Cowboy State Daily's The Roundup: Columnist Rod Miller

Cowboy State Daily's radioactive columnist Rod Miller is featured this week on our podcast "The Roundup." Enjoy the conversation -- it's a fun one!

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Wendy Corr

January 20, 202427 min read

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 Wendy Corr

Well, hey there folks, welcome to The Roundup. We are a podcast featuring voices, opinions and perspectives from interesting people in the Cowboy State - I'm your host Wendy Corr. And today we have one of the most interesting people that we feature regularly on Cowboy State Daily with his columns - we have Rod Miller! If you don't recognize him from the beard, I'm not sure if I can help you out here… but Rod, I think your beard is almost as famous as you are.

Rod Miller

Well, without the beard, I get confused with Brad Pitt all the time. So this differential.

Wendy Corr

Okay, well then, we want to make sure that the beard stays so that we know who you are - perfect! Rod, you are a proud Wyomingite, you're a proud Carbon County resident. Tell us a little bit about your upbringing. You are a Wyoming native, right?

Rod Miller

I am! I was born in Rawlins, but grew up on the ID Ranch which is about 40 miles north of Rawlins. I went to school at Rawlins high school, proud lifelong Outlaw - once an Outlaw, always in Outlaw! And yeah, I have really deep roots in Carbon County. My family's been there since before Wyoming was a territory. 

Wendy Corr

You have obviously a rich appreciation for the history of Wyoming, and the history of your little corner of Wyoming as well. Tell us how it is that you got started telling everybody else about Wyoming and about Rawlins. You've been a writer for a long time. Tell us about that.

Rod Miller

Yeah, I've written all my life, I gained a deep love and appreciation for the English language through three instructors I had in my scholastic life. Joe McFadden, who was an English teacher at Rawlins Junior High. He taught my dad. And then Margaret Demorest, I went to school at Casper College for a year and took classes under Margaret Demorest. And finally University of Northern Colorado, a guy named Tommy Thompson, who we were - we were explicating Ken Kesey’s ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest’ one day in class, and all these kids just adored Tommy. He was like a guru. And this old, ya know, wino snuck into the classroom. And he was like, against the back wall, passed out in the chair. We heard this ‘clink’ as a wine bottle dropped out of his pocket and rolled across the floor. And the guy would pop up and say, “Bullshit! Bullshit!”  And we thought, ‘oh this guy is interrupting our class.’ So a couple of us said, “Tommy, do you want us to take care of this guy?” And Tom said, “No, no, sir. Would you stand up and introduce yourself?” And he said, “I'm Ken Kesey,” the author of the book we were explicating, who was a really good friend of Tommy's, and showed up just to jerk his students around. When you're exposed to something like that, how can you not love writing?

Wendy Corr

That, to me, just talks about the importance of good teachers. And that is something that you are that you're a fan of, and that you’re a proponent of.

Rod Miller

Of good teachers? Of course, of course, without them, we'd be pretty stupid. We wouldn't learn anything. And yeah, I have deep respect for good teachers. I don't have, I don't have memories of a lot of my teachers, because they taught me stuff or tried to teach me stuff that wasn't very interesting. And I could, you know, get a “C” in the class. And that was fine, I could pass, but the really good teachers leave their fingerprints all over you, whether you know it or not.

Wendy Corr

That is so true. And coaches, too - you recently wrote a wonderful column about the wrestling coach there in Rawlins. Tell us a little bit about that, kind of what your impressions are and why he left such an impression on you.

Rod Miller

Well, he was, at that point in time, the youngest coach I'd had. This was my sophomore year in high school was the first year that the high school had started a wrestling program. And I played football and my coach told me, man, you're just not very coordinated. Maybe wrestling will help you out. So I went out for wrestling. And Bob Johnson was our coach. He was born in Laramie, I think he wrestled for UW, I don't know exactly all about his background, but when he showed up to coach wrestling at Rawlins High School, we all just adored him. He was funny. He'd wrestle out on the mat with you. And I think I mentioned in my column, he was the first coach I ever heard really laugh. All my other coaches were these dour, stoic guys, you know, if they expressed emotion at all, it would be with a grunt and a coach's whistle. Bob was just a cool guy. So yeah, I remember him a lot. He recently passed away, ergo the column, kind of in memoriam, in honor of someone who really affected me.

Wendy Corr

You have also been able to reach out and take that appreciation of language and appreciation of teachers and coaches that made a difference in your life. I understand, didn't you run a bookstore for a while, Rod?

Rod Miller

Yes, I did. I did. I worked in state government for 10 years, Ed Herschler’s last two years of his last administration, and then both of Governor Mike Sullivan’s terms, and in 1994 Sullivan couldn't run again. He was Herschler, he couldn't run for a third term, and decided to run for the Senate against Craig Thomas. And by that time, Wendy, I'd had kind of a belly full of politics. And so I, you know, liquidated everything I had and opened a bookstore, in downtown Cheyenne. “Joe Page’s Bookstore and Coffeehouse.” It was fun!

Wendy Corr

What is it about running a bookstore that filled your heart in a way that government service had not?

Rod Miller

Oh, that place. The bookstores smelled like books. Government smelled like bullshit. And just being around so many books, I could, I could pick up any book I wanted out of my own inventory and read it without having to pay for it. Well, I did pay for it. And the people that came in with their very varied intellectual interests wanting a book on this or that, and hooking them up with a book that turned their key, and it was just a wonderful experience. Not very lucrative at all. Anybody who's owned a bookstore knows that a book is one of the few things you buy, that has the price right on it. You know, you open the cover, it's like $19.95 for this book, or whatever. And the retailer can't change that price. I mean, you can ask less, you can give someone a good deal. You can't sell it for more than what's on the cover, unless you're like a really good salesman, and could do it. So a bookstore is never a good way to make a fortune at all. But if you want to feed your head, there's no better place.

Wendy Corr

Let's go back, you talked about how you were in government service under several governors. Tell us about that. What was your role in the Wyoming State government?

Rod Miller

I was on the governor's staff with with the Natural Resources portfolio, which means that anything that came across the governor's desk that had to do with public lands or Wild and Scenic Rivers, a lot of wildlife stuff, agricultural issues and energy issues, all those came across my desk, and you had to deal with them on the governor's behalf. It was interesting, seeing how government works in Wyoming. For Herschler particularly. 

When I interviewed for Herschler, that was in ‘84, I got a call from Bob Budd, who said governors are looking for a staff guy because one of his staff guys left and there's this position open in the governor's office. And if it's still open when the legislature convenes, they’re gonna cut money for it. So we need you to come in and be a bookmark in this position. 

Okay, my dance card was fairly empty. So I came to Cheyenne to interview with the governor. Well, first I interviewed with Dick Hartman, I, you know, if I could pass his armpit sniffin’ test, I got passed on to the governor. So I went to interview with Herschler at the Cloud Nine lounge at the airport in Cheyenne. And there's a seat in the Cloud Nine lounge that used to have a brass plaque that said “This is Ed Herschler’s Seat.” Because it's where he did a lot of business and it was like, it must have been during hunting season because I went in and introduced myself and all these hunters are getting off the planes with their hunting rifles. And he's calling them all over, saying, Where are you going hunting? What kind of gun you got? And they’d haul this gun out and he’d look at it. No security whatsoever around him. It was just Ed and Bud Daly and Jerry Mickey, the Carbon County mafia hanging around for security. And he didn't, he didn't care. Yeah, he just wanted to talk with these hunters and look at their guns.

And he hired me, I stayed with him for the final two years of his term and then stuck around with Mike Sullivan. And I don't have I don't have a single bad thing to say about either one of those guys.

Wendy Corr

What is it then that you learned and that you took away from that time working in the Wyoming State Government that colored, going forward, your opinion of natural resources, your opinion of how the state runs? Did you have a view on it beforehand and then a view afterwards?

Rod Miller

Well, the view I had on it before coming to work in the governor's office, Wendy, was all from  the range cattle perspective. You know, I knew chapter and verse about grazing cows, but not so much about forest plans or timber sales or wild and scenic river applications, any of that. So I had to learn all that kind of on the run. And I found it intriguing. 

It all talks about how we, as human beings living on the earth, sort of use what the earth offers to keep us going. And everybody has their own opinion about how that should be done. And to my knowledge, those opinions have never been reconciled. Nor will they, in all likelihood, There's always going to be that tension over, how do we use the resources around us to keep civilization going and hopefully advance. 

That's what I took away from my service in government, is that people's opinions aren’t going to change. The people change, the new generation, there's like maybe have been a couple of generations of Wyomingites since I worked in the governor's office. And each generation has their own opinions about public lands, hunting, fishing, mineral extraction. And they're still the same sort of percentage of the population that's on one side and that’s on the other side. Nobody's changing anybody's minds. That's kind of what makes politics fun.

Wendy Corr

So let's go back to your ranching background. You grew up on this ranch that has a wonderful history. And that's got all of these, these memories for you, and that you're carrying on that heritage. Tell us a little bit about some of the stories - because I know you've got stories growing up on the ranch. You have said, you've relayed some of those in your columns and things like that. What's one of your favorite stories from growing up on the ranch?

Rod Miller

I’ll give you one anecdote. When I was like, you know, 12, 13 years old, dad had a foreman named Shorty Carroll. And there was another hired hand named Robbie O'Connell, and Shorty’s from Snake River Valley. Robbie's from Rawlins, we’d known their families forever. Robbie was like, he had just got back from Vietnam, dad hired him. And it was cold. It was a cold day like this - ground just frozen harder than hell, ice everywhere. And Shorty and Robbie are riding out on the ranch to go somewhere to do something. And Robbie's horse slipped on the ice. He hit his head, it knocked him out. And Shorty immediately spun his horse around, was going to run back to the ranch to get help. And his horse slipped and his head hit the ground, and his glasses broke. And there were shards of glass in his eyeballs. He finally got back on his horse and rode back to see dad and said “Frank, Frank! Come quick, Robbie’s hurt!” with blood dripping down his face. So and that's, I don't know what the point is to that story, except be really careful riding horseback in the winter time.

Wendy Corr

That's a good moral. Yes, it is. But it's also a testament to the toughness of those ranch hands. Is that a bygone thing? Is that something that doesn't exist anymore? Or are you a firm believer that if you live in Wyoming, you grow a tough skin?  

Rod Miller

Well, I mean, you can't do that work if you're not tough. And it's been decades since I did that kind of work, but I have to imagine that people out there now doing that work are tough. Can’t help but be.

Wendy Corr

I think one of the things, because of your unique background, you have such a great view on, is an appreciation for the ranching communities now. And they are everywhere. You've had your foot in agriculture, you've had your foot in government and the white collar world. But where would you prefer to stand, Rod?

Rod Miller

Where would I like to be? Where would I like to spend my golden years? Deep in the Gulf of Mexico fishing for redfish. That's where I would like to be, especially on a day like this.

Wendy Corr

And yet, you're still here. You're still here in Wyoming, and you love Wyoming.

Rod Miller

Don’t ask me why. It's just one of those things, you know, I've lived a lot of different places. I managed a discotheque in Rome.

Wendy Corr

In where? Back that up. In Rome, Italy?

Rod Miller

My firstborn, Tommy, was born in Milan, Italy, and his name on his birth certificate is Tomaso Lorenzo Miller. So I've lived in Florence, Italy, which, for my money, is the most civilized, most beautiful place on the planet. And came back to Wyoming.

Wendy Corr

What brought you there? I'm very curious, how did you get to Italy?

Rod Miller

Oh, after college, I just decided, you know, if I don't bust a move now, I'm never going to do it. So I took off for a while. Came back to Wyoming. My brother picked me up at the airport, me and my wife and our new baby. And the first thing I remember seeing on television when we got to Mark's house was Jimmy Carter walking down Pennsylvania Avenue to be inaugurated. So that's, what, early 1977? And I hadn't really paid much attention to United States in the interim, and kind of wondered who Jimmy Carter really was. Never heard of him.

Wendy Corr

And at what point did you become very interested in politics? Because obviously, you're talking about Jimmy Carter, anybody who reads your columns, knows that you have an abiding interest in politics. 

Rod Miller

I think on the masthead, Jimmy still has me listed as political columnist. So I feel obligated to toss out some political stuff every now and then. No one can escape politics, Wendy. If there's two people in a room, politics is in that room. I've heard politics defined variously as, it's how power is distributed among the population, or politics described as it's how we behave with each other. And they both work. And electoral politics has kind of always been in my family, we’ve been a pretty political family. But I didn't really dive deep into it until I went to work in the governor's office. And nothing I learned there convinced me that my definition of politics was wrong.

Wendy Corr

You said that politics runs deep in your family. Tell me about that.

Rod Miller

Well, my great grandfather was the first mayor of Rawlins, and he was the Sheriff of Carbon County, when Carbon County went from Montana, down to Colorado. There were only five counties in the territory. And he was the sheriff when Big Nose George was lynched and skinned in Rawlins. So I don't know, maybe my whole life I've been trying to get myself involved in something as interesting as my great-granddad did. 

Wendy Corr

That's pretty interesting. That's a piece of history right there as well, going back to the idea that you've just kind of steeped yourself in this history, but you're proud of it. You're proud of this Wyoming territory, the state that we have now. What's unique about Wyoming? When you have lived in other places, you've lived in Rome, you've lived in other places, but you keep coming back to Wyoming? What is it about this state that makes you love it so much?

Rod Miller

Well, I'm not the only expatriate from Wyoming who has left and come back. That's a fairly common story. And my dad explained it by saying, “My roots are just as deep as anybody else's in Wyoming, they're just a lot stretchier.” So you go out there to stretch your roots, and then you get drawn back.

And I think it's probably, I don't know, it may be so subliminal, I can't even describe it. But I do like being in a lightly populated state. Crowds of people on a city sidewalk kind of creep me out. I like the fact that it's a long way between towns, and the countryside changes color as you drive between them.

Wendy Corr

You love the outdoors. You've crossed paths with so many interesting people. There was a column that you wrote not too long ago about your relationship with CJ Box, with the author CJ Box. That was a funny column. But again, Chuck Box, as you call him, is somebody that you have known for for many, many years. Tell us the story about how you and Chuck Box got crossways.

Rod Miller

We didn't get crossways - I first met Chuck, I think maybe in ‘84 when I first came with Cheyenne, I think he was still writing for the Saratoga Sun at that time, and involved now with the Platte Valley Chamber of Commerce. We had Bob Budd as a common friend, Bob introduced us. 

And the second best party I ever went to in my life was at Chuck Box's house. One of our mutual friends is a child of the 70s and always insisted that 70s music was better. And I'm a child of the 60s and I insisted... So we had this party at Chuck's house, we each picked 10 songs, played them on the record player and by audience participation, either one decade would win the 70s or 60s. And it wild and raucous? Chuck's kids weren’t alive then, or they would have chromosomal damage from that party. And a character and Chuck's first book. In fact, half the people in Wyoming are characters in a Chuck Box novel. But I was Rodney Mandan Miller, who was a surveyor with Lewis and Clark, who stepped in this gopher hole and broke his ankle and died out there. But the hole was actually dug by this Miller's weasel, which is how the little weasel got its name, from Rodney Mandan Miller. And his first book is about the Miller's weasel and out all of a sudden it just popped up out of nowhere. 

And Chuck signed a first edition copy of “Open Season,” I think was the title of the book. You know, “To Rodney Mandan Miller from Chuck Box, PS, stay out of gopher holes,” or something like that. And I carried it with me on several of my travels, I lived in Texas for a long time and we were making a move from Corpus Christi to somewhere and boxed up all the books. I had books I wanted to keep and the books we had to give to the used bookstore, and somehow Open Season got into the wrong box. I didn't know this until we were in Georgia or someplace. And a couple years later, this guy who bought the book at a garage sale in Texas showed up at a reading Chuck was having and said, “Hey, you signed this one to this Miller guy, can you sign it to me too?” And I think that really pissed Chuck off.

Wendy Corr

Oh no. Now, have you two made amends?

Rod Miller

Chuck is one of those guys, who you just can't help but appreciate having him in your life, because he's so funny and creative. And other people have gotten more mileage out of that feud than I have. But it's a funny story to tell.

Wendy Corr

I love that you are the Miller for the Miller's weasel from “Open Season” - that just cracks me up right there. The behind the scenes. The neat behind the scenes things there.

Rod Miller

But I died in the book!

Wendy Corr

Yeah, but you left a legacy. You left a legacy. And speaking of animals, you are an animal lover. You recently also did a column on good dog Henry. Tell us about that.

Rod Miller

Oh, Henry? Um, he's a mutt that.. my son Victor used to manage the Remount. His dog up there died, he wanted a dog for companionship. So he went to the animal shelter and found Henry and adopted him and took him up to the Remount, and the first thing Henry did was start chasing cows through the fences. And he's not a stock dog at all. And I was living in a little cabin up at the summit at the time. And Victor said, Hey, can you foster Henry for me for a while he's not working out at the ranch. So Henry moved in with me up there, and I've had him ever since. He's in some of the biology books as this incredibly rare case of a canine whose head is solid bone. There's no brain in there at all. He's just all bone! But he's good company.

Wendy Corr

I'm sure you have had your share of animals over the course of your life, especially living on a ranch and things like that. Are there other animals that have had your heart?

Rod Miller

Henry's the first dog I've ever had.

Wendy Corr

No kidding?

Rod Miller

I'm still on the fence about whether it's a good idea for humans to live indoors with descendents of wolves. So I don't know, maybe when I was a kid, we had a parakeet, I can't remember. But Henry Henry is the first pet I've ever had.

Wendy Corr

For somebody who's lived in Wyoming and on a ranch and things like that, as long as you have that really it is surprising. But at the same time, I think that you've got a great perspective then there, too, getting him at this point in your life.

Rod Miller

Every time a cowboy would come out to the ID wanting to work, you know, he says, “I want to work on this ranch.” And he has a dog. And it's “the best stock dog on the planet,” according to the cowboy, so you hire him. And the first day out that dog, he creates wrecks that will take three cowboys to fix, just from running around being a dog. So yeah, I talk to people who say, you know, dogs are handy around cows or sheep. It's just not my experience.

Wendy Corr

That's so interesting. Again, from a ranching perspective, that is so interesting. 

Rod Miller

I couldn't do without my horses. But I’m just fine without any dogs.

Wendy Corr

You are a big sports fan, Rod. And one of the things - you appreciate high school sports. There's a story that our editor Jimmy Orr, he said, ask him about the Douglas versus Rawlins basketball game. Tell me about this story that Jimmy wanted us to talk about.

Rod Miller

This was like a couple, three years ago. I think it was the state championship game, and Douglas and Rawlins were playing for the state championship. And I have like a second or third cousin named Ashton Bartow, who was playing for the Outlaws. And Douglas had some kid, I forget his name, but he and Ashton had been friends since like, you know, sixth grade, played against each other, knew each other, you know, played on all star teams together and stuff. And these two guys were playing for the state championship. And Rawlins won on a buzzer beater. I forget if Ashton made the shot. But the Outlaws beat Douglas for the state championship. And the kid from Douglas just broke down emotionally, for losing the state championship. Which happens, you see that more often than not. 

And Ashton came over and was comforting him, patting him on the back, sat with him for a long time. He didn't go over there and celebrate with his teammates. He came over and took care of his friend who was broken hearted. And eventually they got up and hugged, and each went back to their benches, and someone caught a picture of Ashton, comforting this kid, and I got a hold of it and wrote a column around it. 

The lesson being, is that competition is fine, athletic competition is fun. I am as big a jock as anybody. But beyond that is the connection between human beings, and how you set aside that competitiveness to cooperate. And I thought that game was an example of that. So I wrote about it.

Wendy Corr

I think that one of the things that you have talked about, about Wyoming and about how far apart places are, and the the communities are, one of the things that makes Wyoming unique and wonderful, is despite those distances, the connections that are made between communities and between people in the communities is, to me, what makes Wyoming a very unique place. And in your years of living here and observing people, which you love to do, would you agree with that assessment?

Rod Miller

Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. There's an adage I like to use that says in the state of Wyoming, the word “neighbor” is a verb. And it is, it is the action part of being a neighbor. 

Growing up on ranches, you know, you might get in a fight with your neighbor over a fence, it's down or a bull that got out, or, you know, water rights or something like that. There's always that competition out there. 

But if there's a disaster on a ranch, and someone really needs help, the first people there are your neighbors, they “neighbor” with you. And they neighbor with you at a branding, if you need a few extra hands to do a branding, they'll send their cowboys over, and all you're obligated to do is give them some Rocky Mountain Oysters and some beer in payment. And then you reciprocate with when they need help haying or whatever. So it's that that cooperative dynamic that again, supersedes competition.

That’s whatI think you're talking about. It happens between communities too, between towns. And it's, I don't know if you could, if you could distill that down into, you know, law number 11 in the Wyoming code of the West, I don't know if you could do that. But it's an attitude that prevails. 

I think, I hope I'm wrong, but I think that attitude is losing some strength among us as time goes on. Why that is, I don't know. Maybe new people moving in, maybe, you know, people move to town and you don't really need to rely on your neighbor, you got the firemen, policemen, you got the ambulance. You don't need to rely on your next door neighbor, like you do when you live out in the big empty? 

I don't know. I hope I'm wrong. I hope that attitude prevails, even though the population is changing. If it doesn't, I think we are lesser people because we let that happen.

Wendy Corr

That's an excellent sentiment on that. Absolutely. All right. I’ve got one more question for you, Rod. 

Rod Miller

The answer’s no!

Wendy Corr

There's got to be a story about your hat, because there's no one else that I've ever met that wears a hat like yours. Tell me where you got your hat. 

Rod Miller

First off, this is just an off the shelf Stetson Open Road. There's a Stetson logo right there. That I have done some body work too. I had the thumb curl taken out of the brim. Instead of that, that cowboy crease, this is what's called a Montana Peak. And it's one of the oldest creases in cowboy-dom. It predates you know the rodeo pinch and the cattleman’s crease and that flat-brimmed monstrosity that people wear these days. 

And I've generally always had a Stetson open road. This is like the fourth one of these I’ve owned, and I always put a cowboy crease or a Montana peak in it, because, just between you and me, I think I just looked so damn handsome in it.

Wendy Corr

I love it. I love it. Rod, Rod Miller this has been such an interesting conversation, and I'm grateful for your perspective. And our readers are grateful for your perspectives. Your perspectives aren't always popular - but, Rod, that makes no difference to you. Do you feel an obligation to tell things the way you see them? 

Rod Miller

Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. I do. Just like Howard Cosell, I tell it like it is. And some people don't like it. And that's fine with me, the world has plenty of room for people with all different kinds of opinions. But I consider those people who disagree with me to be the kind of folks who would, you know, walk into the great marketplace of ideas and blow their allowance in the candy aisle. But that's just my opinion.

Wendy Corr

That's a great image right there. That's a great image. Rod, thank you so much for your time today, and for being our guest here on The Roundup. Please continue to write your columns, please continue to tell us your observations, your memories, your views on all these things. We're grateful for you, and we're better people because of it.

Rod Miller

Yes, ma'am. I will do just that. Thank you.

Wendy Corr

Thank you. And folks, thank you for tuning into our podcast, The Roundup. I've been your host Wendy Corr. Tune in next week when we chat with another great Wyoming personality about news and views that are important to you. Folks, have a great week.

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