Tom Schutte’s journey to becoming a Wyoming ranch hand & cowboy began on April 3, 1942 in Dixon County, Nebraska. Tom was born to Gus & Rachel Schutte and had 3 older siblings. The Schutte family owned a farm on the eastern side of the Cornhusker state where they raised various crops and livestock. While Tom was growing up, the family used quality work horses for the farm work and always had a few good saddle horses. Tom recalls that while growing up, he never developed a taste for farming, but always gravitated toward the rougher, timbered country that his family owned. This rough country was too difficult to raise crops on, so the Schuttes’ grazed beef cattle instead. Tom’s first horse was a little Welsh horse that he used to help gather the cattle from the Nebraska timber.
During the summers of his latter high school years, Tom would travel to Cherry County in the Sandhills of Nebraska to work on a ranch that his cousin managed. Tom enjoyed these times and the work immensely and began to develop a love for the lifestyle that ranching brought.
When Tom graduated from high school in 1959, his travels brought him to Wyoming. He took a job with a telephone company and worked on a crew that set poles for the telephone lines that were showing up all across the west. Despite the new occupation, Tom found a way to keep working with livestock.
When the crew would stay in Sheridan, Tom would break horses for area ranchers for extra money. Typically, the deal would be to acquire three horses from a rancher, break two for the ranch and keep one. This proved to be a lucrative concept in a few short years.
Tom met a Sheridan girl named Karen Good and the couple was married in June of 1961. Tom & Karen moved to White River, SD when Tom took his first official, full-time cowboying job. The pay wasn’t great and the conditions were tough, but Tom continued to learn and grow as a hand. Already, Tom was learning what the sacrifices of cowboy life was like. He had to sell his horse “Debbie Rose” (one of the horses that he broke in Sheridan) to pay the hospital bill when their first child, Sarah was
In July of 1963, Tom & Karen moved their little family to Midwest, Wyoming to work for the Staple 3 Sheep Company. Tom says the decision to come to Wyoming was an easy one. “We wanted to get back to Wyoming. To get back to bigger country and to a better state was what we wanted. Besides that, the money was a hell of a lot better.” Tom was confident about the skills that he’d learned and picked up during the last ten years when he took the job working for Buck Allemand at the Staple 3. But humility has always been one of Tom’s strongest characteristics and he is the first to admit that he hadn’t mastered all the skills that it took to become a top hand. Working on the central Wyoming ranch with +/- 4,000 head of sheep and +/- 250 Hereford cows required a good amount of horseflesh. To get a good horse meant that you needed to make a good horse.
Tom declares that this is when he truly learned that he “wasn’t a bronc rider”, but instead usually “looked for a place with no cactus and small rocks” whenever he was breaking horses. Despite his proclamation though, Tom fondly recalls that the horses always seemed to turn out good in those days because they were used every day. Trailering to the far side of the ranch wasn’t a viable option, so you rode all day. And typically, you rode the same horse all day, making some very hardy horses. During the winter months, the horses were used to pack corn to feed the ewes in their winter pastures. “It’s just what you did.”, states Tom. “Our days were from daylight to dark and that usually meant horseback.”
In 1966 Tom’s cowboying territory expanded greatly. Buck Allemand struck a deal with Herman Werner (who would become the largest landowner in the state of Wyoming) that exchanged work for some pasture that joined the Staple 3 outfit. As a result, Tom began working with Buck and other cowboys on Werner’s ranches: the Spearhead Ranch (north of Douglas), the 55 (near Glenrock), the TTT (south of Kaycee) and the Bolten Ranch (near Rawlins). All while continuing to work at the Staple 3. Tom became sort of the “swing man” and was constantly on the move between ranches. Each of Werner’s ranches had a fulltime hand that lived at the headquarters and when extra help was needed, Tom was called. Horses and gear were loaded in the stock truck and away he went. As in most ranch jobs, no day for Tom was ever the same and he never knew what to expect when he pulled in to a place. He could
be called in to any number of things such as; making commercials for Marlboro at the Bolten, trailing lambs from the Spearhead to the 55 and then continuing the journey to the railroad in Glenrock via moonlight, chasing wild cows north of Glenrock, getting over 10,000 head of ewes ready for shearing, the continual spring branding circuit and the list goes on and on. There was always an adventure to be had and a certain satisfaction with a job completed.
In the fall of 1969, Tom and nine other hands trailed 1,200 head of Werner’s cattle from the TTT to the Bolten. An excursion of 160 miles and taking two weeks. At the time it was declared as one of the last major cattle drives of the west. Tom recalls the trip with fondness, despite the mud, or the night the cook got lost and the hands had to resort to eating rabbits for their supper, or when his horse ‘Major Hoople’ threw a screaming, bucking fit with Tom aboard and scared the Herefords into crossing Powder River in a slightly unconventional way.
The life of a cowboy sometimes takes some unexpected twists and the best of cowboys always seem to make the most of those opportunities. Tom and his family (which now included a son, Thomas) make a move to Clark, Wyoming in 1972 where they lease a little place of their own. Tom continued livestock work by day-working for area ranchers and neighbors. In 1973 Tom and Karen bought “Few Acres Ranch” on the Clark’s Fork River near Cody and began their own outfitting hunting business. This began a whole new chapter for Tom and his ability to work with horses. Tom put together a string of horses and mules that were imperative to the work of guiding hunters to big game trophies and accommodating guests on pack trips into Yellowstone National Park. The care for the animals was critical in maintaining his livelihood. Misplaced packs or lose shoes could put a horse out of commission. Tom had some experience by helping others, but for the most part gained most of his expertise by diving in. “I always seem to do my best learning by doing and making mistakes. If that didn’t work, I’d read a book about it.” He became an excellent packer and developed a reputation for being able to take horses and mules into parts of the mountains that modern day man didn’t. Tom enjoyed the mountains, but his true joy was in cowboying and working with the stock.
In 1978 Tom, Karen and their three children (a daughter Christina was added to the family) moved to Douglas, Wyoming to the Raymond Allemand Ranch where Tom began construction work and eventually partnered on his own construction company. Making the sacrifice that so many cowboys with families have had to make, Tom worked construction to be able to provide for his family. This didn’t stop him though from helping area ranchers during branding, shipping and other opportunities for day work. During these times, Tom wasn’t paid for the work, but did it because he enjoyed it.
1992 found the Schuttes back working for Buck Allemand. Tom became manager of the Meadow Creek Ranch east of Midwest which Buck had recently purchased as well as helping out at the “home place” south of Midwest. The times had changed, but Tom recollects that the work hadn’t. Vehicles and trailers make transporting horses from one ranch to the next a lot easier and the use of ATVs was gaining, but Tom still preferred to be horseback in all weather and getting the job done. “It’s easier to listen to the cows when you’re horseback. They’ll tell you what you need to know.” Tom continued working for Allemands until July of 2009 when he retired from full time ranch work and he and Karen moved to their current home near Linch, Wyoming.
Although Tom is “retired” and his work days no longer last from daylight to dark, he always manages to stay busy either helping out others or maintaining his own place and caring for his stock. He is still called during all seasons to help area ranchers. Spring finds Tom pushing ewes in a shearing corral and cutting or branding calves at brandings. Summer comes fencing and waterline work and fall finds Tom in shipping and pregnancy testing corrals.
During the winter months, Tom is only a phone call away for friends and neighbors when they need extra hands to feed their stock. Tom is truly the embodiment of a Wyoming cowboy. He has shown that actions speak louder than words. In spite of his claims of being “a hell of a windmill hand and a dandy fine fencer”, there isn’t much that Tom Schutte couldn’t get done with a good saddle horse, a Buckmaster saddle and a rope.