Thomas Anthony “Tuff” Renner
He was born Anthony Renner on April 25, 1925 in the family home near Fenton, Wyoming to George Henry and Karene Kristansa (Nielsen) Renner. His father nicknamed him “Tuff,” saying for him to be the youngest of 11 living children, he would have to be tough.
George Renner migrated from Arkansas to Oregon, where the family ranched for 15 years. In 1897, George herded 6,000 head of sheep to Wyoming – the first to come into the Big Horn Basin from Oregon. Tuff’s mother was born in Denmark and immigrated to the United States with her family when she was a child. Her father was an early blacksmith at the original Thermopolis town site.
Tuff recalled a story from his childhood growing up on the family ranch on the Lower Greybull River east of Meeteetse. “One time, Hoover and Everett (his brothers) decided to ride up to Tatman Mountain and get the pack horses that were mixed up with the wild horses. I really wanted to go along. I was about seven or eight then. They put me on this old horse that only had one good eye, and I rode him with an old McClellan Saddle. It pinched my calves all the time. Hoover and Everett would ride up beside that horse on his blind side and jab him, and he would take off. We rode up through Roach Gulch and over Roach Pass up to Tatman Mountain, and back over Fenton Pass. We’d run those horses until the pack horses would get tired and quit, then we’d gather them up and take them home. My legs were just raw from that saddle pinching me. I’ll bet we rode over 40 to 50 miles that day. I didn’t want to go with them anymore.”
Tuff attended grade school at the nearby Fenton School. When he was 13, his mother was killed in an automobile accident. He then boarded with some of his older siblings and other families in Riverton while attending high school there. For money during high school, Tuff worked in his brother-in-law, Duff Hillberry’s seed store in Riverton.
“We earned three cents an hour. We loaded 150 pound sacks into box cars, five bags deep. That was hard work,” Tuff commented.
While in high school, he decided to change his name to Thomas Anthony Renner, after his uncle Thomas Adison Renner who was an early pioneer and investor in the Big Horn Basin. He enjoyed playing high school football, and graduated from Riverton High School in 1943.
He spent the summer on the family ranch. That winter and spring of 1944, saw him feeding and calving cows on the old Rankin place on Sheets Flat.
“We ran out of hay there, but we had some hay up at the Brown Place (Upper Wood River), so they decided to take the cattle up there. We were still calving on the way,” he recalled. “We started out with Shell Clark and me riding. His son, who was about 10 or 11, had the team and this sheep wagon like thing I’d been staying in. Those old cows knew they were going to the mountain, and they took off. We couldn’t keep them slowed down in front, and the calves got way behind. The whole bunch ran back to where I had been feeding. We were three days getting to the Brown place with them, and there was about two feet of snow there. Shell and I dug out a haystack. We had an old hay wagon and we took the team and got the cows a load of hay that evening. Then we bedded down ourselves for a while,” said Tuff.
“About four-o-clock in the morning, here came Everett and Jinks (Tuff’s brother and brother-in-law). They had spent all night shoveling the road to get up there. I had been drafted into the Army and had to go to Denver the next day for my physical. The closest phone was down at the Sunshine Post Office. I jumped on my saddle horse and trotted down to call the Draft Board and tell them I didn’t think I’d make it in time,” said Tuff.
The government granted Tuff an agricultural deferment, and he was called to active duty in the Army in September 1944. He served in Europe in the Sixth Armored Division, and helped liberate the Buchenwald Concentration Camp. He was then transferred to the Third Armored Division attached to General Patton’s Third Army. On his 21st birthday, they met the Russians on the Elbe River, signaling the war was coming to an end in Europe. He was then transferred to the First Armored Division, and later to a constabulary unit, before returning home in September 1946.
Tuff and Everett then purchased a ranch from their father, and leased their dad’s 200 head of cows. Later, Tuff went into business for himself by purchasing a place on Gooseberry Creek and running Hereford cattle.
On March 13, 1951 Tuff Renner married Alice (Rhodes) Nicholson in Billings, Montana.
“When we got married, Alice was cooking at the school lunch. Right after we were married, I went back down the river to calving and she went back to cookin’. We didn’t have a honey moon.” Soon, they moved to the Brown Place on the Wood River.
Together Tuff and Alice enjoyed ranch life, and were great partners for over 50 years. They had two sons, Morgan in 1961, and Tracy in 1963, to join Alice’s son, Jack Nicholson.
“I know all the kids enjoyed their young years on the ranch,” said Tuff. “I used to take Tracy with me on the tractor and as soon as we would get going, he would fall asleep and have his afternoon nap there on the tractor on my lap,” he said with a smile. “Alice would help me hay over across the river at the Brown Place. We were afraid it would rain on the boys, so we stacked up bales of hay, two bales high and some over the top to make a little shelter for them. When it was rainy, they could scamper in there.”
In the early 1960’s, Tuff and Alice purchased a ranch at the mouth of the Wood River, southwest of Meeteetse.
Tuff served as Region V Vice President of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association in 1989 – 1991, and was a charter member of the North Big Horn Basin Feeder Cattle Association, Meeteetse Livestock Association, and Meeteetse Multiple Use Association. He also helped create, and served as president of the Meeteetse Fire District, as well as being one of the first to serve on the Park County Planning and Zoning Committee.
“One of my main accomplishments was when we bought the sale ring in Worland and started the Northern Big Horn Basin Feeder Cattle Association. We had top of the nation prices there for a while,” he said. “We were getting buyers from all over the country coming to our sales.”
“When I started raising cattle, with straight Herefords or Angus, either one, if you made a 400 pound calf, you topped the market with him. One year before we started the Feeder Assn., we couldn’t get a decent price here, so we hauled our calves to Torrington to the livestock auction. Those farmers sat on their hands and wouldn’t bid. I think we got $.27 a pound for our calves, plus we had to pay a bundle for the trucking,” he recalled. “Then, I topped the market at Worland with over 400 pound calves during the Carter Administration at $1.23 a pound.”
Tuff raised Hereford cattle for several years, before crossing them on Angus bulls. Later, his herd consisted mainly of Red or Black Angus cows crossed on Limousine bulls.
“I always raised cattle. My Dad was a sheep man, but I never raised sheep. When Morgan and Tracy were growing up, they raised little bands of sheep,” he said.
Tuff became a hunting guide in 1956 and a big game outfitter in 1958. In 1969 they started building Renner’s Wood River Lodge at the Brown Place, 17 miles from Meeteetse, utilizing the Lodge as a base for their hunters. They also hosted large parties and receptions, and served a Sunday brunch. “We had the bar in the basement running in 1969. It was 1972 that the lodge actually opened for meals and business,” said Tuff. The Renners became good friends of their hunters, who returned again and again. Tuff was especially proud of his record as an elk and sheep guide. Notable hunts included guiding Alice to two Bighorn Sheep rams, and bagging his own ram at age 73. After guiding and outfitting hunters for over 30 years, Tuff and Alice sold the outfitting business and the lodge in 1989.
Agriculture was important to Tuff, especially the beef industry, and he spent many decades serving the industry. Even though his name was “Tuff,” he was a gentle man and loved nothing better than caring for his cattle and being outdoors on his favorite horse, Red. Over the past 15 years of his life, he could be found every Friday night at the Cowboy Bar in Meeteetse, playing poker with his friends.