Charles Powell “Powd” Clemmons
Powd’s formal education ended with the sixth grade but he had an inquiring mind and was a life-long avid reader of books and periodicals covering a wide variety of subjects. In addition to the requisite cowboy skills of horsemanship, roping, branding, calving and general care of livestock, he acquired many other abilities through on-the-job training and experience, including ranch management, engine and machinery operation and repair, driving truck tractor-trailer rigs, plus irrigation and water usage regulations and management.
In 1927 he married Martha Claytor, daughter of Lon and Mattie Claytor, both of whom were Wyoming ranching pioneers. Powd and Martha raised two children: Martha Anne, born in 1928, and Thomas Powell, born in 1934. Martha died in 1976 and Martha Anne in 2010. Thomas currently resides in Casper.
He was a member of the Natrona County Pioneer association and the Elks Lodge (Rawlins).
By the time he left school following sixth grade he was working full time at one of his grandfather’s ranches north and east of Rawlins (the Buzzard and/or the ID), helping with typical ranch work, riding horses, driving teams, tending cattle, etc. It’s important to recognize that when Powd began his cowboy career living and working conditions were much different from what we enjoy 100 years later. Ranches didn’t have telephone service or electrical and gas utilities. Few, if any, had indoor plumbing. Almost all travel was by horse and involved hazards that are little known today. For example, at the time he began riding as a young boy there were still wolves in the area and in later years he often recounted how wolves would trail him while he rode a long distance to fetch mail.
Powd was an accomplished saddle-bronc rider even before age 20, often competing and winning at rodeos in Rawlins, Saratoga, Sweetwater, Elk Mountain, Cheyenne and other locations. After retiring from bronc riding at about age 30 he was often called upon to serve as a rodeo judge, and also occasionally competed in roping and bulldogging events at rodeos in Lander, Riverton and Shoshoni for another decade.
For approximately the first 20 years of his in-the-saddle career he worked for the ID and Buzzard Ranches. In 1935 he was hired as caretaker/manager for cattle owned by Alice (Claytor) Parker. He drove the 100+ head of cattle by trail herd more than 200 miles, from the 9A Ranch to land near Moorcroft, a move made necessary due to drought conditions in Natrona and Carbon Counties and the poor economic conditions of the Great Depression. After two years the Moorcroft area was decimated by a grasshopper plague and he trailed the herd back to spend a year near Riverton on land leased from the Wind River Indian Reservation. For the next two years he worked as a pipeline rider between the JE Ranch and Sand Draw while also working part time at the JE Ranch, owned by Jim Grieve at that time.
From 1940 until 1950 Powd was employed by Ben Roberts as manager and foreman for the JE Ranch. At the time the JE included a sizeable portion of the triangular region bounded approximately by Garfield Peak, the Gas Hills and Waltman. In the southwesterly direction it joined other Roberts territory extending to beyond the Sweetwater River. The JE supported several hundred cattle and a large hay operation, and at times required a crew of a dozen or more. Roberts visited occasionally and offered general direction, but Powd was in total charge of daily operations.
As the Roberts ranches began coming under new ownership, Powd moved to operate his own ranch on Canyon Creek, located south of Pathfinder Reservoir, until 1955. At that point he was hired by Elmer Peterson to manage the Peterson Livestock Ranch on Pass Creek, near Elk Mountain. It was there, in the fall of 1961, that he sustained life-threatening internal injuries when the horse he was riding fell and rolled over him. The injuries resulting from this accident forced his retirement from full time cowboy work. He was eventually able to resume in-the-saddle activities but not heavy physical labor.
After nearly a year spent recovering from the accident at the Peterson Ranch he worked for the Alcova Irrigation District for about 15 years. For several of those years he was able to also work part time as a cowboy for Miles Land and Livestock. In 1976 he accepted a position with the Wyoming State Engineer’s office as a water commissioner and eventually received a citation from governor Edgar Herschler for his work with that office.
He continued working for the state engineer for approximately ten more years, until his death in 1987. Because of his negotiating skills and problem solving abilities he was particularly effective in the water commissioner role. While this was not a cowboy job per se his knowledge and expertise related to water permitting and use benefitted many persons in the livestock business.
Powd had the knowledge and ability to not only care for cattle and horses but to also perform all aspects of ranch management. He was skillful at all the work cowboys are expected to perform, including breaking horses, driving a team, roping, branding, dehorning, sorting and working stock, delivering calves, rudimentary veterinary treatment, etc. He never abandoned a stray, sick or orphaned animal. Powd always aimed to produce high quality results in all his work. From an early age he was regarded by his contemporaries not only as a top hand, but also as a person capable of mentoring other top hands. He achieved and maintained a high level of performance even though for the first 30+ years of his cowboy career working conditions were much more demanding than is the case today. During those years landline telephones were rare, cell phones and Internet did not exist, motorized vehicles were often not available and 4WD vehicles were virtually unheard of.
Before 1939 none of the ranches where he worked had electricity or gas service. In that era most of his cowboy work—branding, winter feeding, etc.— was done on the open range instead of in corrals, meaning he rode his horse to the job and back home again, instead of hauling it in a trailer. Livestock were shipped to market by train so had to be driven by trail herd to the railroad shipping yards. Seat-in-the-saddle time usually actually meant from daylight until dark, seven days per week, often for several days at a time, regardless of the weather. Roundups, spring and fall, could take as long as three weeks, sleeping in a teepee with a chuck wagon furnishing the food and a cavvy of 100 or more horses trailed along. If he or his crew attended a Saturday night dance or a Sunday rodeo (not permitted during roundup, of course), all were still expected to spend the next day in the saddle, as he would do.
Powd was recognized as being physically strong and fit at a young age. He could subdue the biggest unruly critter, wield the largest pitchfork hour after hour, and lift the heaviest bale to the top of the tallest load. He often performed a peacemaking role in which his size and strength served to good advantage. However, he was quite capable of demonstrating that he would not tolerate bullies, following the best cowboy tradition.
In addition to his prowess as a cowboy, Powd is fondly remembered for his friendly, outgoing nature, his willingness to help others, and the fact that he practiced fair treatment for everyone, including his employees. He died shortly after putting in a full day at work, a final testament to the strength of his character.