for a few years honing the craft of cattle work.
Horseback work was a year-round affair that the hands for Brown and Kennedy accepted when they signed on. For instance, they caked the cows and calves everyday throughout the winter months. The process for doing this involved two hands (my dad being one of them) gathering all the calves in the morning. Brown and Kennedy ran a sizable operation, so this was no small task on a blustery, cold winter day. It didn’t matter how frigid it was or how much snow was on the ground, every day they saddled up and gathered so the calves could have cake. After they got done with the calves in the morning, they would go repeat the process in the afternoon with the cows.
In addition to working on ranches, breaking horses and learning the ranch cowboy trade, he also became accomplished as a team roper and tie down roper. Throughout the remainder of his 20’s he continued to work to earn money and traveled around competing in calf roping and team roping, eventually earning his Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association membership. He worked wherever he could to earn money and then traveled to winter and summer rodeos.
In 1968, at the age of 29, his “rake and rambling” cowboy lifestyle changed forever when he met Linda Moeller in Buffalo, Wyoming. In short order he realized that she was a “keeper” and they married in 1969. In those days, “Tick Ridge,” as their place is affectionately known, was a rough camp. In addition to the unimproved roads and brutal winter weather, there was no electricity and the water that was plumbed into the house was not drinkable, so drinking water had to be hauled. The ranch house was 3 homestead houses that his Granddad had moved and merged together to make a house. It was neat looking from outside, but it was Drafty in the winter!
The constant demands of cattle work were a good mental break for the roping horses. One of the things that Bernard really excelled at and insisted his children practice was the ability to “manage” the horses. A lot of guys and gals can rope well, but not all of them understand how to keep a horse’s mind right, keep him physically sound and generally working well. He understood the way a horse thinks, and what they need at a time prior to the natural horsemanship movement that has happened in recent years. He trained all his own roping horses and most of the ranch horses as well.
In addition to breaking, training and managing horses, branding calves and herding cows, roping insolent bulls and doctoring sick calves, he also did a lot of the other, less glorious work, associated with building a cattle ranch that will sustain future generations. Some of this work included building fence, building reservoir dikes and roads with a caterpillar to maximize the utilization of grass in remote areas of pastures, hunting coyotes and prairie dogs, running deer and antelope hunts and raising hay. In the winter time the wind and snow would regularly close the county road and the roads to the pastures where the cows were. To get the feed rigs out there, it was a routine chore for him to have to open several miles of snow drifted roads first. While none of these were among his favorite tasks, they were done well, and the ranch today shows it.
At age 77, after more than 70 years in the saddle, my Dad is still an active horseback rider, cow puncher and decision maker on the ranch. His taste for fine horses and the lifestyle that comes along with ranching is as strong as ever. He told me one time that he traveled all around the United States and part of the world, but he quickly realized that the best place in it is right there at the Tick Ridge Ranch, south of Clearmont, Wyoming.