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Bill Sniffin

‘Rising from the Plains’ is classic Wyoming book

in Bill Sniffin/Column
John McPhee
(Photo courtesy: Office of Communications, Princeton University)
2247

By Bill Sniffin

It’s been said there are no boring stories, just boring writers.  And with that thought it mind, it would seem that a book about geology would be interesting only to geologists. 

The early 1990s book Rising From The Plains by author John McPhee ranks as one of the most interesting and most important books ever written about Wyoming.

McPhee uses the life of famed geologist, the late David Love, as the centerpiece of this book.  Love, of Laramie,  grew up in Fremont County and was long considered the dean of geologists in the Rocky  Mountain region.

McPhee captures the western spirit of Love’s life and that of his parents as they carved out a unique existence on a ranch in an area of Fremont County near Castle Gardens.

The book is full of references to the unique geology of Wyoming.  McPhee writes in a style that vividly lets you imagine the extreme risings of mountain ranges, the descent of valleys, and the rolling together of various land masses. 

Intertwined with the geological stories (told mostly through Love’s words) is the life story of the famous geologist and his mother, who came west in 1905 after graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Wellesley College back east.

The book was serialized in three parts in the New Yorker Magazine 30 years ago.

In one part, McPhee writes about Love attending school in Lander (he and his brother were educated at home by their mother until they were ready for high school):

“Their mother rented a house in Lander and stayed there with them while they attended Fremont County Vocational High School.  One of their classmates was William Shakespeare, whose other name was War Bonnet.  Lander at that time was the remotest town in Wyoming.  It advertised itself as ‘the end of the rails and the start of the trails.’“

The Love Ranch was located in almost the exact center of the state. It was one of those outposts that was so far from everything else that anyone passing through would stop.  Often, people would sleep in the bunkhouse and join the Loves for dinner.

 McPhee writes about one memorable meal:

“People (with sordid reputations) came along with such frequency that David’s mother eventually assembled a chronicle called ‘Murderers I Have Known.’  She did not publish the manuscript or even give it much private circulation, in her regard for the sensitivities of some of the first families of Wyoming.  As David would one day comment, ‘they were nice men, family friends, who had put away people who needed killing, and she did not wish to offend them — so many of them were such decent people.’

“One of these was Bill Grace. Homesteader and cowboy, he was one of the most celebrated murderers in central Wyoming, and he had served time, but people generally disagreed with the judiciary and felt that Bill, in the acts for which he was convicted, had only been ‘doing his civic duty.’           

“At the height of his fame, he stopped at the ranch one afternoon and stayed for dinner.  Although David and (his brother) Allen were young boys, they knew exactly who he was, and in his presence were struck dumb with awe. 

“As it happened, they had come upon and dispatched a rattlesnake that day — a big one, over five feet long.  Their mother decided to serve it creamed on toast for dinner.  She and their father sternly instructed David and Allen not to use the word ‘rattlesnake’ at the table.  They were to refer to it as chicken, since a possibility existed that Bill Grace might not be an eater of adequate sophistication to enjoy the truth. 

“The excitement was too much for the boys.  Despite the parental injunction, gradually their conversation at the table fished its way toward the snake.  Casually — while the meal was going down — the boys raised the subject of poisonous vipers, gave their estimates of the contents of local dens, told stories of snake encounters, and so forth.  Finally, one of them remarked on how very good rattlers were to eat.

“Bill Grace said,  ‘By God, if anybody ever gave me rattlesnake meat I’d kill them.’

“The boys went into a state of catatonic paralysis.  In the pure silence, their mother said, ‘More chicken, Bill?’

“’Don’t mind if I do,’ said Bill Grace.”

And those stories are just a few that are included in this wonderful book.  It is must reading for people who are interested in a well-written story about Wyoming’s recent past and long-distant past.

Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books.  His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find more stories by Bill Sniffin by going to CowboyStateDaily.com.

Breast cancer awareness month: An old twisted tree taught me an important lesson

in Bill Sniffin/Column
Nancy Sniffin (right) raised over $250,000 for cancer research during her time as chairman of the Lander Relay for Life. Here she is honored with a proclamation during the 2005 Relay by then-Mayor Mick Wolfe. Nancy fought breast cancer from 1999 to 2001. She has been cancer free ever since.
2231

By Bill Sniffin

There was a twisted, ugly bushy tree in our back yard.  It was next to Big Dickinson Creek and had all kinds of limbs that had shot out in all directions.  

In a word, it was a tangle.

I found some real lessons of life as exemplified in that ratty old tree. Especially during October, which is breast cancer awareness month.

We hired some guys to help clear out that brushy area one fall and one of them attacked that messy tree with a relish.  He came to me with a big smile on his face to tell me that he had trimmed it up but had not eliminated it entirely.

Instead, he demonstrated how he had found two strong limbs pushing upwards. He had trimmed away all the rest and there standing proudly were two vertical limbs of this tree.

As I touched the limbs it became obvious they had twisted together and seemed to almost be holding each other up.  I thanked the guy for his good work and watched that tree bloom over the next year as it really grew over the following summer. 

By fall, the two trees were standing tall.  Then we got one of Lander’s rare windstorms. This one wasn’t a real cyclone but maybe 40 miles per hour.  When I next looked at that tree, it looked remarkably different.

Now, just one limb stood tall. 

The other was drooping. It was leaning over so much, perhaps it was broken?  I got out my small chain saw and decided that this would be best for the lone standing tree if we got rid of this other weak tree and left it alone.

Then another thought struck me.  Perhaps the wind had just untangled the trees?  All along the two limbs needed each other to stand tall like that.

I pushed the weak tree back up beside its mate and took the belt out of my jeans and wrapped it around the two trees so they were, once again, bound together. 

After stepping back and looking at my handiwork, it again looked splendid.  The two parts together made a much more handsome tree than the one lonely limb could have looked.

We watched that tree over the next few months and it just grew stronger and stronger. The limbs became fully entangled with each other again.

As I looked at that tree, was there some symbolism that people can use in their own lives?

In this case, out of all the different branches, two emerged on that one day.  They were already relying on each other to stand up strong. 

Perhaps this is how a man and a woman can come together and become one from their varied roots.  But sometimes things can go wrong with one partner or the other.   It can be a physical or mental ailment or any of many different things.

Maybe this is how married couples can live a long life together.  When one is weak and falling down, the other holds up its partner as long as he or she can.  And when they finally can’t hold on any longer, maybe an outside force  — in our case,  the Good Lord and his blessings — comes along to help them stay together. And in the end, they are standing tall together for a long, long time.

These tangled limbs are standing just outside my home office window.  I look out there a lot and see a strong tree.

And when I think of how strong my wife Nancy always was in our marriage – there is no doubt she held me up all these years.  And in the fall of 1999, when she was struck hard with breast cancer, I was at her side, holding her up during her difficult time.

We spent two years with chemo and radiation getting through this amazingly difficult time. Finally she was cancer free.

For 20 years she has been fine. We are standing together stronger than ever.

There was a lesson in that old twisted tree.  I think I understand.

Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books.  His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find more stories by Bill Sniffin by going to CowboyStateDaily.com.

Lies, damned lies, statistics; Here are Cowboy State facts

in Bill Sniffin/Column
Sniffin coach design
Bill Sniffin points to the back of his motorhome which shows the Cowboy logo and words from a song by Chris LeDoux.
2216

By Bill Sniffin

There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.

– Mark Twain

You could always find lots of cars and trucks around my home.  I am an admitted car nut and just love vehicles of all kinds.

Perhaps out here in Wyoming it is a throwback to a time when your wealth was tied to the number of horses you had. And if wealth were connected to the number of cars you own, my friend Joe Kenney would be a multi-millionaire.  I think he has ten vehicles, two motorcycles, a motorcycle, and an airplane at last count.

I am down to a Ford Excursion, an all-wheel drive Lincoln sedan, and a 17-year old hail-damaged Lexus convertible.  Oh yeah, we also have a 14-year old motorhome that we used to call Follow My Nose. Now it is emblazoned with the Wyoming Cowboy logo and the name of the song “Life is a Highway” by Chris LeDoux. The late Wyoming cowboy-singer was one of many folks who recorded that song. I like his version the best.

So here is my question for all of you: Wyoming has 579,315 people.  How many cars and trucks are there?  Do you think there are more vehicles than people here in Wyoming?

Our local Fremont County Commissioner Mike Jones sent me the current most updated 2018 statistics from the United States Census Bureau, which measures all these things. It has some surprising info about my own county and even more surprising data about the state of Wyoming.

If you guessed that, yes, Wyoming has more vehicles than it has people, you were right.  The 579,315 people in the state own 603,717 licensed cars and trucks.

 People (especially wives) repeat the old saw: “The only difference between men and boys is the cost and size of all their toys.”

Toys? Yeah, here in Wyoming, we have toys. And most of them are registered with the state government.  Besides cars and trucks, we have 294,164 “other” vehicles.

More importantly, this total includes trailers, lots of trailers. Including RVs, this amounts to an astonishing total of 207,413 trailers. It also includes 26,144 motorcycles.

Snowmobiles, boats, airplanes, and ATVs are not listed in this total but obviously would add big numbers if they were.

Wyoming people drive more miles per year than folks in any other state. That average is 16,800 miles for every man, woman, and child. Amazing.  No wonder my tires keep wearing out.

These miles are traveled on our 30,430 miles of highways and roads in our state. Of this total, 6,075 are federal.  Did you know that the longest highway in America is US 26?  Closely followed by Interstate 80, which I believe is the longest interstate highway in the country, stretching from New York City to San Francisco, closely following the route of famous US 30 Lincoln Highway.  It was Honest Abe who first proposed this national road along about 1863, when he was pretty much preoccupied with the Civil War and getting the transcontinental railroad built.

In Wyoming, we like to brag about our low taxes but the state collected $686,766,223 in sales and use taxes.  That is a pile of money.

Property taxes collected across the state amounted to over a billion dollars with a total of $1,344,432,107.  

My columns are usually limited to 750 words so I have to cherry-pick items here.  It would fill a whole bunch of pages to write about all of this detail.

In my business career, after starting out as a reporter and ad salesmen, I developed a love for data and numbers when I became an owner and publisher.  This surprised everyone. To me, numbers are not just numbers – they tell big stories.  I used to love the early IBM advertisements for computer systems where they pictured businesspersons pondering spreadsheets. The caption read: “Not just data – but reality.” Just love that concept.

School statistics could take up an entire column.  There are 48 school districts in Wyoming with one-sixth of them in my Fremont County.

There are 355 schools located from one end of the state to the other. There are 7,248 teachers and 736 administrators. According to these reports, there are 6,884 other staff to help keep things going.

Total enrollment is 93,647 students.  We have a graduation rate of 81.7 percent. The composite ACT score for juniors in high school was 19.5 in 2018.

Total general fund expenses for education were $1,493,600,712 for a per-student average of $17,694. This is one of the highest rates in the country.  In my county of Fremont (with its eight districts), the average per student cost was an amazing $22,299.

I will wrap this up by sharing that the U. S. Government owns 46,313 square miles out the state’s total of 97,093 square miles. The Bureau of Land Management controls 27,162 square miles of this total.

It is a big place with big numbers.

Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books.  His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find more stories by Bill Sniffin by going to CowboyStateDaily.com.

My chaotic college years of dodging Vietnam & chasing dreams; Half century later, two stories about young college students

in Bill Sniffin/Column
2191

By Bill Sniffin

Just about the most exciting time in a young person’s life is when he or her heads off to that freshman year of college.

In our family, we are excited about seeing two grandsons heading off on this big adventure.   Nancy and I are enjoying seeing these two boys are going to thrive prosper. We relish how well they are adapting to their new lives.

But it surely brings back memories of a different time.

Wolf Johnson, 19, son of Shelli and Jerry Johnson of Lander, is  now a student at the University of Wyoming in Laramie.

Braley Hollins, 19, son of Amber and Craig Hollins of Allen, TX, is now a student at Oklahoma State in Stillwater.

Observing them also brings to mind some of the precarious experiences I had during my early college experiences exactly 53 years earlier.

Both Wolf and Braley are doing fine. Wolf is a standout poet, singer, and musician, and is benefitting from the Hathaway Scholarship. Braley is on a full-ride baseball scholarship at OSU after excelling in that sport at Plano Senior high in the Dallas Area.

If these boys behave and keep their grades up, they will have few problems.  Not so much like what I went through a half century earlier.

Let’s climb aboard my time machine and take a trip back to the stormy times known as the 1960s — 1965 to be specific.

In 1964, I obtained my first newspaper job after taking a six-week journalism short course at Iowa State in Ames.  Life was good. I was doing what I wanted and had even developed a relationship with a young chick, who was both the prettiest and nicest girl in the town of Harlan, Iowa.

Two of my friends had already been killed in Vietnam. After my draft physical, I was considered 1A, which meant I could be drafted any time.  A new college was starting from scratch in neighboring Denison. So it was off to the newspaper there with plans to enroll in newly minted Midwestern College. According to rules in place, I would then have a “college deferment” and be 2A, which would keep me out of the war. I would work at the newspaper and go to college.

My dad had lined up a very nice Ford Ranch Wagon for me to drive. It was a two-door station wagon. These are worth a fortune today.

My kid brother John came to visit me and promptly blew up the engine leaving me without wheels and literally walking when the newspaper’s company car was not available.  But I struggled on.

Two classmates, Preston VerMeer and Larry Carlson, were in just about as bad financial straits. Among us, we scraped up enough cash to buy a dilapidated 1949 Chevy torpedo-back sedan we nicknamed Myrtle. We kept her parked on the street near the house where we rented rooms.

One morning in the cold of winter, the car disappeared. Where could Myrtle have gone? Did someone steal her?

She had been impounded by the Denison Police Dept. as a “junked car.” Denison laws said you could not leave a junked car on a city street.  It would cost $50 to get it out of impound. We never got her out. We could not raise the $50.

Somehow I managed my full-time job at the newspaper driving its company car as much as I could, attending college full-time, and hitch-hiking the 25 miles down to Harlan to see my future bride, Nancy Musich, as often as I could.

Nancy and I were in love and we learned that I could get most of my tuition waived if we got married and my wife worked for the college. So on May 14, 1966, we tied the knot. I was 20 and she was 19.  Nancy had a 1959 Volkswagen and I finally had ownership of some wheels again. She always joked that I married her for her car.

Meanwhile, the Vietnam War was raging. Lots of young men were dying over there. Before it was done, some 58,000 men of my generation were killed. It was just awful.

When my new wife went to work for the college, my draft deferment went from 2A student to 3A married and we started our 53-year married journey together. The wind was at our backs or so  it seemed — finally.

We endured many struggles and we both worked very, very hard. Somehow, our destiny always seemed ahead of us. It just seems impossible to recall all that has happened to us over the years.

But watching Wolf and Braley head off to college with their heads high, their eyes clear, and with high hopes in their hearts – well, it just brought back some memories of a truly different but similar time when I was their age attempting to do the same thing.

Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books.  His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find more stories by Bill Sniffin by going to CowboyStateDaily.com.

Yikes, a cancer scare and a smart phone ‘tech neck’

in Bill Sniffin/Column
2153

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

Like a great many Wyomingites, I suffer from persistent pains in my neck and back. More particularly, my neck has bothered me for 12 years, when I herniated a disk.

On June 15 I offered to help my wife Nancy move some heavy plants and, yowsir, something popped and I was in awful pain.

Sniffin in neck brace

Now my neck does odd things when I mess it up – this time, it resulted in horrible spasms in my lower back. Until I put my trusty neck brace on, I was gimping around. A pathetic sight.

Anyway, zoom ahead to Sept. 9 in Casper, where a pain wizard named Dr. Todd Hammond gave my neck a shot of steroids and things are on the mend. His crew of TJae, Lydia, Oneta, and a couple of other pleasant nurses, wheeled me into what looked like the flight deck of the Starship Enterprise. Within 20 minutes, I was done.

But the journey was an interesting one with many twists and turns.

First my Physician Assistant Jim Hutchison at the Lander Medical Clinic recommended physical therapy with Tom Davis at Fremont Therapy here in Lander. 

Some stretching, some heat, and some “dry needling” (now that is a unique pain) got me back on my feet, literally. It took awhile to get the appointment for my shot as first as there was the need for an MRI procedure.  Jim lined it up at SageWest Hospital in Lander. It showed problems with my neck vertebrae but it also showed a suspicious lump on my thyroid – oops.  If it was over 2 centimeters, it needed a biopsy. What? Not the BIG C?

Later it was another trip to the hospital for that procedure. Radiologist Perry Cook is an old friend and she is always enthusiastic. As I was lying there waiting for the biopsy, she came roaring in the room and said these nodules were usually benign.

“But if it is cancer, you have the best kind of cancer!”

Perry finished No. 1 in her class at Duke Medical School. I trust her and I expected her to be forthright with me. Somehow this conversation was getting disconcerting, though.

When it comes to cancer, I come from a blessed family. My parents never had cancer.  My 10 siblings (aged 56 to 76) have only had one cancer exposure, which my younger sister Mary seems to have managed very well about 10 years ago. For us Sniffins, there is supposed to be no cancer. No BIG C.  What the heck! Why me??

Then they did the biopsy and Perry was right, it was benign. Whew! I kept thinking how fortunate it would have been to catch this possible cancer while doing a routine MRI of my neck vertebrae. Thanks to her colleague Dr. Edwin Butler for spotting it.

So now it was on to Casper.

Nancy is not a football fan so she stayed in her room at the Ramkota while I sat in the bar during Monday Night Football with a bunch of oilfield folks watching the Broncos get beat.  That Texans-Saints game, which was on first, had one of the most fantastic finishes in NFL history. But I digress.

When I first hurt my neck 12 years ago, Dr. Hammond had given me two separate steroid shots after I had been scheduled for surgery. Luckily, I healed fast, came to my senses, and avoided the knife.

This time around, perhaps there may have been another reason for my neck pain. Our brilliant daughter Shelli Johnson routinely goes on 30-mile hikes in the Wind River Mountains. As a life coach, she also leads high-powered business gals from all across the USA on trips to Zion and Grand Canyon. She twice won first in the world for best tourism web site with www.yellowstonepark.com. These awards are called the Webbys.

But this column is about her smartphone. And mine, too.

When I told her about my neck, she said there is a national epidemic of “tech neck,” caused by people arching their 10-pound heads at a 40-degree angle checking their smart phones for 3-4 hours a day. She said she suffers from it and is trying to wean herself from looking at her phone that way.

My wife said that I must be suffering from it, too, since I have my face in my smart phone all day long, too. Boy, do I hate to have to admit she’s right. Originally, it was called “text neck.”

So, I couldn’t wait to ask Dr. Hammond if I had “tech neck” and if he treated others with the same malady? He will give injections to 30 people a day some times and travels the state seeing patients.

Sarah from his staff reported they treat lots of people for “tech neck,” and usually recommend stretching and people should hold their phones out in front of them. 

“We see it a lot. It is a lot more common because of the hand-held devices out there. We suggest stretches. Some can go to chiropractors and get good results. There are a lot of less invasive stuff you can do to correct it before it becomes a more severe problem.”

Either way, my neck is better (thank you, Doc) and I now hold my phone straight out in front of me when I look at it.  I think my head might weigh more than 10 pounds and I know I have a tender neck, thus “tech neck” might hurt me even worse than the average person. In the meantime, I hope this column helps cure a whole bunch of stiff and sore necks among my readers.

Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books.  His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find more stories by Bill Sniffin by going to CowboyStateDaily.com.

Sinks Canyon and Loop Road are magical places this time of year

in Bill Sniffin/Column/Travel
Lander Wyoming Loop Road
Folks who live on the east side of the Wind River Mountains have a tradition of getting “looped,” as often as possible. This is my term for driving the spectacular Loop Road.
2094

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

Folks who live on the east side of the Wind River Mountains have a tradition of getting “looped,” as often as possible. This is my term for driving the spectacular Loop Road.

Fall colors were already showing up on the Loop Road when this photo was snapped Sept. 15. (Photo credit: Bill Sniffin)

On a recent Sunday, there was just a hint of color as we headed for the mountains. It sure felt like fall, but the colors were still green and summer-like. Soon it will turn totally golden.

We were re-visiting a magical place that cast a spell on us exactly 49 years ago.  Sinks Canyon and the Loop Road outside of Lander are what caused my wife Nancy and me to move to Wyoming from Iowa almost a half century ago.

It is every bit as beautiful now as it was then. I recall telling Nancy about being blown away by how the Popo Agie River was so picturesque. It looked liked color photos I had seen on calendars but never dreamed that these places really did look like this in reality. It was a transcendent experience.

A tourist from Washington state was swimming in the Little Popo Agie River on the Loop Road on this sunny afternoon before finding this nice rock for sun bathing. (Photo credit: Bill Sniffin)

Sinks Canyon is the primary gateway to the Wind River Mountain Range from the east. Located just south of Lander, the canyon’s sheer cliffs and magical river make it a haven for sightseers.

The remarkable reason for the name of Sinks Canyon is that the river disappears into the side of the canyon wall and reappears a quarter mile downstream on the other side of the canyon.  If you have not visited this eighth wonder of Wyoming, you should. There are wonderful visitor centers there to explain things.

This huge rock formation called Windy Point towers over Sinks Canyon south of Lander. (Photo credit: Bill Sniffin)

Then you climb out of Sinks Canyon and head up the Loop Road. The highway up the paved switchbacks and pretty soon you are climbing up to the saddle below Fossil Mountain and Windy Point.  I always thought Windy Point should be called Chief’s Head, as it looks like old Chief Washakie looking up to the heavens.

Beautiful lakes in the form of Frye Lake, Worthen Reservoir, and Fiddler Lake greet you along this first section of the Loop Road, which is graveled but passable for sedans.

Wind River Peak is the tallest mountain in the southern end of the Wind River Range.  This view is also showing Frye Lake along the Loop Road. (Photo credit: Bill Sniffin)

The gigantic form of Wind River Peak at 13,192 feet looms over this entire scene.  It is the tallest mountain in the southern Wind Rivers.  It has plenty of snow on it now and glistens in the distance.

Another monolith that shows up in your rear view mirror is the massive hunk of rock known as Lizard Head Peak, which is 12,842 feet high.  It is one of the signature mountains in the famous Cirque of the Towers.  It is amazing that you can see it so well from the Loop Road, but you need to know where and when to look.

A huge mountain named Lizard Head Peak strikes a pose in the distance for tourists driving the Loop Road south of Lander. (Photo credit: Bill Sniffin) 

Highest point of the road is Blue Ridge, which sits at 9,578 feet above sea level. A short hike farther up and you can climb stone steps to an old Forest Service fire lookout station. Again, well worth the trip and the view is breathtaking for 360-degrees.

There is a spectacular spot where the road crosses the Little Popo Agie River.  I stopped and snapped some photos and then saw a gal swimming in the frigid river. She climbed out of the water onto a big rock and started to sun bathe.  It must have been very invigorating. She was from Washington state, according to the license plate on her small car parked nearby.

Louis Lake on the Loop Road has nice beaches for families to enjoy at an altitude above 8,000 feet. (Photo credit: Bill Sniffin)

Louis Lake (pronounced Louie) is the showpiece of the Loop Road. It is a very deep lake. It has nice beaches on its east end and is a favorite place for boating, canoeing, fishing, and just enjoying life.

From Louis Lake to WYO Highway 28 on South Pass, the Loop Road goes by Grannier Meadows and up and around Dead Horse Curve.  The reason it is called the Loop Road is that you never need to backtrack.  You just keep going and complete the loop drive back to Lander.

As you get to South Pass, you look off at the vast Red Desert, which is one of Wyoming’s seven legitimate wonders.  Continental Peak and the Oregon Buttes stand out in the distance.

A moose casually munches on lily pads in a small pond next to Fiddler Lake on the Loop Road. (Photo credit: Bill Sniffin) 

On the way back down the mountain back to Lander the most stunning sight is the vast Red Canyon. This is a huge box canyon, which is striking by all the red rock of the Chugwater Formation. It is one of the most photographed places in this part of Wyoming.

And then we were back home, having enjoyed a wonderful three-hour drive that reinforced all the wonderful reasons of why we live here.

Another of our reasons for this particular trip was that we had not driven the entire Loop this year.  We ALWAYS drive the Loop at least once each year.  Time was running out. What a great pleasure it has always been; it was this time, too.

Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books.  His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find more stories by Bill Sniffin by going to CowboyStateDaily.com.

September Song: One Shot memories remind why I love this month so much

in Bill Sniffin/Column
Donald Trump Jr. One Shot
At the 2004 One Shot Hunt, Donald Trump Jr. got his bullet blessed by the late Darwin St. Clair, who served as ceremonial Shoshone Chief for the festivities. Chief Medicine Man Willie LeClair is pictured on the left. (Courtesy: One Shot)
2055

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

“Well, the sun’s not so hot in the sky today; And you know I can see summertime slipping on away.”

 – James Taylor

To me,  September in Wyoming means two things:

First, it is probably my favorite month, despite the occurrence of allergies and the ominous evidence of winter’s onset. And despite the need for an occasional jacket, the weather is usually quite predictable.

Second, it is when the annual One Shot Antelope Hunt occurs here in Lander.

Most Wyomingites keep an emergency travel kit in their cars year-around, but September is the time when you make sure you have re-stocked your trunk with this indispensable item.  Mountain highways across Wyoming can be very wintry in September.

Yellowstone Park is at its “yellow-est” at this time of year. It is fun to watch the locals in their wool shirts and jeans walking along a path next to a confused Californian, shivering in his tee shirt, shorts, and sandals.

Fall is the most colorful time of year in Wyoming. The leaves turn to breathtaking yellows, golds and reds.  Green lawns offer a nice contrast.  And the sky is as deep blue as always, the sun is shining its most golden and the high mountains glisten with early snow.

On the political scene, it often is the month where key decisions are being made.  Pundits always talk about “October surprises,” but the heavy campaign lifting needs to be done in September.

One Shot Antelope Hunt guide
The vast Red Desert and the High Plains of Wyoming served as a backdrop for Gov. Freudenthal’s 2004 hunt, here pictured with his guide Mike Yardas.

In my hometown, September also means it is time to go antelope hunting.  The 76th annual One Shot Antelope Hunt will be held during this upcoming weekend, Sept. 19-21. It is the Super Bowl of Shooting Sports.

I was the historian for the Hunt for decades before retiring some years ago.  While looking back on some of the hunts held this century, the one in 2004, some 15 years ago, sure was fun.

Then-Gov. Dave Freudenthal was the host and got his antelope with one shot.

One Shot Antelope Hunt
The 2004 One Shot Hunt featured some good shooting by then-Gov. Dave Freudenthal and U. S. Sen. Mike Enzi (right).

One of his fellow hunting competitors that year was U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi, who also was considered a winner, shooting his buck with one shot. Sen. Enzi dedicated his hunt to his grandpa who always followed the One Shot.  He even used granddad’s old Springfield rifle that always “shoots four inches high and four inches to the right.”  Frankly, I cannot imagine anything to do with Sen. Enzi “moving to the left.”

The senator was so tickled with his success, he talked about it on the Senate floor the following Monday.

Gov. Dave Freudenthal’s team during the 2004 One Shot consisted of (l-r) Tony McRae of Lander, the governor, and Arch Coal CEO Steve Leer. Also pictured in their greeter Dave Kellogg.

One of the governor’s teammates was Steve Leer, then-CEO of Arch Coal.  Leer also nailed his buck with one shot. He spoke very highly about the quality of the Wyoming workers who work for his huge company. What a heady time that was for Wyoming coal.

Gov. Dave joined a group of hardheaded Lander Republicans called the Fox News All Stars for coffee that Friday morning prior to the Hunt.  I teasingly referred to them as  “Republicans for Freudenthal.” Although all were fond of the governor, not sure many liked him enough to join such a group.

As we left the restaurant, a passenger in a passing car flagged down the governor and appeared to recognize him. Was this an old friend? The governor walked over to the car.  A man opened his window and asked: “Hey, can you tell me how to get to Dubois?” Obviously the man did not realize who he was talking with.

After Gov. Dave answered the man’s question and the car started to pull away, someone yelled: “You might want to look at the picture on your highway map!”

Coincidentally, Donald Trump Jr. also shot in that year’s hunt.

He seemed to avoid the limelight during the weekend and was courteous to everyone around him.

This weekend Gov. Mark Gordon will participate in his first One Shot.  It is a fantastic tradition and I predict he will do a good job as host and will have a memorable weekend.

September is also football season.  As I write this, UW is boasting a 3-0 record and a seven-game win streak. I have great faith in coach Craig Bohl. 

This month, which used to be famous for containing the first day of autumn, is now known for other things since Sept. 11, 2001.  It will forever be recognized as the month when 3,000 innocent Americans died. 

And here in the Cowboy State, it will be recalled as the time when eight young Wyoming men died in their athletic prime on a dark highway south of Laramie. They were all killed when a drunk driver lost control of his big pickup and slammed into them head-on. An unbearable tragedy.

On a brighter note, around our house, it is wild bird frenzy time. My wife Nancy keeps two ducks around and this time of year, dozens of the wild ducks descend on our house to commiserate with our domestic fowl.

Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books.  His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find more stories by Bill Sniffin by going to CowboyStateDaily.com.

Yellowjackets are carnivores – they don’t want you; they want your barbecued steak!

in Bill Sniffin/Column
Bees
2027

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

What a strange critter! 

This time of year a yellowish bee-type critter and its buddies swarm down on you just as you sit down to eat a newly barbecued steak. Or hamburger. Or chicken.

But these bees are not after you – they may be a type of critter called a Vulgar Bee, which are really members of the wasp family. And they love meat.

They will buzz right by you and head for your delicious steak. The more freshly cooked, the better, it seems.

Apparently as your mouth is watering, so is theirs.

Monday night, Nancy and I were barbecuing kabobs.  Two were beef and two bacon-wrapped chicken. They cooked up nicely and smelled with that tantalizing odor. We were hungry and anxious to dive into this wonderful meal.

As we sat down on our picnic table, we were descended upon by six of these guys.  They buzzed and swarmed all around us and landed on our plates faster than we could shoo them away. Who are these buggers?

According to Wikipedia: Yellowjackets are social hunters living in colonies containing workers, queens, and males (drones). Colonies are annual with only inseminated queens overwintering. Fertilized queens are found in protected places such as in hollow logs, in stumps, under bark, in leaf litter, in soil cavities, and in man-made structures.

Queens emerge during the warm days of late spring or early summer, select a nest site, and build a small paper nest in which they lay eggs. After eggs hatch from the 30 to 50 brood cells, the queen feeds the young larvae for about 18 to 20 days. Larvae pupate, and then emerge later as small, infertile females called workers. Workers in the colony take over caring for the larvae, feeding them with chewed up meat or fruit. By midsummer, the first adult workers emerge and assume the tasks of nest expansion, foraging for food, care of the queen and larvae, and colony defense.

From this time until her death in the autumn, the queen remains inside the nest, laying eggs. The colony then expands rapidly, reaching a maximum size of 4000 to 5000 workers and a nest of 10,000 to 15,000 cells in late summer. (This is true of most species in most areas; however, vespula squamosa, in the southern part of its range, may build much larger perennial colonies populated by scores of queens, tens of thousands of workers, and hundreds of thousands of cells.)

At peak size, reproductive cells are built with new males and queens produced. Adult reproductives remain in the nest fed by the workers. New queens build up fat reserves to overwinter. Adult reproductives leave the parent colony to mate. After mating, males quickly die, while fertilized queens seek protected places to overwinter. Parent colony workers dwindle, usually leaving the nest to die, as does the foundress queen. Abandoned nests rapidly decompose and disintegrate during the winter. They can persist as long as they are kept dry, but are rarely used again. In the spring, the cycle is repeated; weather in the spring is the most important factor in colony establishment.

Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books. His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find more stories by Bill Sniffin by going to CowboyStateDaily.com.

Wyoming Bucket List: Driving Through Carbon County Over Battle Mountain

in Bill Sniffin/Column
The famous Aspen Alley is a narrow road off WYO 71 from Battle Mountain Pass. This photo was taken during the height of the fall colors of the Aspen Trees. Photo credit: Randy Wagner of Cheyenne.
The famous Aspen Alley is a narrow road off WYO 71 from Battle Mountain Pass. This photo was taken during the height of the fall colors of the Aspen Trees. Photo credit: Randy Wagner of Cheyenne.
1978

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

If you blast through Carbon County on Interstate 80, you begin to think that all there is to see is high desert and the towering Elk Mountain.

But that part of Wyoming offers so much more.

Last week, I fulfilled a bucket list item by driving State Highway 70 over Battle Mountain Pass for the first time.  Wow, what a gorgeous trip!

Thomas Edison plaque
This 1949 plaque recognizes the place where Thomas Edison went fishing on Battle Mountain in Carbon County.

Near the top of the pass, almost 10,000 feet, is a prominent plaque placed where the famous inventor Thomas Edison went fishing and reportedly came up with the idea for filament to use in the invention of the light bulb. It occurred while he was messing with flies during a wonderful fishing trip. That very impressive plaque was mounted on a big brick podium back in 1949 by a statewide historical group.  More on that later.

There are massive groves of mature aspen trees all along the way and I kept looking for the famous Aspen Alley.  This is a narrow road cut through a mighty grove of aspens that shimmers like gold in the fall. Famed Wyoming photographer Randy Wagner of Cheyenne has the best image I have ever seen of that site.

The famous Aspen Alley is a narrow road off WYO 71 from Battle Mountain Pass. This photo was taken during the height of the fall colors of the Aspen Trees. Photo credit: Randy Wagner of Cheyenne.
The famous Aspen Alley is a narrow road off WYO 71 from Battle Mountain Pass. This photo was taken during the height of the fall colors of the Aspen Trees. Photo credit: Randy Wagner of Cheyenne.

On this day, I missed it because it is a few miles down WYO 71, which goes north from Battle Mountain Pass all the way to Rawlins. Hopefully next time.

The name Battle Mountain Pass came from a famous fight between Indians and some trappers on Aug 21, 1841. Mountain Man Jim Baker, just 21 at the time, had to lead his men after Captain Henry Frapp was killed. After a six-day fight, the trappers left. However the formerly named Bastion Mountain has been re-named Battle Mountain for the past 178 years. Baker went on to become one of the more famous mountain men exploring Wyoming mountain ranges.

To get to this famous pass, we drove south from Interstate 80 to Saratoga and briefly visited with Joe Glode. He is an extraordinary community leader for that area. We were going to eat some of the best prime rib in Wyoming at Doug and Kathleen Campbell’s Wolf Hotel, but they were not open yet. We had to get to our granddaughter’s wedding celebration in Montrose, Colorado, so we soldiered on.

After passing through the beautiful towns of Encampment and Riverside, we climbed up the Sierra Madre Mountains.  I can only imagine how that area must look in the fall.  All those aspen trees must make the place look like it is on fire.

Cody’s Rev. Warren Murphy’s first assignment was Dixon and Baggs.  He writes about the area: “Route 70 is indeed one of the most amazing and unknown highways in the state. Especially in mid- September when the golden aspen leaves fall. They cover the highway and when driving along you are riding on a carpet of gold. There is so little traffic. Aspen Alley is a unique piece of ground but sadly the alley trees are aging out. However, the young ones are growing fast.”

John Davis of Worland tells this story about his early experience on Battle Pass: “When I was first married, Celia and traveled to the Sierra Madres to hunt deer.  We didn’t get any deer, but proceeded toward Baggs and Savery.  Celia got worried about the amount of gas we had, but I wasn’t worried, because most Chevrolet vehicles (we were traveling in a 1955 Chevrolet sedan) still had 5 gallons when showing empty. 

“Well, this one didn’t, and just before the pass, it coughed and died.  We caught a ride down the mountain, got some gas, returned to the vehicle, and proceeded home. 

“But this incident had long term consequences.  Ever since, Celia gets nervous whenever the gas gauge in one of our cars is just a little past half full.  We never again ran out of gas as we did on Battle Mountain Pass, but I’ve heard complaints about getting gas about a hundred times since.”

After enjoying the beauty of the aspen-covered pass, Nancy and I started our way down the mountain. We drove through Savery and Dixon, two pleasant little towns.

My friend radio station owner Joe Kenney said his dad grew up in Encampment and his mom, Maudie Lake, grew up in Savery. He recalls visiting those towns as a little kid and marveling at how high the snow was.  When I asked him how his dad and mom got together, since the highway was closed all winter, he said, “they always met up in Rawlins.” 

I grew up in a very small town and these towns reminded me of home. My wife calls these little towns “peek and plumb towns.” She says, “you peek around the corner and you’re plumb out of town!”

I always said my hometown was so small that both “resume speed” signs are on the same post, just on opposite sides.

Growing up in my little town, we had a public restroom, which was an outhouse.  The toilet tissue consisted of the town’s yellow pages. Unfortunately, the yellow pages only consisted of one page.

We always like getting to Baggs. This is a pretty little town with a great museum along the Little Snake River. Again, the roads north and south of Baggs go through high desert country, which lack scenery. But Baggs area residents have a lot of fun places to visit in their little bit of heaven.

Zane Bennett of Powell
Zane Bennett of Powell was riding his motorcycle from Wyoming to Colorado.’

Rocky’s Quick Stop is a wonderful convenience store which has a fine restaurant attached to it at the north edge of Baggs.

We should mention that our trip to Montrose was hot, hot, hot. We chatted with Zane Bennett of Powell at the motel in Montrose and he said he drove his motorcycle through a hailstorm south of Green River.

Oh yes, about Thomas Edison and how he discovered filament for light bulbs.

Historian and author Phil Roberts of Laramie says the story is a wonderful tale but is just not true. Edison was just 31 but already a famous inventor during his visit to Wyoming.

He joined a group that traveled to Wyoming by train in 1878 to watch a total eclipse of the sun.  Edison had a device that he wanted to use to measure temperatures during an eclipse, which did not work at all.

Edison had a great trip, killing elk and deer. Reportedly his fishing party caught 3,000 trout.

He returned to Menlo Park, New Jersey, rested and ready to invent. After experimenting with 6,000 different materials, he was able to get a filament to work in his light bulb.

Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books. His coffee table series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find more stories by Bill Sniffin by going to CowboyStateDaily.com

Sniffin: Linkages over the ages of time

in Bill Sniffin/Column/Tourism
Bill Sniffin
1950

By Bill Sniffin, My Wyoming column

From 1989 to 1994, I was a member of the Wyoming Travel Commission. Gov. Mike Sullivan appointed me to the post. I was chairman of that wonderful entity in 1992-1993.

The Director of Tourism was a wonderful man named Gene Bryan, a true legend in the travel business here in Wyoming. His life is full of great Wyoming stories. He even recently wrote a detailed book about the history of tourism marketing for the state.

But that’s another story for another time.

During my time on the Travel Commission, there was a bright young guy in Cheyenne who handled international travel for the Commission. It was the now famous author CJ Box. Coincidentally 28 years later, he is now vice-chairman of the state’s current version of the Travel Commission.

But that’s another story for another time.

Box and I formed a company to promote international travel as a result of that, which was called Rocky Mountain International.  Around 1997, I sold my interest to my partner, CJ Box.

I had founded it  in the early 1990s and well, we did some amazing things. Box did some even more amazing things after I sold him my interest.

But that’s another story for another time.

I took the money from the sale of my interest and bought a newspaper in Maui.  Wow, was this going to be fun!

My wife Nancy and I loved going to Hawaii and we thought a Wyoming-Hawaii connection could be just about the best thing ever.

The editor of our Maui newspaper was a part-time protestant minister named Ron Winckler.

Our adventures in the People’s Republic of Hawaii, were, well, partly good and mainly bad.

But that’s another story for another time.

Ron is a friend of mine on Facebook. He just posted the most amazing item, which I would like to repeat here:

“So, this is about is my mother-in-law, Charlotte. She’s 95, having been born in 1924.

“We were talking a couple of days ago. I asked about her childhood in San Diego. She brought up a man that used to come to her mother’s diner. She remembered his name, ‘Daddy’ Hayes and his age, almost 100-years-old.

“Daddy Hayes drove a horse-drawn wagon and collected scrap. He was born into slavery. Daddy Hayes, also told her that as a young adult, he had been present at President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address in 1863.

“In 2019 I was talking on the phone with a woman who once talked with a former slave who actually heard Lincoln speak!

“Beyond amazing!”

Now that’s another story I can read about any time.

Amen, Brother.

* * *

How many old-timers are there in Wyoming these days?

When I wrote a column some 18 months ago about the oldest people in Wyoming, we had folks ranging from 104 to 107 all over the state. Today, we are not sure if there is anyone over 102?

If you know of someone over 100, please let me know at bsniffin@wyoming.com.  I would like to include them in a future column.

Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books.  His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find more stories by Bill Sniffin by going to CowboyStateDaily.com.

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