George Earl “Rasty” Givens
George Earl Givens (Rasty), came into this world with an identical twin, Henry Merle Givens (Moon). Rasty was born in 1927 north of Riverton on the Wind River in a log cabin. He lived his life in Fremont County riding range there and surrounding counties. During his early years, there were large grazing associations among ranchers and cowboys rode for cattle and sheep herds in Wyoming.
Rasty’s first paying job was at the age of 9. He worked for Fred Sprole for a couple of summers sharpening sickles for hay cutting equipment and harnessing teams of horses and packing water to them and for the farm hands. He said he and Moon stood on a platform to lift the heavy harnesses onto the horse teams. They changed the horse teams out each day at the noon day meal and took care of the horses each night and doctored their sores. The horse teams were used mostly plowing virgin ground to be planted into crops and building roads.
By the time Rasty was 11 years old he and Moon, because they were inseparable, were “riding for the brand” of Jess Posey and their father Donald Givens. There were no fences back then. They rode for cattle and sheep from the area of Poison Spider West of Casper to the Matador out of Shoshoni. They trailed cattle herds on the open range to the best grass and watering holes for about 100 square miles or more. Rasty and Moon spent their summers living in a sheep wagon and rode herd from Beaver Rim across the plains to the South end of the Big Horn Mountains near Lost Cabin and Westward on the Owl Creek Mountains to Dubois and back around to Lander and Jeffery City. Hard work was not uncommon for these young men as it was during the Great Depression. Everyone was expected to contribute, work hard, pull their own weight and earn a living. He passed these values down to his own offspring as well.
By the time they were teenagers the twins had their own places but with the hard times in 1935, they each had acquired outside work they could handle as well as manage their own affairs. Tragedy struck one day while Moon was out tending herd of saddle horses for a dude ranch. He was caught in a lightning storm near Brooks Lake Lodge and Moon and his horse was struck down. This devastated Rasty as they were so close and had survived several traumatic snow storms and cold winter months out on the range, always relying on each other’s strengths. They not only survived the day to day dangers of life as cowmen. They also survived and thrived in the vast wilderness on the Wyoming Plaines. They raised each other from age eleven and prospered together in their efforts as they knew what the other was thinking and could so much as finish each other’s sentences.
Rasty met his true love, Ellen Chamberlain at school. They married and started a family and soon built a substantial cattle herd of their own. They raised seven of their own children and took in several other children as well.
The cattleman tradition was created and lived on through Rasty with Ellen right by his side. There were large roundups every year with many other ranchers, each with their own brand. The gatherings were completed with chuck wagons to feed the cowhands and take care of any medical needs for the hands and cattle. Rasty welded and made the branding irons. The irons mostly consisted of a simple straight iron or sometimes known as a running iron as they could be used to create the many brands from the group of ranchers in the area.
The cattle were trailed to the Shoshoni stockyards back in the day. There the cattle were loaded on rail road cars and shipped to market. Rasty knew the valleys and draws that had the best grass and water holes since he was a youngster. He drove them from place to place, meadow to meadow getting the stock to gain the most possible growth and weight gain before the fall shipping. Eventually the fences came in with the separation of government, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and private deeded land.
Rasty and Ellen experienced the Great Depression and then the storm of 1949 hit January 4th and lasted several days piling snow up to 10 and 15 feet. There are photos of a man standing with his elbow resting on a telephone line. Strong winds were recorded up to 70 miles an hour in some places. The subzero cold (50 degrees below zero and colder) weather is said to have lasted 6 weeks in this part of Wyoming. Stories of horses, sheep and cattle frozen in the standing position with pictures to prove how the weather blasted Wyoming and several surrounding states.
When Rasty was 21 and Ellen 19, they braved the storm of 1949. Ellen took care of their two children and their one on the way. There was little mobility, if any, for weeks. The only transportation they had for weeks was horseback. Rasty and another man were stationed near Shoshoni and staying in a sheep wagon. The two cowhands were tending and grazing the cattle and sheep herds and chopping water holes up and down the draw of Muskrat and Horse Thief creeks to get stock ready to be shipped by railroad. They were additionally responsible for keeping the railroad track clear of livestock. Nothing was unusual about the fall of 1948 and things went normally for the livestock and weather, until January 4, 1949.
Rasty had a story of “the winter of 49”. In the big snow drifts, cattle were buried on the tracks which caused the train to derail, so the cowboys were commissioned to pull the carcasses off the tracks. The two cowboys rode out together from the wagon each day to face the dangers of the winter. They took turns stoking the little wood stove on a regular basis in the sheep wagon. Early one morning during Rasty’s shift to add wood to the stove, he rummaged through the grub box of frozen canned food and grabbed a 5th of “Old Carter’s Whiskey”. As he tipped it up to take a swig, the whiskey developed crystals and turned to slush. They then had to peel their frozen clothes off the side of the wagon and thaw and dry them out before they could dress. The condensation on the inside of the sheep wagon was so thick it soaked their clothes and tops of the bedding as the moisture dripped from the top of the wagon ceiling.
Rasty was also a well-known rodeo hand. He was instrumental in organizing the Old Timers Rodeo Association in Lander and the club built the first indoor riding barn in Fremont County. Rasty was a good team roper and even did tie down calf roping. He made it to the National Old Timers Rodeo in Las Vegas a few times. Rasty took many awards and rode and roped for money during his long rodeo career. It was one of the favorite pass times of the day, the other was dancing at dance halls around the county. They would load all the children in the old station wagon and make the journey to Lysite or Shoshoni for an evening of dancing.
He was also a founding member of several organizations such as Little Britches Rodeo, High School Rodeo, the Central Wyoming College Rodeo Club, and the Old Timers Rodeo Association. He donated his time and expertise to these organizations and supplied cattle for all of them. In addition, he was a life time member of the Stock Grower’s and Cattlemen’s Associations, as well as a distinguished member and parent of Future Farmers of America and 4-H leaders for decades.
George Earl passed away March 15, 2009.