Raymond "Ray" Smith
Raymond Everett Smith was born November 18, 1932 in Newcastle, Weston County, Wyoming. His parents were Everett Minus George Smith and Ida Alice (Sedgwick) Smith. He went home to the place his parents had leased, south of the Cheyenne River, in northern Niobrara County. There for the first 5 years of his life, he was a typical country boy. When he was 6, his parents divorced, Raymond and his 3 older sisters, Dorothy, Marjorie, and Joan moved to Lusk with their mother. When not in school, Raymond did odd jobs – mowing lawns, working at the pool hall or the livestock barn. He did his best to stay out of trouble as his grandfather, Minus Smith, was the Lusk Chief of Police.
Raymond spent most of his summers at his grandfather, Anthony "Andy" Wilkinson Sedgwick’s, Ranch on the Cheyenne River. He credits his grandfather for his basic ranching knowledge. Andy raised cattle, sheep and horses, so there was always work to be done and lessons to learn. A typical day would begin with a big breakfast, then it was off to do whatever was on the day’s schedule. There were no noon breaks – maybe a piece of jerky to chew on – and it was usually dusk when they made it back to the ranch house.
Sometimes for a change, Raymond would deliver supplies to the camps of the sheepherder’s Andy had with his grazing sheep on Alkali Creek. One summer Raymond went and stayed with Charles McEndaffer, a neighbor in his 70’s, and assisted him in breaking some horses. Another summer Raymond’s uncle, Francis Sedgwick, requested Raymond’s help in trailing his cattle from his ranch on the Cheyenne River to land he would later buy on Mush Creek, west of Newcastle.
The summer of 1946, Raymond hired out to Andy Malm, who was running cattle and sheep on the old ranch in the Rawhide Butte area, as a herder. Later that summer, Malm loaned Raymond to William Wilkinson to help gather Texas long horn steers, that he and his sons, J.T. and Chuck, had been pasturing on the Thorpe place. The round-up took 3 days as it was rough terrain. On the 2nd day Wilkinson hired Leslie Huff to fly over the area and locate the elusive animals. Once he spotted a steer, Huff would wrap a silver dollar in a bright piece of paper and toss it out of the airplane. At the end of the day, Raymond had collected 7 of the dollars, but Huff took them back to use the next day. Once all the steers had been found, they were trailed to Guernsey and loaded on a train.
The summers of 1947 and 1948, Raymond mainly worked at the Lusk Sale Barn, running gates and riding skittish horses to the sale ring. Sometimes he would hitch a ride to a ranch, southeast of Van Tassell in Nebraska, where Buzzy Hoover raised rodeo stock, to try his hand at riding broncs and bulls.
The fall of 1948, Raymond went to work for Frank Coffee, at the O Ten Bar Ranch out of Jay Em. Coffee lived in Chadron, Nebraska where he had an interest in the First National Bank. His foreman was a man from Texas. One of Raymond’s main jobs was helping feed with a team of mules while a mule he was breaking was tied to the back of the hay wagon in case some riding had to be done. The wagon was equipped with a running W to stop the team if they tried to bolt, which happened more than once.
Then came the blizzard of 1949, with its whipping winds and below zero temperatures. The guys managed to get feed to the animals closest to the buildings. When the worst subsided, they rode out to assess the damage. The cows had been in a pasture that had pretty good protection, but the yearlings had moved out of the trees along Rawhide Creek and started drifting south. Some were found frozen standing up. Others were trampled to death in fence lines where the stronger cattle had walked over the weaker ones to continue toward Torrington. Raymond never knew for sure the number lost.
The blizzard wasn’t the only tragedy Raymond witnessed that winter. He and the other hands had been chopping watering holes, for the yearlings, along the banks of the creek where the water wasn’t too deep. The foreman decided cutting big holes in the middle of the creek would water more animals. The guys couldn’t dissuade him. Consequently, too much weight caused the ice to crack and numerous yearlings fell in and drown. By now, Raymond had his fill of 'Texas Ways'. After he had a talk with Coffee, he collected his pay. Not long afterwards, he heard Coffee had changed foremen.
Raymond then went to work for Leda and Max Maxfield, who had recently acquired the James Christian Ranch, east of Hat Creek. They were relatively new to the ranching business, so Raymond was able to put his experience in cattle raising and horse breaking to use. The Maxfield’s were disappointed when Raymond left, the fall of 1951, to take his mother to Glendive Montana. There, he took a job at a ranch on the Yellowstone River. He was there until the sun shining through a window of his 1946 Ford 2-door Coupe caught it on fire. He had the remains towed to town where he sold it for junk and purchased a bus ticket back to Lusk. He hired on at the George Mill Ranch, feeding calves and calving at the CR, where his 'baching' turned him into a good cook.
By now the 'Rodeo Bug' had grabbed hold of Raymond, and he went on the rodeo circuit, competing in Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, South Dakota and Montana. (In Montana, he met up with a few of the greats; Freckles Brown, Jim Shoulders and Casey Tibbs.) He rode bare-back, bulls and participated in wild horse racing. When asked how he fared, Raymond’s answer was “Chicken one day, and feathers for a week.” In 1951, at the Niobrara County Fair, he won the Western Award Belt Buckle. While competing at the Custer, South Dakota Night Rodeo, he was an extra in the movie "Warbonnet", that was filming in Custer State Park. He posed as an Indian Brave, as he had in the "Legend of the Rawhide" Pageant.
The draft finally caught up with Raymond. He actively served in the Army from February 3, 1953 to February 2, 1955. He was then on standby reserve until honorably discharged on February 2, 1961. His boot camp training was at Camp Poke, Louisiana. Then stationed at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where he became a member of the 522nd Infantry Battalion Drill Platoon, which took many awards and stood guard at funerals and for dignitaries, like the President of the United States.
When Raymond came home from the army, he worked for George Christian at his Fort Hat Creek Ranch, for a couple of years. Then he took a job for Harry Manning, where he was able to run cattle of his own. From then on, he only took a position where he could also run his own stock.
Manning ran a Hereford cow/calf/yearling operation, but not calving heifers until they were 3 years old. Manning had land in both Niobrara and Converse counties. They fed cake and a little grain, but not much hay as they hadn’t established hay fields. Joe Green, the foreman, and the other hands lived at the main ranch. Raymond lived at the Johnny Howard place on Harney Creek. 16 miles north of Lost Springs and 15 miles south of the main ranch. Raymond was furnished with a jeep for ranch business.
Most of the work was done horseback. Raymond had a string of horses at both places, and it seemed the strongest and most ornery ones ended up with him. After the cattle had been trailed to Lost Springs and shipped out, a familiar sight was Raymond riding the 16 miles home, leading the other men’s horses.
Raymond had a dog named Trixie. She was a toy Australian Shepard, and she would only work cattle with him. Together the two of them could move a bunch of yearlings from the main ranch to the yearling pasture, south of the Howard place.
Raymond was a 'get the job done' man, so when he broke his ankle and had to be in a cast for several months, he replaced one of his stirrups with a ring, from an old wagon wheel, and went about his work as usual. The surrounding neighbors were aware of what a good hand Raymond was, and they often called on him when they needed extra help or his veterinary services.
January 1, 1966, Raymond took the job of overseeing operations on the Tim Deveny place, west of Red Bird on Lance Creek, for Hobart Cockerham. Cockerham had recently purchased the Fred Dean Ranch, on the Niobrara River, between Node and Van Tassell, and was planning to make it his home base.
Cockerham also ran a cow/calf/yearling operation. Mostly Hereford at first, then Hereford-Charolais cross. He fed hay, as well as cake, grain, and ear corn. The hay fields were irrigated from Lance Creek, when it ran. In a good year, only a few extra tons needed to be purchased. A little farming was done too, mostly oats until Raymond convinced Hobart, that Sudex was a better feed. Feeding in the winter (before calving) was done with a hay wagon pulled by tractor or Cat, depending on the weather. It was a day’s job as cattle were in 4 or 5 different pastures, and a long route needed to be made to reach them all.
Except for some extra help at certain times, Raymond and his wife, May, handled it all. Even the year Cockerham hauled in 100 head of 2-year old heifers to calve, all but 2 had to have the calf pulled or taken on a middle of the night trip to the Vet by May. Only 3 of the calves were lost, but then Raymond’s calving record was usually good. Since May was the 'hired hand', they went looking for a horse for her. They purchased an Arabian Quarter Horse Mare, named Peaches. However, she turned out to be an exceptional cutting horse so May had to share.
After Cockerham had made many improvements at the Dean place, as well as putting in several circles, he decided in 1972 to put the Deveny Ranch up for sale. So, it was back to job hunting again.
After a brief stay at the Artie Joss Ranch out of Keeline, Raymond went to work for Marray Butler, living first at the Doyle Blackmore place, south of Manville, and then at the Hollifield place, just out of Lance Creek. Butler ran sheep as well as cattle so Raymond’s earlier experiences with sheep came in handy. Since Butler operated on several places, there was a lot of trailing back and forth – even along the highway. Unfortunately, by the fall of 1975, Butler’s financial situation made it impossible for him to keep Raymond on.
Raymond’s uncle, Francis Sedgwick, provided a solution when he asked Raymond to come and look after his ranch on Mush Creek, west of Newcastle, while he, his wife Vi, and their daughter Rhonda, did some traveling. So, the Smith’s made a move to Weston County for a year.
In the fall of 1976, the Smiths moved back to Niobrara County, as Raymond took the job of foreman for the Johnson sisters, at their JA6 Ranch on Lance Creek. It, too, was a cow/calf/yearling operation with Avaley as the main overseer.
After the first year, Avaley realized that many of the changes Raymond had made were greatly improving the overall ranch operation. The purchase of a bale stacker helped get the fields cleared so they could be irrigated again, getting 2 or 3 cuttings. By deeply culling the cows, buying better bulls, and revising the quality of the feed, the yearling weights were increasing to bring better prices.
Hired help was easy to come by during the summer and fall, but when calving time came, it was a different story. The hired men, who had agreed to stay through calving, decided that getting up every 2 hours to check heifers was too much and would leave – sometimes in the middle of the night – leaving May to become the 'hired man' once again. After Avaley took ill and passed away in November 1981, the ranch was put up for sale. Raymond ended back on Harney Creek, where he had started in the cattle business, assisting Ruth Mitchell Grant, on her ranch. In the fall of 1985, the decision was made to sell the cattle and move into Manville, where May’s mother lived. Raymond kept his stock trailer, his saddle, and his saddle horse.
In the fall of 1986 and the winter of 1987, Raymond helped his brother-in-law Ed Hollon and his son, Blake, put in a couple of running tracks – one in Colorado Springs, Colorado and one in Tucson, Arizona. In 1987, Raymond was hired by the town of Manville, as their maintenance man. He worked for them until the fall of 2008. He kept his hand in the 'ranching business' by going across the track and assisting Bill McCleerey when he needed extra help, until finally, Arthritis and Parkinson’s slowed Raymond down.