CHEYENNE — Some years, Mary Meyer puts out a lot of Christmas decorations. Other years, not so much.
But every year, no matter what, there’s always one decoration that has to go up at her Cheyenne home.
And it’s a pure Wyoming showstopper.
The lighted 10-foot-tall Steamboat — the famous Wyoming bucking horse and rider — is being expertly handled by Santa Claus. Friends, neighbors and even strangers have come to know and love the display. The decoration is even a stop on the annual Cheyenne Street Railway Trolley’s Holiday Lights Tour.
The bucking bronc and cowboy Santa is Meyer’s Christmas holiday pride and joy.
“We all love our horse, and all of us say, ‘I do more than you,’” Meyer said. “Well it’s true, everyone loves it more than anybody else.”
Meyer has a lot of clothing with Wyoming’s bucking horse and rider on it, as well as framed pictures and statues of the Steamboat logo throughout her home.
“I have (Wyoming) bucking horses all over the place,” she said. “I’ve got them downstairs, and we did do the bronze. I love the horse, and I’ve got it on everything.”
But her Christmas bucking horse is the most special of them all. She would never dream of not putting that particular decoration out when Christmas rolls around.
“I’ve even had people ask me if I’m going to put it up for Cheyenne Frontier Days,” Meyer said. “They haven’t noticed that it’s Santa Claus riding the horse. So I don’t put it up for Frontier Days.”
Her sons Vince and Warren Meyer come over and help put it up every year around Thanksgiving. And if it’s late going up?
Her neighbors, and even strangers who have made driving by it a tradition, will stop and ask her when the horse is going to be let out of the barn.
One year, the newly elected governor of the state, Mark Gordon, asked Meyer to leave it up an extra week.
“It usually comes down the weekend of the New Year,” Meyer said. “But when Mark Gordon became governor, the year of his inauguration, all of his family was coming in … and they were having parties at their house up here, so they asked me if I would leave it up an extra week. That just tells you this is something people really do love.
“And we don’t feel like we own it. We’re just the caretakers.”
Love At First Sight
The first time Meyer saw the Wyoming bucking horse with Santa decoration was when Meyer and her late husband Joe were still living in Laramie. Joe was a Wyoming attorney general, secretary of state and state treasurer, among many other positions.
But at the time, the couple was living and working in Laramie. It was after Joe’s two terms as attorney general, and he had not yet run for secretary of state.
“We were driving down Grand Avenue, which is the main street in Laramie, and here was this bucking horse with Santa out in front of these two homes,” Meyer told Cowboy State Daily.
The two homes were part of a software business belonging to the late Brooks Mitchell, who was then a business professor at the University of Wyoming.
“I think he’s the one who came up with the idea, and he commissioned this specialty company, a welding company in Denver, to construct the thing all out of steel,” Meyer said. “This was mid-’90s that he had it done.”
Meyer was instantly smitten by the Christmas-style, Wyoming bucking horse, but also knew it had to have been kind of a special deal. The bucking horse and rider is a registered federal and state trademark.
It’s not as simple as commissioning someone to make it. The trademark owners have to approve of it, and there are fees that must be paid.
“I’m pretty sure that Brooks did not have this commissioned without the permission of the secretary of state and the University of Wyoming, because it’s protected,” Meyer said. “Everybody has to pay to do that or get permission.”
That makes the 10-foot-tall bucking horse with Santa cowboy unique, and she’s never seen another like it anywhere else.
A Gift That Gives Back
As much as Meyer loved the bucking horse and Santa cowboy, she never imagined she would ever own it.
After about four years in Laramie, the Meyers listed their home for sale to relocate to Cheyenne.
At the same time, the Mitchells also were packing up to leave Laramie. They were headed farther south to Fort Collins, Colorado.
“He had started this software company before you and I ever heard of the word ’software,’ and it grew and grew,” Meyer said. “Laramie didn’t have whatever it took to get his software company moving forward at the time, because I mean nobody had heard of software yet, nobody had heard of Wi-Fi, and nobody had heard of the internet. So they moved to Fort Collins, and we moved back (to Cheyenne.)”
Meyer still bumped into Mitchell a lot, however, at ball games and other functions. So, remembering that Santa cowboy on the bucking horse, she asked him about it.
“He told me, ‘Oh it’s in storage. We don’t dare put it out in Fort Collins,’” she recalled, referencing the fierce rivalry between the University of Wyoming and Colorado State University in Fort Collins.
As Meyer talked about how much fun it was and how she had loved to drive by it on Grand Avenue, Mitchell offered it to her.
“I quit breathing,” Meyer recalled. “I’m going, ‘No this can’t be happening.’”
But Mitchell all but insisted that the Meyers’ take it.
“You know, you and Joe would take good care of it,” he told her. “I’d like you to have it.”
All the Meyers had to do was go down and pick it up one sunny October day. They found it in a storage shed, all by itself in the cold and dark, seen and loved by no one.
‘Santa Go Pokes!’
Get a new pet, and the first order of business is almost always a new name. The Christmas decoration was no different. At first, the Meyers called it their Cowboy Claus, but it wasn’t long before one of its biggest admirers had a new and even better name for it.
It was one of those “out of the mouths of babes” moments, Meyer recalled.
A coworker of Vince’s had made it a Christmas tradition to drive by the Meyers’ home every year to show his son the decoration.
One year, out of the blue, the boy told his dad, “I wanna go see Santa Go Pokes!”
Vince’s coworker told him about that, and then Vince told his parents, who thought it was adorable.
“We just thought it was so cute and why not?” Meyer said. “It’s the bucking horse, and it’s Santa, so it’s perfect.”
Meyer knows the popularity of her Santa Go Pokes! display continues to build year after year. Not only is the decoration part of Cheyenne’s Christmas lights trolley tour, but cars are always doing U-turns to come back for a second look.
Just the other night, she watched two cars do exactly that and park across the street. Maybe they were taking pictures or maybe they were just saying, “Wait a minute, how cool is that?”
Either way, it made Meyer smile, bringing out that warm Christmas glow that starts in the heart and goes all the way down to the toes.
“It makes me feel good that it’s being appreciated like Brooks would have wanted it to have been,” she said. “You know, it’s still his baby, but it’s also everybody’s. And he wanted to share that idea, so it’s just a neat Christmas story.”
Renée Jean can be reached at Renee@CowboyStateDaily.com.