Stewart “Sturdy” Sides Jr.
Stewart Sides, Jr., “Sturdy”, was born on a ranch near the community of Kirtley, Wyoming, on September 17, 1912 to Stewart and Ruby Sides. His father, Stewart Sides, Sr. owned many ranches in what now present-day Niobrara County is; he also utilized the open range with Lance Creek as the center of operation, the range ran from Laramie Peak to Gillette and East to Newcastle, running 1500 head of horses all carrying the S Lazy S brand.
Being the 7th of 11 children, 6 brothers and 4 sisters, Sturdy found it easier to quit school and leave the home ranch at Kirtley; at a young age, he took two hired men and moved to the Lance Creek ranch to run it. He worked between the ranches at Lance Creek and Kirtley until 1932 when he was 20 years old.
With the help of five brothers and some of his sisters, plus several hired men, Stewart started gathering the open range when it was beginning to be fenced. As the horses were gathered in, the studs were cut, and the bands were worked into two bunches; immediately shipping the mares and colts and the less desirable geldings. Upon completion of the roundup, they sorted the geldings again and kept only the ones they wanted to ride, the rest were sent to the killers.
The year of 1934 found the Sides family searching for grass, as it was a bad drought year; a ranch in the Smithwick, South Dakota area was leased and some of the surrounding Indian Reservation. They trailed about 300 geldings and 165 cows and calves from the Kirtley/Lance Creek operations to South Dakota. They stayed in South Dakota for several years, breaking horses which were sold to Fort Robinson in Nebraska.
I recall Granddad telling me, “…each one of us boys cut out about ten head of horses, which we broke to ride. When the horses were broke enough to be sold we would trail them to Fort Robinson, Nebraska to sell as Army mounts. The Army inspected the horses, a few head would be turned down, but most of them were sold at the Fort. The horses that the Army didn’t want were sold privately to local Cowboys. Once all the horses were sold we would return to the ranch in South Dakota and start over.”
Son Clayton Sides remembers on a trip to the South Dakota ranch, his Dad telling him about gathering and breaking the wild horses off the open range with his two brothers Ray and Scott. “Dad and his brothers would gather and break out a few, riding them on to the Lightening Creek ranch north of Lance Creek, upon arrival to this ranch they would gather a few more wild ones, break them out and move back to the East to the Kirtley ranch with their new remuda string. By the time they left the Kirtley ranch for Fort Robinson they would each have 20 head of broke horses for sale.”
Stewart was a well-known horseman in Eastern Wyoming and Western South Dakota. In about 2013 while watching a cattle sale in Crawford, NE, Sturdy and Pat Miller, struck up a conversation with the gentleman sitting next to him, Joel Rickenbach, an older rancher from the Oelrichs, South Dakota area. Upon finding out that Dad was from Lance Creek, Wyoming and inquiring further if he knew any of the Sides in that area. Dad replied, “Yes, he knew several of them!” Joel then told Dad a story about the Sides Family moving to the Oelrichs area, and leasing up a lot of the country, “…for quite a while the horses would try to return to the Lance Creek Range, sometimes with a neighbor or two assisting their efforts to leave South Dakota with a push. It seems that many of the South Dakota neighbors were not happy to have the Sides Family leasing up good country that they wanted for themselves. Every day one of the Sides boys would round up the horses and bring them back to the South Dakota lease, over time, for whatever the reason the horses quit trying to leave their new home and the neighbors adjusted to having them in the area.” Joel went on to describe the cowboy, Stewart Sides, Jr., and the knack he had with horses. “…Young Stewart, would front foot an unbroke horse, roll the horse into a saddle, and come up mounted on him; he’d then leave on that new mount from the ranch near Oelrichs riding as straight of line as he could on this unbroke horse to the Kirtley ranch just East of Lusk, Wyoming. As the crow flies, it was just a little over 100-mile day on that colt.” Joel passed on a sentiment and compliment that was established many years ago by his own father, “Those Sides were real cowboys!”
Many years later, Sturdy told me, “…the last ten head of horses I broke were good ones and I wanted to keep three or four of them. I told Dad this, a few days later I rode back into the ranch and all ten head of my horses were gone. I asked Dad where they were, and he said he had sold them. At this point I told my Dad I was quitting, I traded a broke saddle horse for a bronc out of the pasture and $30; that was the horse I rode back to Wyoming.”
Stewart’s brothers, Scott and Ray, both stayed in South Dakota with their Dad breaking and selling the remaining horses. His brother Ray stayed on the ranch in South Dakota and the rest of Sides family came back to Wyoming, Ray’s son John still operates the South Dakota ranch today.
In March of 1936, Stewart married Alice Calhoun and they moved to Lance Creek where he was working in the oil fields to earn money for his now growing family. Ranch wages at that time were $30 a month while the oil field was paying $8 a day. In a short period of time Sturdy had saved up enough money to lease a ranch five miles East of Lance Creek. In 1937 he purchased that ranch and continued to live there until his passing in spring 1999.
Stewart and Alice raised two children, daughter, Donna Kay and son, Clayton, on their ranch East of Lance Creek. Together they were able to maintain their marriage through the kids both graduating from high school, but shortly after both kids moving from home he and Alice divorced. In 1959 Stewart married Wilna Grant from Chadron, Nebraska. Together they finished raising and educating Wilna’s two girls, Bernice and Beverly.
Pat Miller grew up knowing Sturdy well, as they were neighbors and good friends. Gene Calhoun, a long time Miller family friend, who worked with Stewart had these stories to contribute. “Stewart was a true cowboy, he could ride, rope and break horses. Stewart and I were chasing horses north of the ranch when the buckskin he was riding picked up a hole and skinned Stewart out thru the sagebrush. Stewart got up full of grass, sagebrush, and cactus, caught his horse back up and went on.” Gene also recalls that Stewart never turned down a horse to break, “I was probably 13 or 14 at the time, Stewart broke all of the horses for Johnson’s JA6 Ranch. He would top out the broncs then turn them over to me and another feller by the name of Johnny Rogers. I don’t think we ever made any money, but always had a place to stay and good food to eat!” Another recollection of Gene and his wife Bev, “We had just pulled up to the gate at Stewart’s place when he stepped up on a horse. The horse threw his head into Stewart’s knocking him out, unconscious when he hit the ground but still having a hold of the reins, he pulled the horse over on top of himself. The floundering horse stepped on Stewart’s head cutting his ear almost completely off, it was just hanging by a bit of skin. I hollered at Pat Miller, who was under the hood of Stewart’s car fixing it. We got the still unconscious Stewart loaded into the backseat of the car, with his head resting on my lap and headed for Lusk. Pat was hammering on that car, and I got to thinking as fast as we’re flying what if a tire blows? We got off Hwy 270 and onto Hwy 85 where the road was under construction and Pat was still hammering on it! About that time Stewart started to come to and move around a bit and was trying to touch that ear; I told him no, leave that ear alone, it’s just barely hanging on there. Stewart said if you don’t tell that feller driving this car to slow down we’re all going to be dead! Pat backed off on the speed, we made it on into Lusk where they had to transport Stewart on to Casper to get his ear sewed back on.”
Donna Harvey, another friend and neighbor, remembers Stewart at the age of 83 still buying green-broke and weanling colts, intent on breaking them himself. Donna recounts a story Stewart told her when she did a newspaper article on him in December 1994. Stewart migrated to Lance Creek in 1935 to work in the oil fields, at the start of the boom. Horses were still common use then in the “patch” and one of Stewart’s first jobs was digging basements for company housing with a four-horse team and a Fresno scraper for $65 per basement. The man Stewart worked for would bring him a new team to break under harness while doing this construction work, then he would take the broke teams away from Stewart and sell them. About every week, here he’d come with some more rough broncs for Stewart, the boss was making money off the good broke teams he was selling and wasn’t giving Stewart any extra. After he pulled that about a week or two, Stewart said “Hey if I’m going to break those darned horses and get them broke nice, it’s gonna cost you”. The boss replied, “Stewart, you can’t blame me for trying, can you?” After that, Stewart was paid $15 a head more for the horses he broke to drive in that enterprise.
Besides horses, Sturdy loved to mow hay. The summer of 1994, at the age of 81, he and John Thurston, put up native hay on about 45 miles of highway right-of-way in addition to several hundred acres of meadow. Sturdy was out on the tractor with his seven-foot sickle mower twelve to fourteen hours a day. John recalls, “He was the best hand I had, and was as happy as he could be when he was mowing hay!”
Stewart was well-known throughout the county for his horsemanship and was one of the few in the area who still rode enough to keep a horse well-broke. In fact, even later in his life, in the spring or fall of the year, he could be found helping on various ranches with gathering, branding and sorting livestock, moving them out to summer pasture or bringing them home for shipping. The year Stewart turned 85, Gene Lenz and Pat Miller were helping a neighbor ship calves. They arrived at the pasture early and had rode to the back side where they were sitting on their horses waiting for the boss to show up. About a mile and a half away they noticed another rider coming their way, but was kind of weaving back and forth, in a path that would resemble that of green colt. The guys rode over to meet the rider, and to their disbelief found Stewart Sides riding for the first time out of the corral, one of his colts. Pat gave him hell for riding that horse alone, but stated he was proud of him for still breaking his own.
Stewart was a rancher and cowboy from the very start of his life, he broke and sold many saddle and work horses during his lifetime and was a true cowboy to the end. In March of 1999 family and friends arranged the kind of funeral that Stewart would have wanted. A cowboy’s send off.