Bill Sniffin: This Christmas, Let’s Remember Two Heroes Who Also Became Victims

Bill Sniffin writes: The people of Wyoming need to give thanks to first responder Tyeler Harris, 29, of Saratoga and to Safety Officer Bruce Lang, 68, of Pine Haven, who lost their lives trying to save others.

Bill Sniffin

December 23, 20227 min read

Collage Maker 22 Dec 2022 08 49 PM
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Heroes and victims.

Sometimes an off-hand remark can become amazingly prescient.

During a news meeting of Cowboy State Daily staff Wednesday, we were talking about how to cover the big storm headed toward the state. I casually mentioned we need to watch out for “heroes and victims.”

Little did I know that within 36 hours, two wonderful Wyoming men would became both heroes and victims.

The people of Wyoming need to give thanks to first responder Tyeler Harris, 29, of Saratoga and to Safety Officer Bruce Lang, 68, of Pine Haven, who lost their lives trying to save others. 

An EMT, Tyeler was killed when struck by a semi at 4 a.m. on Interstate 80 while helping a stranded motorist. Lang drowned while trying to rescue someone from Keyhole Reservoir in the far NE part of Wyoming.

These two events occurred on opposite ends of the state some 322 miles apart. And yet, since we are of such a small population, we feel the agony of losing two of our finest. We literally feel the pain of this loss. And at Christmas, it becomes even more sad.

So, folks, during your Christmas celebration this year please pause to thank these two men for their service and thank all those other folks out there giving of themselves so selflessly during such a busy and bitter cold time.

At the top of my list are the Highway Patrolmen who are out patrolling our roads. 

On Wednesday, these brave men and women dealt with 787 calls, 196 motorist assists and 104 crashes. Lt. Kyle McKay said it was like no other time he has experienced in a 20-year career. It was chaos.

And Thursday looked every bit as bad. These poor folks are going to be exhausted when they finally get to celebrate their holiday this weekend.

I am also thankful to the tow truck drivers and EMTs out there picking up the pieces of these accidents in absolutely blinding conditions. Plus, there was record cold.

Our hospitals and clinics are full right now because of COVID-19, flu, RSV, and broken bones suffered in falls on the ice. It is super busy. These folks want to spend time with their families, too, but duty calls. Thank God for their dedication.

Christmas At The Worland Home

This column was originally intended to be light-hearted and a gentle reminder to readers to be careful and to remember the real reason to celebrate this great holiday.

So, let’s switch gears and let me share some old Wyoming stories involving the Worland family and the Schmidt family, both with long-time history in the state.

Author John Davis who lives in the town of Worland and also lives in the house owned by the Worlands, for whom the town was named, wrote the following:

“In my book Sadie and Charlie, I wrote about a Christmas story involving Sadie and Charlie Worland. The Worlands and their social crowd were preparing a big Christmas feast, with Sadie Worland cooking a whole pig in her oven (which didn’t quite fit). Her friend Helen Howell cooked several pies.

 “Just before the big dinner, Howell called Sadie Worland and told her that the Howell dog had eaten all the pies. Sadie replied: ‘Helen, think nothing of it, the damn pig blew up.’”

Davis concludes: “Whether because of the inability to close the oven door or the way it was being cooked, the pig exploded.  We don’t know how all this was finally worked out or what the celebrants ended up eating that evening.”

Not The Schmidt House!

Meanwhile down in Cheyenne:

A famous cartoon concerning folks named Schmidt is often circulated around the Internet these days. 

My old pal Pat Schmidt, former publisher in Thermopolis and Lovell, has some observations about this story. Here is how he describes how members of his family have dealt with this situation:

“Now in the height of the Communications Age, humorous cartoons from back in the 1950s and 60s are still generating mirth and merriment on the Internet! Or is that regenerating?

“Take the case of our family and one particular cartoon. Over decades, reactions from family members have ranged from my father’s outrage to my grandchildren’s extreme merriment.

“You’ve seen the cartoon. Santa Claus is parked atop an old outhouse, angrily berating his lead reindeer, ‘Damn it, Rudolph, I said, The Schmidt-house!’

“I was still in school when I first saw ‘the cartoon’ and heard the story about my short-tempered father taking a swing at another railroader who was showing it.

“To explain my dad’s outrage about that use of his last name, it might help you to know that though born here, his German family had immigrated from Russia to America shortly before World War I. As a child, he had suffered through the taunts of ‘Kraut-lover’ from children who were well-aware America was in its first big war with Germany.

“Many Schmidt families Anglicized their last name to Smith upon or after arrival in America. Not ours.

“The approach of World War II found my dad in the Wyoming National Guard Cavalry, where, under military pressure, he changed his name from Wilhelm to William. But he (and the rest of his brothers) kept the name Schmidt.

“That horse cavalry unit was deployed to the West Coast well before Pearl Harbor to guard against a Japanese invasion. Later, other members told me how my dad got fighting mad one time when, during roll call, the sergeant called off the names of the Schmidt brothers as “Horse-Schmidt, Cow-Schmidt, and Bull-Schmidt.”

“Though my siblings and I winced a little the first few times when we were teased with the Santa outhouse joke, I don’t remember getting that angry. Even my younger brother, who inherited much of my dad’s temper, never took a swing at anyone over it, as far as I know.

“My children, now adults, never seemed offended when the latest reincarnation of the Schmidt-house joke was shown to them.

Biggest Outhouse In Cheyenne

“In Cheyenne during Christmas quite a few years ago, the joke reached epic proportions, springing to life when a couple of son Joe and daughter-in-law Kori’s friends built a giant outhouse and placed it in the yard of their home. Santa, Rudolph, and his sleigh were perched on top. Spotlights gloriously highlighted the caption, ‘Damn it, Rudolph, I said, The Schmidt-house!’

“Joe’s family awakened to the clamor, went outside to see what was the matter and found the oversized creation spotlighted in front of their home.   

“The biggest laugh among family members came when Joe’s younger brother Jake confessed that the two creators, a doctor and a lawyer, didn’t have the carpentry skills to finish it and called on him to help.

“Christmas light tours that year in Cheyenne detoured from the usual hot spots to the corner of Capitol and First, and hundreds of people viewed the gloriously lit Schmidt-house, complete with a half-moon door and appropriate captions,” Pat concludes with a chuckle.

Merry Christmas everyone.

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Bill Sniffin

Wyoming Life Columnist

Columnist, author, and journalist Bill Sniffin writes about Wyoming life on Cowboy State Daily -- the state's most-read news publication.