My dad, Frank Miller, was posthumously inducted into the Wyoming Cowboy Hall of Fame on Saturday in Cheyenne. My bro, Dr. Mark “Segundo” Miller and I agree that he was the best cowboy we ever saw or even heard about, and the best man we ever knew.
Don’t be confused, the Wyoming Cowboy Hall of Fame has nothing to do with playing Brown & Gold football, winning saddles at rodeos, singing country songs or appearing in commercials in western finery. The emphasis is on “cowboy”.
To qualify, one must spend a minimum of 35 years horseback in Wyoming, working livestock in country that seldom cooperates. It’s hard for hobby ranchers to make it into the WCHOF, and rightly so.
Thirty or so of the Cowboy State’s exemplars were inducted this year before an audience of hundreds of their peers, including Segundo and me, and my sons, and lots of our shirttail kinfolk.
Among the audience were old cowboys from every corner of the Big Empty, many bearing, in their posture, the marks of all those horse wrecks. Some are missing fingers from a hasty dally or from trying to unclog the throat of a baler. Sun-wrinkled skin and squinty eyes are marks the work has left on them.
There were teenage cowboys from those same ranches, applauding Dad or Grandpa. These young waddies still have straight backs and good knees. All of their horse wrecks are in the future, along with the killer blizzards and sour markets they will have to survive.
But these kids will tolerate an often brutal, unforgiving and lonely life for the simple pleasure of working horseback in a place like Wyoming. Boil it all down, and that’s the same reason the old men did it.
There were bedrock Wyoming traditions evident in that room, right along with bedrock people. For instance, if someone approaches your table to greet you, you stand up to shake their hand. You don’t wear your hat if you are dining with a lady.
You stand and remove your Stetson for the Pledge, and for prayers for the country and her troops. Grace is said before the meal.
The sense of old-school civility and common courtesy at the event reminded me of my roots and why they refuse to give up their grip on this place. These are my neighbors, whether I’ve met them or not. And in Wyoming, “neighbor” is a verb. Its what we do as much as who we are.
Our ties are stout as trace chains.
If you define “conservative” literally as preserving the best of the past in the face of change, then the Wyoming Cowboy Hall of Fame celebrates conservatism, just as much as it celebrates cowboys. And that’s the definition of conservative that I embrace as so many folks in this day and age try to change what the word means.
Now, before y’all accuse me of misogyny or of promoting a testosterone-rich fantasy of western machismo, I’ll tell you that the most important demographic in the room was Wyoming’s ranch women.
The women in the room – beautiful in every age – kept these broke down ol’ cowboys alive and motivated enough to spend 35 years in the saddle. Whether riding alongside or raising the family in some lonesome, wind-blasted ranch house, they are at least equal to their men in grit.
I speak from personal experience and from family history.
My great-grandmother, Ada Miller, managed the ID while her husband was Carbon County Sheriff and later, Mayor of Rawlins. A favorite family story is that she fired Charley Wagers, one of the best working cowboys of the time, because she saw him beating a horse. And she made him walk the 40 miles back to Rawlins.
So, if at some point in the near future Wyoming decides to honor people who are tough as harness leather, brave as a cornered badger, loyal to family and state, and who help pass down from generation to generation the human values that make the Cowboy State the place we love, then I will be among the first contributors to the Wyoming Cowgirl, Ranch Wife and Real Boss Hall of Fame.