Lonnie “Nav” Mantle
Lonnie M. Mantle was born in a homesteader cabin in Bear Valley about 20 miles west of Elk Springs, CO July 1, 1935 to Charley and Evelyn Mantle. While Lonnie has long considered himself a Wyomingite, his family ranched on the Yampa River in the remote Hell’s Canyon of Dinosaur National Monument. Charley said as a youngin’ Lonnie didn’t talk much, just grunted – so he nicknamed him Nav. The family still calls him Nav, as do the folks of the western slope of Colorado to this day. Lonnie learned to ride and rope early, but as a kid he didn’t get to use a saddle until he could ride all day bareback – a mane hold was all you got through the sagebrush, rocks and cactus.
The Mantle family didn’t have a vehicle until 1945, so travel in and out of the ranch was done with saddle and pack horses or with team and wagon outfit – usually a several days trip. Wood was cut and hauled, supplies brought in seasonally, ground cleared, and hay put up – all with teams. The common practice then was to run calves into full yearlings or 2-year olds, so Lonnie learned to trail these cattle to Craig for market – about 100 miles. It was a 30-day drive, grazing cattle to keep them in good shape and ship them on rail. Lonnie did this trip from about 9 years old on. Bringing along a packhorse camp and a cavvy of saddle horses, it was their way of life. They would overnight with families along the way if available. Lonnie and his siblings became very talented and tough cowboys. Riding and testing their skills on broncy horses for families they stayed with became commonplace, so naturally, rodeo became a favorite diversion from the ranch work.
Due to the remoteness of their ranch, Lonnie and his siblings, as well as any neighboring ranch kids, were educated through the 8th grade by either a private teacher or by his mother, Evelyn. Lonnie is quick to laugh that his mom flunked him in the fourth grade, due to his trapping and fishing hobbies taking too much time from his studies. Education was very important to the Mantle family and Lonnie went on to get his high school diploma at the Wasatch Academy boarding school in Mt. Pleasant, UT. This type school was paramount to remote families. He then went to Colorado A&M (Agriculture and Mechanical) now known as Colorado State University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Animal Science in 1957. Summers for Lonnie were spent working on the family ranch, rodeoing, honing horse shoeing, horse breaking skills that would eventually make him a living. Lonnie was drafted into the Army in 1957 and served most of his enlisted time in Germany, being honorably discharged in December 1959.
He was cowboying in the summer of 1961 near Craig for his older brother, Pat when he met a high school teacher named Grace Spykstra. The romance blossomed, and they were married on January 20, 1962. Lonnie cut and sold a load of cedar posts to fund their honeymoon and he took his new bride to WYOMING!
Lonnie had visited the Fremont County area with college rodeo pals in the 1950’s and loved the country. He and Grace moved to Riverton shortly after being wed. Grace got a job as a teller at the bank and Lonnie worked at the sale barn as well as continuing to shoe and break horses, and to hit the local rodeos. Saddle bronc riding was Lonnie’s favorite event, and he was a classy twister, but he would enter the bareback and ride a touch bull if the purse was big or the all-around prize was a good one! Lonnie won many trophy buckles and a couple saddles throughout his rodeo years, but honestly needed the money to support his growing family. They bought their first home and small bit of land in Dudlyville, on the little Popo Agie River between Riverton and Lander. Here Lonnie built corrals and sheds, traded some cattle and A LOT of horses, and brought what is arguably the first ‘shoeing chute’ to the country. By tipping a horse on its side, a man could shoe many more horses in a day than by doing it on the ground. And Lonnie needed to shoe lots of horses quick as his business of leasing horses took flight.
Lonnie got a contract with the Grand Teton Lodge Company near Moran, WY to supply them with 150 dude horses for the summer of 1965. Problem was Lonnie only owned 4 head at the time! So, Lonnie borrowed money from his dad to buy 150 horses, which were then worth about 7 cents a pound. Thus, the start of the largest and oldest family owned horse-leasing business in Wyoming, Wyoming Horses. Lonnie would travel the country visiting ranchers throughout the late fall and winter, from northern WY down to CO and UT, buying horses and making lifelong friends. Big country ranchers would sell Lonnie their horses that were getting too old for the big circles; they made excellent guest horses and would live another dozen years with the lightened, seasonal work.
Lonnie and Grace grew the business over the next 40 years, supplying gentle horses for summer use at guest ranches, trail riding operations, children’s camps, and for fall lease to outfitters and private people wanting to go to the mountains on pack trips or hunting. They serviced contracts leasing hundreds of horses in a dozen states, owning as many as 1200 horses in the 1980 and 90’s!! Lonnie knew each horse by name and could remember where he bought him, how much he paid for him, who leased him last summer and if the horse was gentle for little kids or was kind of a bronc! And if the horse was a bronc, Lonnie would ride him himself until he came around. Lonnie was unrivaled when it came to matching kids OR adults with a horse that would fit them; be it rodeo horses, 4-H horses, ranch horses or just trail riding horses. He can see the diamond underneath and truly understands horses, a gift that has clearly led to his great success and legendary status in Wyoming’s horse leasing industry.
Finding winter feed for hundreds of horses was a definite challenge. Lonnie found ranches and farms near Pavillion where the lighter amounts of snow and winds kept the feed accessible. For many decades Fremont County folks were accustomed to seeing hundreds of horses being trailed from farm to farm, up and down the dirt roads, and even right through the town of Riverton several times!! In 1972 Lonnie and Grace bought a 500-acre farm on Five Mile Creek from Jim Barquin with just his word and a handshake.
As the tourism business grew, Wyoming Horses grew as well. In the mid 1980’s Lonnie bought another 1000 acres, mostly irrigated. He remarked, “You don’t get many chances to buy your neighbors ground.” His cattle herd continued to grow as well, and he was soon running 400 yearling steers. Summer pasture on Copper Mountain provided another great place to turn young horses into “guest horses’! His wealth of knowledge in how to run cattle and horses in remote places, on various types of feed, is greatly respected. Lonnie can assess feed value very accurately, be it range or hay, and always gets top dollar for whatever stock he takes to market.
In 2000, Lonnie and Grace sold the Wyoming Horses business and most of the ranch ground to their youngest daughter Darlene (Dar) and her husband Bob Vogel. Sadly, Grace passed away quite suddenly in 2007 and is dearly missed by Lonnie, the family and many friends. Always looking towards the future and planning, Lonnie and Grace had reserved one small parcel of land for the family cemetery; there he keeps Grace close as the plot overlooks the ranch and a fabulous view of their beloved Wind River Mountains.