For many outsiders, the word “ranching” conjures romantic images of riding on horseback through rolling grasslands while living and working against a backdrop of breathtaking mountain vistas. In this absorbing memoir of life in the Wyoming high country, Mary Budd Flitner offers a more authentic glimpse into the daily realities of ranch life—and what it takes to survive in the ranching world.
Some of Flitner’s recollections are humorous and lighthearted. Others take a darker turn. A modern-day rancher with decades of experience, Mary has dealt with the hardships and challenges that come with this way of life. She’s survived harsh conditions like the “winter of 50 below” and economic downturns that threatened her family’s livelihood. She’s also wrestled with her role as a woman in a profession that doesn’t always treat her as equal. But for all its challenges, Flitner has also savored ranching’s joys, including the ties that bind multiple generations of families to the land.
My Ranch, Too begins with the story of her great-grandfather, Daniel Budd, who in 1878 drove a herd of cattle into Wyoming Territory and settled his family in an area where conditions seemed favorable. Four generations later, Mary grew up on this same portion of land, learning how to ride horseback and take care of livestock. When she married Stan, she simply moved from one ranch to another, joining the Flitner family’s Diamond Tail Ranch in Wyoming’s Big Horn Basin.
The Diamond Tail is not Mary’s alone to run, as she is quick to acknowledge. Everybody pitches in, even the smallest of children. But when Mary takes the responsibility of gathering a herd of cattle or makes solo rounds at the crack of dawn to check on the livestock, we have no doubt that this is indeed her ranch, too.
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About the Author
Teresa Jordan is an artist and author of several books, including the memoir Riding the White Horse Home and Cowgirls: Women of the American West.
Read an Excerpt
Firecrackers, 50 Cents
In 1879, a Kansas man, Daniel Bockins Budd, received word that his younger brother Philip had died suddenly in a small northern California town close to the Nevada border. A few days later, Daniel Budd left his small farm, his job at the prison in Atchison, his wife, Josephine, and their four small children, and traveled by train to Eureka, Nevada, to settle his brother's final accounts.
Daniel Bockins Budd was my great-grandfather, the patriarch of the Budd family members who live in Wyoming today. His small, hand-written diary recorded the monumental change of direction his life took after he heard of his brother's death. This journal leaves questions among the facts, but it provides the basis for telling and retelling an enthralling frontier-day saga that began with a few lines, penciled into his life's record.
An area newspaper gave notice of Philip's death, but it also indicated some confusion at his passing:
BUDD, PHILIP P. Placer Weekly Argus, Auburn, Saturday, 2–15–1879
Sudden Death at Borland's Hotel — A man named P. P. Budd, a traveler registered at Borland's as belonging to Eureka, Nevada, was yesterday morning found dead in his room. He had arrived only the evening before from Stockton, so we learn, and he seemed to be a respectable-looking miner. He had in his possession $605 in money and a note for $1200. His death is believed to have been caused by disease of the heart. He was about 35 years of age. The news of his death was telegraphed to Stockton where it was thought his friends lived. But the answer came that, so far as known, he had no relatives there. The Odd Fellows of Austin, Nevada, telegraphed to the Lodge here to take charge of the remains, which was done.
When Daniel Budd began his journey, on February 19, 1879, he wrote in his diary, "Started from Atchison, Kansas with three hundred and eighty three dollars." The diary makes numerous references to railroad fare or "R Road fair," as Budd wrote it, and he apparently traveled directly to Eureka, Nevada, where he learned that his younger brother owned a sizeable number of cattle and horses. No facts were recorded, or at least did not survive, to explain how Philip, at age thirty-five, had acquired these assets. My attempts to retrace Philip Budd's presence in Auburn indicate that he had gone to take the mineral baths there, said to be medicinal — and that he had died of natural causes, perhaps the "disease of the heart" as described in the newspaper. A white rock headstone bearing his name stands in the Auburn cemetery, marking his life and death.
Budd's diary goes on to record a three-day train ride to Eureka, where he found a hotel, paid a dollar for a room, and, as his diary says, "wrote to wife." The next morning he "came out on ranch 45 miles" in an area known locally as Grubs Well. The diary doesn't say how he traveled the forty-five miles (a considerable distance), whether by wagon or saddle horse, to locate his brother's property. And it doesn't say who showed him the whereabouts of the cattle, although a March entry — "tired you bet" — suggests a long day's viewing.
After checking into the Eureka hotel, where he headquartered for the duration of his visit, Budd undertook to gather the cattle and to count and brand them, after which they could be sold. The cattle market would be more favorable at a railhead nearer the East Coast, he thought, and he set about organizing a roundup and then a trail drive.
A month later, on March 10, he noted, "Eighty dollars for attorney fees and .75 for dinner, .50 for breakfast and .25 for cup of coffee." He paid for washing, tobacco, and "$5 to the Destitute." Three days later, "Visited my Brother's Grave. Wrote to Wife."
The following week his entry was similar, perhaps indicating that he had begun to feel somewhat settled: "Wrote letter to the children, letter from wife. Shaved and Boots Blacked .50 Segars .50 Went to Church .50." The next day, again: "Wrote to Wife ... Tobaco .25 Beer .10 Bed .50."
These entries suggest that Daniel Budd was an honorable man, since he left more of his money with the church and the "Destitute" than he spent on beer and cigars! Eighty dollars for attorney fees is significant, and that payment must have made a good dent in the small bankroll he'd brought from Kansas.
On March 6, the diary had only one line: "McKay wants cattle." Hugh McKay was a Nevada man, presumably an acquaintance of Philip's, who would become Budd's business partner. On April 13, Budd "wrote to McKay." A month later, the two men signed a formal agreement duly recorded in Eureka County, Nevada, May of 1879. The agreement specified that "as soon as a favorable opportunity offers, and a sufficient amount of money can be realized to warrant a reasonable profit, the two parties will sell the same at any point on their route easterly."
The partners agreed to use Daniel Budd's brand, the 67, and they proceeded to find a crew of cowboys and then "commence," as the diary said, to round up and brand the cattle, bunching the cattle where they found them on the unfenced Nevada rangeland. Budd referred numerous times in his diary to this "rodear," a commonly used Spanish word that means "to encircle" or "surround." He used various spellings in his diary —"rodair," "roder," "rodiar," "roduir," and others. (The word functions interchangeably as a noun or verb, and is used among some cattlemen in present times to mean "roundup," or a gathering of cattle.)
When they had the cattle together and branded, the partners still faced a daunting journey from western Nevada to a point of sale, probably Nebraska, as the diary later indicates. Budd's diary follows this undertaking. To Omaha, it would be approximately fifteen hundred miles, one day at a time. Only in a stretch of the imagination could a reader glean in his account the "life of the cowboy" as it is romanticized in modern-day movies and television shows. What appears as colorful and adventuresome in these dramas doesn't sound so entertaining in Budd's diaries. He recorded mundane details nearly each day, commenting frequently about the weather as he and the cowboys worked their way through the big country. "Snowed some in mountains and Rained," and, "I most froze." His diary names some of the men who helped him find cattle in an area he referred to as Empire Ranch. Here he had "jerked beef and dry bread for diner and super," and remarked, "Would like a change." On June 5, 1879, he "Bought 1 Bay Horse $50.00, suit of Close $19.00," and then "started on Rodair." That day he "rode 40 miles, got snowed on, had supper at Willows," where he stayed the night and paid $3.50 for hay for the horses. A few days later he wrote, "40 miles from Eureka and lost in mountains."
He offered no detail when he wrote, "visited by Nevada Ladies at Empire Ranch."
Even in early summer, the weather was brutal. "Raining and Snowing. Put pockets in my pants. Joined the rodiar Party, Rained Snowed, got cold & wet, thundered heavy." That same week, "My horse fell with Sam Lowks. I thought it had killed him. Slept under a big rock."
The cold weather continued. On June 17, Budd wrote that he "Bought a horse of Dic Fagen for 70 Dollars," and, "Bought 1 Pr blankets $10.00." "Cold Ice 1/2 inch thick Slept on ground. Held Pravo all day with overcoat on." He continued, "on the Rodair Branded 13 Calves. Got Kicked by a mustang horse."
Apparently the Fourth of July brought him back to town for the holiday, where he bought another horse for $45.00, had it "shawed" for $3.00, plus "To Hors Shoes $15.00," and then he treated himself to some celebration:
July 3, 1879: "Eureka Breakfast .50 Went to the Races 1.50 Postage Stamps & Box Rent 2.00. Fire Crackers .50"
Firecrackers? When I read this part of Budd's journal, I have trouble seeing this fun-loving, jaunty cowboy as the same man who had recently uprooted his life and rededicated his days to the hard work and purpose of this enormous roundup and then the trail drive. Here he now was, visiting the horse races and buying firecrackers! Only this one reference hints at a rowdy, jolly man, if indeed he was — or reveals confidence and bravado and daring. Yet that side of him must have been there, setting him up for the adventures and risks he faced.
We can guess that Budd had used up all the firecrackers and had had enough fun, when a few days later he returned to "Roder," continuing with his cowboys to search for his brother's cattle, branding small bunches here and there as they located them. They worked on through the rest of July, as entries show: "got no Cattle." "Am getting mighty tired." "Rode 45 Miles."
Finally, July 13, a change from dry bread and jerky: "Catched Sage Hen Rosted it and eat it."
And then, "Old CharleyHors & colt got mired." Typical of his terse, brief entries, Budd didn't write down how this took place, or whose horse Charley was, or how it all turned out. As with many diaries and other daily accounts, the obvious often goes unnoted.
July 28, 1879: "Hired an Indian to Drive Horses to camp. Cattle got away at night. Stood guard from 10 to 3 tired and Sleepy." It would have taken time for newly gathered cattle to become accustomed to staying in a big, loose bunch, but eventually they probably adjusted to a routine of sorts, grazing and resting.
August 4, 1879: "on Roder ... sorted Cattle & branded," and, "Indian Bill for Riding Colt $2.50"
Finally, three months after Budd's arrival in Nevada, the trail drive began.
* * *
August 10, 1879, "started for Newbraska with 777 head of cattle."
If we made a movie about Budd's forthcoming venture, it would show a cook and a chuck wagon with a team of horses to pull it against the huge backdrop of sprawling landscape — cattle milling, horses galloping, spurs jingling as the cowboys set their hats and hearts toward a new country. The cowboys would appear in full persona; we would know how each looked, what they wore, and how they talked. Budd never mentioned personalities, though, or who he liked or didn't like. Old photographs show him as a handsome, strong-featured, unsmiling man, with dark hair and a heavy black beard. He wore a brimmed hat, knee-high boots, and a vest and a neckerchief, but other than the occasional shave or haircut, and a new set of "close," his diary doesn't waste words on appearance.
The "shoot 'em up" western novelist Louis L'Amour would have found a moral value and a code of ethics in Budd's story, or at least a sense of honor. If Budd were cast as John Wayne in an old-fashioned Western, he would have commiserated with his companions, giving us their dialogue in colorful fragments of sentiment and compassion. No such expression exists within Budd's diaries — no motivational language, no inspiring, hopeful pronouncements.
Budd makes no mention of six-guns or weapons, although probably he or his cowboys carried some rifles in their wagon, if only for hunting. It seems the only excitement by explosion was that of the Fourth of July firecrackers. In fact, the roasted fool hen was "catched," not shot, and he doesn't say how they "catched" it. I'd like to think that event called for some levity, a novelty to the cowboys, since he made a point of mentioning it in the diary.
I could not tell from Budd's account how many cowboys began or finished the trail drive together, or how old they were, or where they came from. He noted only a few cowboys by name, and he didn't record what he paid the men or what their qualifications or skills were. The diary vaguely mentions some he hired and some who quit — and some who wanted to!
Thus, through August, the cowboys moved their herd along a route that would provide water and grass, and much of this trail can still be traced on topographical maps of Nevada, southern Idaho, and finally into Wyoming.
At the beginning of the route, they "Campt all night at Hay Stack, Damn Poor Feed" to "Rabbit Creek 10 mile pretty good feed," and then moved on to "Lamorl Creek," which I believe is near Lamoille, Nevada.
The diary tells us they "camped on Lamorl Creek, Feed Short, plenty Water, Lost 7 head of horses one Big Steer Died of Poison on Lamorl."
"Hunted Horses all day, found them at night." The trail drive moved on to Humbolt, Nevada, crossed Mary's River, up Emigrant Canyon, and continued in a circuitous route toward southwest Wyoming Territory, from where the men hoped to head farther east for the railheads and shipping yards in Nebraska.
In late August, Budd "Mailed a letter to Wife from Deeth." There are numerous mentions in the diary of letters between Budd and his wife, but none of those letters survived through time. I assume he was a man of few words in his letters, too, and that his correspondence with his wife simply followed the telling of his journal: conditions remained difficult, and the weather cold. "Horse fell not Hurt. Ice 1/2 inch thick," his diary says. On August 29, 1879, the diary tells that the cowboys "Moved camp to Humbolt Wells. Bill Blakr, Sam Louks, Crazy Bill & Lawrence Dogie wanted to quit." At one point he mentioned sending 1.50 to "little Charlie," one of his sons at home.
On September 3, 1879, he wrote in the diary that "the cook got lost. Dry camp got to camp 11 o'clock p.m." Probably the cook had gone ahead with his wagon to set the evening's camp. Since the camp was not where the cowboys expected it to be, someone must have searched for it, but this one line is all Budd wrote of the incident.
The arduous journey appears to have averaged five to ten miles each day, as nearly as the map can be followed. Budd referred to areas of "good feed, no Water," and "pretty good feed," and then "plenty feed, terrible hard driving" as the cattle grazed, determined to fill their bellies, reluctant to move. A week later, he wrote, "tired hungry & Dirty Renshed my socks."
In mid-September the drive reached Raft River and the border of Idaho Territory, and then continued through southern Idaho. Geographical references to this part of the route include Soda Springs, Montpelier, and the Thomas Fork of the Bear River.
Things got no easier: "Laid over at twin Springs. Changed close, found graybacks plenty, one cow Died of Poison."
On September 20, 1879, the cowboys "Moved camp 12 miles over Banack Mountains. Hardest Days work on trip. Got to water at Dark. Supper at ten oclock. Camped on Malad Creek."
By then, Budd and the cowboys had trouble keeping the cattle from drifting out, probably in search of feed. There are several references to night herding and standing guard at night to prevent cattle from going back. Nearly every day, the diary mentions whether they found feed or water.
In Idaho Territory, small communities and settlements had been established, and so Budd was able to buy supplies: "greencorn & Potatoes & Butter," and "a cheese 20 cents per lb, 21 lb of Flour 5 cents per lb."
He took care of other business as well: "Sold 13 poor cows to John S Watson at $10 per head. Mailed a letter to wife." Some of the cattle were showing the stress of the miles behind them, "poor" meaning thin or lame, and rather than take the financial loss if they were to die along the trail, Budd sold them.
Late September: "Passed through Soda Springs. Bought myself pr Boots $4.00 Bought myself Hat $2.00," and "Snowing like hell."
I don't know exactly where the trail herd was when Budd wrote, "Laying over. Raining and Snowing hard very Disagreeable Mormons plenty," but it appears it had reached the lower forks of the Green River.
Budd and McKay had planned to winter the cattle at Fort Bridger, Wyoming Territory, then continue the last 650 miles to the Nebraska railhead in the spring. Unfortunately, when they reached Fort Bridger in October, they learned that Mormon settlers there controlled that broad landscape as well as that to the south and west, into Utah and Idaho. "First come, first served," as they said. The Mormons refused to let the large 67 herd graze on the winter range, likely saying they needed the land and grass for their own livestock. The Mormons advised Budd and McKay to go on "up the Green" to find winter range at LaBarge Creek.
I can only guess at the anxiety Budd and McKay felt as winter neared. In his diary Budd wrote, "has the appearance of More Snow. Cannot say where we will Winter yet. Cattle are doing pretty well considering the Storm on herd."
October 21: "Laying over on Hamsfork of Green River. McKay started to Fontnell to look for winter range. Splendid weather."
Budd "laid in camp," he said, waiting for McKay to return. "Plenty of deer and antelope in hills." And, a few days later, "Laying on Hamsfork — getting tired — would rather be moving. Have the Rhematis, some in right leg. Rather cool to be comfortable."
A week later he noted, "McKay came back." Together they "concluded to winter on Blacks Fork," another tributary of the Green.
And then, October 29, "Left Hams for the little Muddy 18 miles. No water. Mired 60 head, 10 head Died in Mud ... Worked all night."
I don't think those of us who handle cattle today — using four-wheel-drive pickups, stock trailers, or cattle-freight semitrucks, following interstates and highways — can really appreciate a day and a night like that one. Budd did not express anger, disappointment, or fear in his words, only a factual accounting of what could have been defeat. The cowboys would have used ropes and horses, or worked afoot to pull, drag, or push the thirsty cattle from the mud, cattle that had waded into a seeping pond or boggy stream-bed seeking water. The cowboys must have been exhausted, wet, and muddy themselves. When they succeeded in getting the cattle onto dry footing, the men would have had to force them away from the dangerous wetlands. The next day, October 30, Budd only wrote, "Moved cattle from Little Muddy to Blacks fork 15 miles."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "My Ranch, Too"
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Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESS.
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Table of Contents
List of Illustrations,
Foreword, by Teresa Jordan,
1. Firecrackers, 50 Cents,
2. Never Meant to Be Unkind,
3. Little Bitty Cowgirls,
4. Love Story,
5. Sheep Country,
6. Betting It All,
7. The Winter of 50 Below,
9. A Ranch Divorce,
10. Deep Tracks,
11. Black and White,
12. The Castle Guardians,
13. May I Have This Dance?,
14. She'll Wear It All Her Life,
15. Luck and Miracles,
16. My Ranch, Too,
17. Home Sweet Home,
19. Coffee with the Ladies,
20. Good Help,
21. Passing Through,
22. Ranching from the Grave,
23. Lucky Enough,