Gary Walker was raised in a family of life long ranchers. His grandfather came west by covered wagon to homestead near the Badlands of South Dakota. They drought out and trailed their cows and large horse herd to Nebraska where they settled. Gary grew up on a small cattle operation on the edge of the Sandhills raising cows and breaking horses. He was always most comfortable in the saddle and volunteered to work with the cows and horses rather than the farming end of the operation.
During the ’49 Blizzard, his dad was sick and his older two brothers were serving in the military, he was nine years old and responsible for keeping the cattle safe and cared for. When there was a break in the storm, he saddled their black horse Spades and made his way across the ranch to open the gates on a hay yard for the cows to get in to feed. As soon as he got there, the blizzard blew in again and he couldn’t find his way back. He did what his dad had always told him and gave his horse his head and old Spades brought him through the corral gate home. He determined that he was always going to have good horses he could trust.
Gary also knew early he wanted to be a bronc rider and he and his little brother Owen made it to National High School Rodeo Finals in Lewistown, Montana the summer of 1959. Gary qualified in all three rough stock events. That year he also married the love of his life, Vonda Dee. They recently celebrated 60 years together. Through tough years and good, they’ve always worked hard and accomplished a lot. Most of all they stuck together and made a difference in the lives of others.
As a young boy, Gary read the book “The Green, Green Grass of Wyoming” and he determined then that he wanted to live in Wyoming, raise horses and cowboy there. For the next ten years Gary and Vonda Dee worked some ranches in the Sandhills. At one they did all their stacking hay in the summer and feeding cattle in the winter with a team of horses and sled. Gary was responsible for feeding 750 head of cattle and calving while Vonda Dee cooked for all the ranch hands and helped feed whenever they needed another ranch hand.
Eventually they bought their own ranch and were raising cattle and breaking horses together. The fall of 1969 Gary & Vonda Dee sold out and moved to LaGrange, Wyoming with their two young daughters Mary Evelyn and Adeline. Gary didn’t anticipate that they would call Goshen county their home for as long as they did, but he knew that as long as he was in Wyoming, he would be home.
His first employment was for Babe Green, on the Reverse G Cross Ranch east of LaGrange. Babe was breeding and raising the “Tippy” and “Wimpy” line of some of the finest Registered Quarter Horses. Since Gary had grown up ranching and breaking colts, riding for Babe was an easy fit. In efforts to save on finances, Gary rose early each morning to ride one of the colts the 7 miles into LaGrange. He would stall the colt at the stockyards by the railroad while he attended his morning classes at Frontier School of the Bible. When classes were finished at noon, he’d pack his books and Bible in his saddle bags and ride the colt back to Babe’s place where he’d ride and train several more horses each afternoon. Gary enjoyed riding for Babe, working cows and various ranch work. So began a lifelong friendship for the two.
After graduating from Bible School and a brief time out of state doing church planting and camping ministries, Gary knew he needed to return home to Wyoming. They were impressed with the LaGrange school and wanted to raise their family in the area around ranching and agriculture. Gary became an Evangelist and continued to break horses and work on ranches.
Over their years near LaGrange he worked for various ranchers doing day work, calving, feeding, branding and even a little coyote hunting horseback to help them keep predators down. He spent several winters working for the Broken Box Ranch for Frank, Archie & Ernie Johnson and checking cows for the Petch Ranch. Once again, he didn’t bother driving to work, but rode a horse to their place to help them feed, brand, gather cows and any other ranch work they needed him for.
In 1975, after seeing young cowboys and cowgirls trying to get started in rodeo, Gary & Vonda Dee started Rodeo Bible Camp Mission to help teens learn how to rodeo and to share Jesus with them. One year the LaGrange High School Rodeo Committee asked if he could provide the rough stock for that year’s rodeo. And so birthed the beginning of Walker Rodeo Company. Summers were spent putting on Rodeo Bible Camps for teens during the week and Stock Contracting for various associations on weekends.
Many people commented on Gary’s keen ability to choose good horses. The rest of the year Gary still traveled as a Cowboy Evangelist and did various cowboying work for local ranchers. After selling the rodeo company, Gary and Vonda Dee invested in sheep ranching. They ran sheep for a while in the Goshen Hole and while there he helped out doing some day work for the Teeters ranch. Sheep ranching proved to be a tough investment at the time, so they returned to LaGrange and he continued doing what he loved, being in the saddle as often as he could for neighboring ranches. Gary also worked for an outfitter in various mountain ranges of Wyoming. He thoroughly enjoyed hunting and provided meat for his family. He became a guide and helped many a hunter tag some trophy deer, elk and antelope. The one thing they had to be willing to do was to ride horses to hunt. He often said he was never meant to walk “the good Lord put four legs under a horse and only two under me.”
The spring of 1996, they sold their little place in LaGrange and bought a larger place near Yoder where they had more room for breeding and raising Quarter Horses from their stud Try Tippy Leo of the “Tippy” line from Babe Green’s beginnings. The fall of 1997 the little country church in Lance Creek Wyoming asked him to come and be their pastor. They took their horses and moved but continued breeding, raising and training Quarter Horses, some of which were sold to become National Cow Reining finalists.
While in Lance Creek, Gary spent much of his time helping out ranchers in Niobrara county. Any time ranchers like Dixons, Kreins, Reese’s, Johnsons and many others needed help moving cows, branding, checking cows or whatever they needed, Gary was willing to saddle his horse and load up to go help. As soon as their two granddaughters Jenielle and Daycia were “housebroke” (as he considered out of diapers) he put them horse back and he was the “baby sitter.” If he had a job working for a rancher to move cows, he took them along, teaching them most of what they know now in learning how to care for their horse/livestock, ride well and learning how to put a handle on a horse.
In 2013 Gary and Vonda Dee “retired” back to their place near Yoder. They reside there now, still raising a few colts, with their granddaughters and enjoying watching them college rodeo and in their rodeo queen responsibilities. He has provided many a good horse to them and continues to advise them in how to improve their horsemanship abilities. They now help him with feeding and doctoring and love sitting by the fire in the winter listening to him reminisce his cowboying days. He tells many stories of his time spent in the saddle, nights spent out capturing wild horses, all the good bucking horses and bulls he had, and of his childhood, being lost horseback in the ‘49 Blizzard.
He gives God all the glory in his life and if you show up to visit, he’ll put the coffee pot on and tell you a story or two of his 50 years spent cowboying in Wyoming, his home.