My dad, Frank Miller, was the best cowboy I ever knew or even heard about. Working on the ID with that man was one long senior seminar in animal husbandry and how to do the job right the first time. Dad had serious “cow savvy”, that essential ingredient in a man or a horse necessary for a wreck-free life on a Wyoming ranch.
For example, Dad taught my brother Mark and I that there are two methods to getting a bunch of nervous and trail-weary cattle through a narrow gate and into the next pasture…the Frank Miller way, and the wrong way.
The wrong way involves all the cowboys driving the herd as hard and as fast as possible, trying to force them through the gate. This scenario gets pretty western, with the cowboys whippin’ and spurrin’ their horses, popping bullwhips, shooting sixguns in the air and siccin’ the cowdogs on the herd.
Out of a bovine fear of noise and dogs, the cattle will try to escape all that drama by crowding into the gate, pushing and shoving until the gate is choked with bawling cows blowing slobber and snot in panic. This is the beginning of an event that ranch hands refer to affectionately as “a wreck”.
The more the cowboys push and holler, the worse the wreck becomes. Cattle stuck in the gate struggle and break legs. They slice themselves on the barbwire. The tail end of the herd, wanting no part of this mayhem, turns and stampedes back to where they came from and no amount of whoopin’ and hollerin’ can stop them.
As a result of the wreck they caused, those impatient cowboys will spend the rest of the day doctoring crippled cows and fixing the gate and the fences torn down. They’ll spend most of tomorrow gathering the same cattle and trying once again to get them into the next pasture.
Like Frank Miller said….that’s the wrong way to do things.
Dad taught us to just ease the cattle up to the gate and then stop and watch. He would sit his horse, smoking a cigarette with the reins loose in his hands, as he watched the herd figure out how to get through the gate themselves.
First, one brave old cow walks up to the gate and sniffs it warily. She decides its safe, and leads her calf through to munch on that green grass on the other side. A few of her friends watch her stroll through the gate and trot after her.
Pretty soon, the rest of the herd follows,- not too fast, not too slow. Then, all that a patient, cow savvy man needs to do is gently nudge the last few stragglers through the gate and close it after them. That’s the Frank Miller method.
What brought this to mind was hearing that Governor Mark Gordon is running for re-election, and thinking about the job he has done the last four years.
In his announcement, Gordon very correctly stated that Wyoming, during his first term, confronted two daunting challenges. First was the pandemic and then, partly as a result of the first, was the sudden tanking of Wyoming’s revenue stream.
Gordon began dealing with these crises as soon as he sat behind his new desk. They represented the gate that he needed to steer the state through. Adding to his headaches, the new Governor had to pull this rabbit out of his hat while a goofball wing of zealots in his own political party was very publicly going batshit crazy.
I’ve watched him at work for the last four years, and I’ve seen a lot of cow savvy. Gordon is not prone to shooting his gun in the air. He doesn’t do much whoopin’ and hollerin’. Like the really good cowboys, Gov. G seems to be content preventing stampedes and letting the herd figure its own way through the gate.
There are plenty of noisier, flashier governors who make all the flamboyant gestures and get lots of attention. We don’t have one of them, thank the Lord.
We have a patient and deft cowboss who earns his keep and makes sure we all have chapstick.
Hearing Mark Gordon announce for re-election both gratified and reassured me. I’ll save room in my yard for one of his campaign signs.
Rod Miller is a life-long Republican and Wyoming native. Born into a ranching family that has been in the Cowboy State since 1867. He ran against incumbent Liz Cheney in 2018.