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Bill Sniffin: Mike Enzi Goes Down In History As One Of Wyoming’s Greatest Leaders

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher

If Wyoming were to build a Mount Rushmore celebrating its greatest leaders, a strong case could be made to put the late Mike Enzi’s image up there on the wall.

Here in the Cowboy State, we use terms like “still waters run deep” — that is the type of compliment one would give the late senator.

Our great friend died July 26 from injuries he suffered in a bicycle accident that occurred July 23 in his beloved hometown of Gillette.

I reached out to his wife Diana who said: “We are all still reeling from the shock and loss but we know Mike is with the Lord. We hold the vision of him fishing in heaven in our hearts  Memories are precious and we have many.” 

His funeral is Friday, Aug. 6, 1 p.m. at the Pronghorn Center at Gillette College, just off Enzi Drive. 

As a longtime journalist in Wyoming, it has been my good fortune to become good friends with many of our state’s greatest leaders. 

I first got to know Mike when he ran for the U. S. Senate in 1996. 

He came into our newspaper office in Lander. He was a big friendly guy. I confided that I may need to cut the interview short because I needed to go coach my son’s baseball team.

“Well, heck, let’s go now,” he said. “Can I tag along? Frankly, that sounds like a lot more fun.”  

He hung around for the entire practice and even hit a few balls to our infielders. We sat in the dugout for 20 minutes afterward for a quick interview. He always referred to that as one of his most pleasant stops during his many campaign seasons.

When my wife Nancy won the Jefferson Award, we went to Washington D. C. and, again, spent way more time than was allotted with him in his office.

My first coffee table book was “Wyoming’s 7 Greatest Natural Wonders.” Enzi jumped at the chance to write the section about the North Platte River System. 

Enzi’s first lines in the book were: “My North Platte – It’s More Than Just a River. It’s a Link to Our Past – And the Path to Our Future. By Mike Enzi, Fisherman and U.S. Senator.” Very eloquent, as always.

He fished that great river in all parts of the state as he and Diana travelled around every weekend meeting with constituents and solving problems.

Solving problems?  Heck, he was an accountant.  His national nickname was “America’s Accountant.”  No man did more in the last 24 years to try to balance the federal budget and get national spending under control than Mike Enzi.

He was a doer. He was an expert at getting bills passed. Nobody else even comes close. He was responsible for the Senate passing hundreds of  bills during his four terms, getting them signed by four different presidents.

Talk is cheap when it comes to reaching across the aisle to the other party during these divisive times, but Mike Enzi was more successful at it than anybody else.

He and Diana invited Nancy and me to lunch last Nov. 18.  They were making a sort of farewell tour around the state. At Cale Case’s Summit Restaurant — inside the Inn at Lander — I suggested they try the fish and chips, which they agreed was delicious. 

Here are some highlights from that conversation:

He was very complimentary of his successor, Cynthia Lummis. Here is what he said:

“There are three lessons that I want to pass on to Cynthia.

“I will show her how to sell a bill, how to use the 80% tool, and how to watch for opportunities that are not in the normal job package,” he told me. But the most important thing is how to sell, he said.

“Everybody has to sell,” he said. “Some of us have had more chances to study how to sell. We started a shoe store.  I sold shoes for 28 years. We knew how to recognize and treat our customers well.”  

Over the years, Enzi developed a great friendship with the late Ted Kennedy, the most liberal member of the U. S. Senate.  Enzi was considered the most conservative.

Together they passed meaningful bills about solving the AIDS crisis in Africa, bills that helped OSHA, and addressed problems with pensions.  Mike told me that Kennedy would always tell folks “have Mike handle it. He can get it done.”  He chuckled when he told that story, but there was obviously a lot of truth in it.

Enzi said his most important asset “is my 80% tool.” 

He said he discovered it in the Wyoming Legislature and perfected it in his frequent dealings with Kennedy. It was liberal versus conservative.

He described the process: “We would draw up a list of what we thought we would be working on. You should only do 80% of the issue unless you can find a new way to do the other 20%.

“It’s the other 20% that holds up a bill.  We finally talked people into accepting the 80% and continue working on the 20 percent,” he said.  “People who want a perfect bill often are the ones who kill it.”

“It is not Republican. It is not Democrat.  It is a third way,” is how Enzi explained it.  “And when we disagree, we disagree agreeably.”

Mike and Diana Enzi had a wonderful marriage.  They were inseparable. Mike said he also applied that “80% rule” to their marriage, which explains how they got along so well in their 50-plus years together.

Mike loved sports and enjoyed watching kids play sports, especially his son Brad and grandson Trey.

Jim Angell, the editor at Cowboy State Daily and a former Associated Press correspondent for Wyoming, passes along this anecdote from watching Enzi in the Wyoming Legislature:

“Mike’s reputation as a major basketball fan is well known. And there was no player he was a bigger fan of than his son, Brad.
“While Mike was serving in the state Senate, there was a vote on some big issue coming up. Mike had warned legislative leaders he would not be in the chamber that Friday afternoon because his son, a senior, was playing his last basketball game for Gillette High School. Mike had seen every one of his son’s basketball games and there was no way he was going to miss this one.

“The debate dragged on and on and finally, Friday evening, the final vote was taken. It was a tie. Only member of the Senate missing was Mike Enzi. He was in Gillette.
“When Mike returned to the Capitol on Monday, several of us in the media asked him about why he was gone. I don’t remember the exact words, but it was something to the effect that politics is transitory — family is forever. My respect for Mike went to a whole new level. 
“And Mike was right. The issue came up again and he cast a vote and the thing was decided. And it made no difference at all that it happened 72 hours later than some had wanted.”

The town of Gillette, the state of Wyoming, the United States, and the world are all better places because of the lifelong dedication of Mike Enzi.

A giant has left us.

His shoes are impossible to fill.

Godspeed, Mike, friend to us all.

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Bill Sniffin: There Is Nothing Even Close To Frontier Days – What An Experience!

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By Bill Sniffin, Publisher

What has 6,000 legs, is 125 years old, and causes a three-state area to go crazy over a 10-day period in the middle of the hottest days of the summer?

No, I am not describing some old-time monster. 

Well, yes, it really is a monster.

The legendary Cheyenne Frontier Days is running full bore in its 125th annual event. Called the “Daddy of ‘Em All,” it is a world-class, cowboy-themed event put on  entirely by 3,000 volunteers. It seems to draw visitors mainly from Wyoming, Colorado, and Nebraska.

We were there this week and had some good chats with folks from Texas, Utah, and Montana.  So, the reach of Frontier days stretches far beyond the three states that border Cheyenne.

Our new friends the Daltons from Richfield, Utah, were newly retired and had not been to Frontier Days for years. They loved the rodeo and also planned to attend the PBR (Professional Bull Riders) show. We also attended it and it was fantastic. 

A Texas couple sat next to us at the Cody Johnson concert.  I swear I heard the star of the show shout out that this was the largest crowd for the concert in the history of CFD.  It truly was huge, but bigger than Garth Brooks or Blake Shelton? If so, he did well, indeed.  And yes, he put on a wonderful show.

He really played up to the conservative nature of his audience. At one point, he yelled “Isn’t this great? I haven’t seen a single mask here tonight!”

The 34-year old Texan said he played old fashioned country music. Lots of emotion and lots of patriotism. His audience seemed super-pleased with everything he said.

We talked with some visitors from Darby, Montana who had not been to Frontier Days for a decade. They were really impressed by everything. 

Ellen Fike of the Cowboy State Daily was taste testing the odd dishes on the midway.  Nancy and I joined her, Jim and Mary Angell, and Dave Lerner as Ellen toured the various eateries. 

Her first treat was a was a Fried Chicken Doughnut Sandwich. She took one big bite.  She seemed to like it.  I also got to take a big bite – you know, even a breaded chicken fillet tastes good surrounded by hot, fresh, sugary glazed donuts.  I think my waistline gained an inch, at least.

Later she tried a hot dog covered in potato chips (tasted better than it sounds), a giant turkey leg, some deep-fried Oreos and some other oddball items.  (Note: Check out Ellen’s video – it is both entertaining and educational!)

All I know is that people were hungry and the food lines were long.  We waited in one for 20 minutes – probably my all-time record.  It was a fun time to people watch so we just waited and waited and waited.

We ended up paying $12 each for two beef-kabobs, which I must admit were about the best ever. Really hot, nicely cooked, medium rare, and tender.  Was it worth the wait?  Yes.  But folks out here in Wyoming do not like waiting and we do not like long lines.

Speaking of lines, exiting the Frontier Park after that Cody Johnson concert was slow.  The crew did a good job dealing with an impossibly large number of vehicles.  Again, here in the Cowboy State, we are uncomfortable with long lines and long traffic stops.

This also applies to the national parks  right now.  That is why you will see so few Wyoming license plates up there this time of year. Those long lines do not have much of a lonely vibe about them, which is a Wyoming trademark.

But I digress.

Later during our time in Cheyenne, we were able to attend some of the special events lined up by a major sponsor, Cowboy Skill Games.  It was nice to see Tucker Fagan, Jon Downing, Gay Woodhouse, April Brimmer Kunz, Katie Legerski, Guy Cameron, Gov. Mark Gordon, Mike McCrimmon, and a whole bevy of airmen and women from Warren AFB. 

Some of those U.S. Air Force airmen had recently been involved in rescuing a young girl who had been kidnapped.  The crowd gave them a rousing ovation when the announcer pointed out their heroics. Jimmy Orr organized the salute and the event. Well done. 

We also attended the afternoon rodeo with this group. Again, well done.  On a hot day, those misting machines were delightful.

We stayed in Cheyenne at the Red Lion, which is the old Holiday Inn. They really did a nice job keeping track of all 120 rooms during a hectic time of year. Jennifer Walker and her crew were magnificent.

Frontier Days is just plain wonderful.  Well worth the trip to Cheyenne!

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Bill Sniffin: Trump Stirring Things Up In Wyo Politics Smith, Gray, Bouchard (& Biteman)

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher

After months of slow news, former President Donald Trump is causing a ruckus in the Wyoming political world.

According to spokeswoman April Poley from state Sen. Anthony Bouchard’s campaign, the two GOP U. S. House candidates being invited by Trump for endorsement consideration are Cheyenne attorney Darin Smith and Casper legislator Chuck Gray. Although Bouchard was the first to jump into the race against incumbent Liz Cheney, he was not invited by Trump, according to Poley.

Trump has a big-time grudge against Cheney because she was one of 10 Republican House members who voted to impeach the former president. Cheney has become even more vocal since then in her criticism of Trump, which has isolated her from a huge number of Wyoming Republicans.  

Wyoming voters polled more in favor of Trump in the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections than voters in any other state. This IS Trump country.

The prevailing pro-Trump mood among many Republicans in Wyoming is so dominant that Cheney is seldom seen at public events these days and travels with two security men at her side. In the first quarter of this year, she spent over $58,000 on personal protection. 

Meanwhile in related news, state Sen. Bo Biteman, R-Ranchester apparently commissioned what is called a “push-poll” of Wyoming Republican voters Tuesday about running against Cheney.  Cowboy State Daily was tipped off by someone who was called. 

This person said the poll was obviously designed to both determine Biteman’s statewide name recognition and then promote his candidacy in the race against Cheney for the House seat.  The call contained a half-dozen questions about how Biteman would fare when running against Cheney or Smith, Gray, or Bouchard. Biteman did not return my calls.

Based on money raised, while Bouchard has raised the most in donations of any of Cheney’s challengers at almost $580,000, Smith has more cash on hand, $142,461 to Bouchard’s $108,612 after raising about $171,000 in just the second quarter of the year.(Note: Smith and I worked together of Foster Friess’s governor race in 2018 and Smith briefly served on the board of Cowboy State Daily.)

Smith said he has raised money the old-fashioned way – from friends and supporters. Smith’s $142,000 is the biggest war chest of cash among Cheney’s rivals.

When I chatted with him Thursday, he said he has kept his head down and is working hard. He is traveling the state and attending GOP functions around Wyoming.

Friess was Smith’s state chairman until he died May 27.  Smith said he still considers Foster his chairman in spirit.  Friess was a big supporter of Donald Trump. Near the end of his presidency, Trump appointed Foster’s wife Lynn to the board of the prestigious Kennedy Center in Washington, D. C. 

I talked briefly with Chuck Gray and he is excited about his chances.  But neither Gray or Smith would discuss a possible meeting with Trump. It could be assumed there is a “gag order” in place on the subject.

Fox News broke the story that Bouchard was not invited to Trump’s resort in New Jersey next week for the meeting. According to Trump staff, the former president plans to endorse just one candidate and then work tirelessly on his behalf to defeat Cheney.  If Cheney decides to run again, this will be an all-time ugly race.

Meanwhile, lost in all of this Trump discussion is Anthony Bouchard.  Bouchard got into the race early and earned a lot of national publicity.  He had momentum until a story broke that when he was a teenager, he impregnated a 14-year old girl in Florida who he later married.  Bouchard is a bulldog and has not said whether or not he would support a Trump-anointed candidate. 

Smith said if he does not win the Trump endorsement, he would probably support the candidate who did receive it.

Gray, 31, is in his third term representing Casper in the Wyoming House. His family has seven radio stations in the state but he is now working full-time on the campaign. “I have a proven record. Wyoming conservatives are ready to rally around a candidate. I am that leader.”

Meanwhile, in many parts of the country, these hot times are referred to as the Dog Days. Even mild weather-prone Wyoming, it has been hotter than blazes lately.

To politicians, this time of year is truly like the Dead Sea. They are paddling around trying to raise awareness and — yawn — nobody seems to be paying attention.

But with the announcements from Trump’s camp this week, things suddenly got a lot more interesting.

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Bill Sniffin: Hey Phoenix Zoo, Those Ferrets Are From Meeteetse, Wyoming

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher

This past spring, I noticed that Wyoming’s Black-Footed Ferret is a rock star at the Phoenix Zoo.  In fact, you might think the elusive little critter was native to Arizona. 

Not so.

Here is the real story.

An obscure place in the Cowboy State was the host of one of the most impressive recovery stories of an apparently extinct animal that has occurred in America over the last several decades.

The famous naturalist and artist John James Audubon first painted and published reports of the critter around 1846.  In 1979, the Black Footed Ferret was declared extinct in the world.  

In 1981, Lucille Hogg’s pet dog Shep dragged home a carcass of an unusual animal at their ranch home near Meeteetse.  Lucille was a fixture in Meeteetse at her Lucille’s Café.  She and husband John took the odd critter to a local taxidermist to talk about possibly getting it mounted. 

The taxidermist took one look at it and after a long pause said he needed to make a phone call.  When he returned he said this animal was not only an endangered species, but it was extinct! 

Wyoming Game and Fish officials descended enmasse on Meeteetse and the Hogg home. The hunt was on for the rest of the animals.

This was an amazing coincidence involving a pesky dog and some folks who thought they had found a really odd-looking animal.  Thankfully that taxidermist was alert enough to contact the Game and Fish.

Our local newspaper in Lander along with most newspapers in Wyoming ran news stories and ads in the late 1970s trying to locate any colonies of the elusive nocturnal animal. None were found. 

An animal called a “ferret” is common in America as a pet. But these critters are not native. They are originally from Europe. The only local ferret in America is the Black-Footed Ferret, which originally roamed all over North America.

In a column last year, I wrote about how reliant the American Indians were on the buffalo for food, clothing, and shelter.  Well, in this case, the prairie dog is the buffalo to the Black-Footed Ferret. The latter’s entire existence is based on killing and eating prairie dogs. 

One Game and Fish biologist described the relationship as the prairie dog providing “room and board” for the ferrets, since ferrets live in abandoned prairie dog towns. One study showed that an adult female Black-Footed Ferret and her litter of kits will kill and eat over 1,000 prairie dogs a year for their diet. 

This ferret looks a lot like a mink but the two animals are not related. Our Ferret has a close relative in Europe called the Polecat, not to be confused with the expression “doggone polecat” to describe a bad guy in old-time Wyoming.

Bob Oakleaf and Andrea Orabona, non-game biologists of the G&F, worked on the recovery project, which is featured in a video on YouTube. 

Back in the 1980s, G&F staffers tried to locate the rest of the pack of ferrets, using an old-style trap and then some huge hand-held antennas. G&F staff walked around trying to track the ferrets, which had radio collars installed on them.

Ultimately they found over 50 of the ferrets and the small colony seemed to be doing well.

But this did not last long.

The reason the Black-Footed Ferret was declared extinct in 1979 was because of a disease called plague, which had been wiping out prairie dogs and killing ferrets at the same time.

By  1985, the number of Meeteetse ferrets was down to 18 and the decision was made to capture all of them and put them in a captive facility to prevent further deaths leading to extinction.

The initial facility was in Sybille Canyon. As the G&F was able to breed more and more ferrets, other places around the country got involved, including Colorado facilities and the Phoenix Zoo. 

Today, ferrets have been re-released to the outdoors. A big event was held in Meeteetse on July 26, 2016 where the critters were re-introduced to their original home area.  There are now more than 1,500 ferrets running loose in the region and they seem to be thriving. Not good news for prairie dogs, though. 

Meanwhile, I even bought a tee shirt at the Phoenix Zoo, which was emblazoned with big photos of the Black-Footed Ferret and a big logo for the zoo. 

I cannot blame Arizonans for wanting to take some credit for this amazing survival success story. But in the brief information piece about the ferret, Wyoming was hardly mentioned and the location where they were found was spelled “Meteetse,” rather than the correct spelling of Meeteetse.  Oh well.

Over the years the zoo has provided over 500 Black-Footed Ferrets, which have been re-introduced into the wild. So, I grudgingly have to give them a little bit of credit after all.

Not sure I will ever wear that tee shirt back here in Wyoming, though.

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Bill Sniffin: On The Road In Wyoming: Folks, This Is Construction Season

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher

Confused Asian drivers, crazy drunk van drivers, monstrous RVs, nervous semi drivers, and thousands (perhaps millions) of tourists were among the highlights of a recent trip to Jackson and Pinedale.

We were headed north on Highway 287 to Jackson to attend the open house for the new home of the Hughes Charitable Foundation. But a lot happened before we got there.

For starters, we groaned as a flagman stopped us just as a huge line of cars ahead of us headed off in the distance behind a pilot car. This was barely 8 miles from home. Was this a harbinger of the kind of trip we would endure?

The nice flagman was Russell Warren of Riverton, who was glad to get a construction job close to home. He told us about a van full of drunks who had almost run him down an hour earlier.  They drove right past him, cursed him, and flipped him off. A close call.

While we were talking, a late model car also zipped right by him. 

The car stopped about one-quarter mile up the road and sat there. Finally, a young boy jumped out and came running toward Russell. Was this a kidnapped kid? 

Russell went off to meet with the people in the car and then had an animated chat with the little boy.  

“Well, that’s a first,” Russell told us. 

He said it was an Asian family whose members could not read the traffic signs and could not speak English. The little boy was the only one who could barely speak English, so the family sent him back to the flagman to find out what was up.

A few minutes after that, an old van went flying by us on the right in the borrow pit driving fast and honking.  

“Oh no,” Russell said. “There goes that carload of drunks again.”  

He had turned in their license plate so our assumption was they would soon be off the road. 

And then the pilot car showed up. We said our good-byes to Russell and I turned to Nancy and speculated, “Wow, what kind of trip is this going to be if this all happened now at the beginning?”

Despite a couple more construction areas, the trip to Jackson was eventful only because of its beauty. That is one of the most scenic drives in America.  We love going over Togwotee Pass.

Entering Jackson, the traffic was busy but not as bad as I expected.

We stayed at the 49er Inn, thanks to owner Steve Meadows, a longtime friend from our time in the tourism industry.

We walked up to the Jackson Town Square and got our fix at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar. Chatted with some folks from Wisconsin who just loved Yellowstone. 

The open house at the Hughes Foundation was fun. These folks have donated over $4 million to Wyoming projects.  Liz Brimmer, formerly of Jackson and now of Lander, is a member of their board. 

Wayne and Molly Hughes have had a home in Jackson for some time but recently moved their entire operation to Wyoming. 

It was fun to re-connect with two former Jackson mayors, Mark Barron and Sara Flitner, at the event.  Bill Scarlett, who I remember as a young boy, was there all grown up.  Radio man Scott Anderson and attorney Jim Coleman offered some great conversation. Sadek Darwiche also was there. His family owns the Hotel Jackson, which is fantastic.  The Hughes event was a nice affair.

Fremont County Native Americans Scott Ratliff and Allison Sage were there with an outstanding drum group.  The Hughes foundation was a major funder of a new Indian Veterans Memorial on Highway 287 at the south entrance to Fort Washakie.  The memorial is very impressive. The foundation also funded Sage’s suicide  prevention group.

Afterward, we headed back to the square and ran into Jim Waldrop at the venerable Wort Hotel and its famous Silver Dollar Bar.  Had some good food there.

While in Jackson Hole, we rode the gondola up the mountain at Teton Village  and enjoyed an amazing view of the valley and various para-gliders sailing off into the abyss.  Although I was a private plane pilot for 30 years, not sure I could ever do that.

We decided to go back to Lander by way of Pinedale, where we joined Dave and Peggy Bell for lunch at the Wind River Brewery.  Nice place with great food (and drink).

Dave is a wonderful photographer and his first coffee table book is coming out very soon. We talked books a bit and then headed up to their cabin on Fremont Lake.  We rode Sea-Doo’s all over the lake. It was a calm day and it was terrific fun. Hope to do that again some time.

One of my favorite places is South Pass on the way back home to Lander. It was at its best on this day and we got home with lots of memories and some new experiences about driving in Wyoming.

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Bill Sniffin: Liz Cheney For President? Destiny Calls. Here Is A Scenario That Sees Her Leaving Wyoming Behind

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher

Right now, there is a clear path ahead for Liz Cheney, and it does not involve the state of Wyoming.

She will deny this. And she may not even believe it now. 

And for the rest of this year, she will continue to represent us to the best of her ability in the U.S. House of Representatives.

But I could see her traveling a different path, based on a number of steps that could very well happen. Three events have set the stage for this scenario.

The first was when she voted to impeach President Donald Trump after the Jan. 6 insurrection at the nation’s capital.

Second was when she announced publicly her intention to do everything in her power to keep Trump from ever being elected president again.

Third was when her House colleagues stripped her of her leadership post.

All three of these things needed to happen for the scenario I’m about to lay out to become realistic and predictable.

In late December of this year, I could see Cheney announcing that she is not going to run for reelection in Wyoming.  Why put herself through such a grueling ordeal? 

Here is what she will be up against:

Nine candidates (so far) will have been traveling the state from one end to the other trashing her and her record.  They will be hooting over how the even the national Republicans in Congress bounced her from her  leadership role. 

She will also be facing the Donald Trump backlash, which will be focused on a Trump-endorsed, well-funded candidate who has been spending the entire year of 2021 traveling the state and campaigning against her.

The “clout” that Liz has been able to tout over her three terms has been diminished.  The dominant Trump wing of the Republican Party is trying to bury her.  Her Cheney name, which was pure gold in the GOP for a long time, has equally been diminished.

Here in Wyoming, the Trump crowd is firmly in control. And why not? The Cowboy State voted for Trump by the largest margin in the nation in the 2020 election, as well as in 2016.  This IS Trump country.

When you look at the front-runners seeking the GOP nomination against Cheney — State Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, State Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, and former candidate Darin Smith – they are united in their support of Trump. And in their intense opposition to Cheney.

Biggest deal here is the recent ouster of Cheney as the No. 3 most powerful House Republican.  When she held that office, it gave her exceptional influence.  And although she still has some influence, that was a huge loss for her. Especially in view of the opposition she has been getting back here in Wyoming.

On the other hand, it is also important to note that she has become a darling of the national media because of her opposition to Trump.

If she plays her cards right, she will get unbelievable amounts of good national press leading up to the presidential election in November 2024.

Cheney is now the de-facto leader of the national moderate Republicans, with all the major national media except Fox News proclaiming her newfound sainthood. One outlet even called her a modern “Joan of Arc.” Who could resist that? 

Between now and Dec. 31, it is easy to predict that members of the old guard of the Republican Party, led by former President George Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney and others will form a very distinct wing of the national Republican Party.  Former U.S. Sen. Al Simpson of Wyoming could very well get involved in the mix.

These folks often try to identify as anti-Trumpers and that is exactly what they are.  They will promote their efforts as reclaiming the Republican Party from the Cult of Trumpism.

They will embrace the Constitution and will maintain they are taking the high road, compared to the nastiness of the Trump crowd.

Who better to lead this new national group of moderate Republicans than Liz Cheney?  I expect Cheney not to run for reelection to her U.S. House position and instead, take over this group. In her new role, she will also continue to bash President Joe Biden.

In her final act, she will run for president in 2024 as an independent or as leader of a new party if Trump is the nominee of the Republican Party.

She is serious about making sure Trump is never elected to office again.

Out here in Wyoming, a huge number of folks will be appalled. Even some of her most loyal supporters will be stunned.

But Liz and her gang have a longer view (and a national view) – they plan to recapture the Republican Party and take it in a different direction.

In all of these scenarios, Wyoming will be pretty much in Liz’ rear view mirror. She has proven to be a champion fund-raiser on the national stage already – this is just a logical next step.

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Bill Sniffin: Uden Murder Mystery Solved – Some Day We Will Learn About Amy Bechtel

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher

(Note: The Oxygen Cable TV network on Monday night will air a new documentary on the 1980 murders of Virginia Uden and her sons. It will be aired repeatedly on into the future.)

Back in 2013, I wrote: “After 33 years of one cold case and 16 years for the other, it has always been easy to believe that some unsolved disappearances will just never be explained.”

In Lander, for decades we pondered about two gals who vanished.  Virginia Uden and Amy Bechtel both disappeared and I wrote the news stories about them while I was the Lander newspaper publisher.

Amy is still missing but the horrible fate of Virginia Uden and her two sons has now been known for a while.

Ironically, both women worked for me at my newspaper.  It seemed odd to be writing these horrible stories about people you actually knew. It did make it easy to write columns and editorials full of speculation about how a person could disappear into thin air during a modern time when everybody seems to know everything about everybody.

But these two mysteries seemed destined to be perpetually unsolved.

Then, just like that, one of them was solved.

And the answers to all of those one-third of a century-old questions were as horrific and grisly as anyone could have possibly imagined.

Gerald Uden was a worker at the U. S. Steel iron ore mine at Atlantic City, some 25 miles outside of Lander in the Wind River Mountains.  Co-worker Kim Curtis remembered him as “scary.”

Virginia Beard must have seen something in the guy, since she married him and Uden adopted her two sons, Reagan, 10, and Richard, 11.

Everyone now knows what happened next.  It was on CNN, ABC, in People Magazine, and The New York Times among all the other state and national media outlets.  The story is impossible to ignore and if you wrote about the Uden family as fiction, the story would not sell because it is so unbelievable.

Then there is Amy.

Amy Wroe Bechtel, 24, disappeared while jogging in the Wind River Mountains above Lander on July 24, 1997.  Although what happened to her is not known, it is believed she is dead. 

And it is also believed she died at the hands of a serial killer, who authorities believe is already in custody for a similar Wyoming abduction and killing.  

That suspect is Dale Wayne Eaton, the man on death row for the famous and heinous “Little Miss” killing. Eaton kidnapped, raped and murdered another pretty young woman in 1989. 

Fremont County Detective John Zerga recounted that Eaton’s brother told him that the convicted killer was in the Lander area at the time of Amy’s disappearance. 

But evidence is lacking and Eaton is not talking.

My wife Nancy and I have positive memories of both Amy and Virginia.

Amy Bechtel was a part-time photographer and a darned good one.

Note: Famed author Ron Franscell wrote an excellent book about the Uden case called Gerald and Alice, A Homicidal Love Story.

Virginia Uden did some surveying and telemarketing for the newspaper. She had recently divorced Gerald Uden at the time. She was desperate for money and working as many jobs as she could to make ends meet. 

Gerald Uden and his new wife Alice worked at the U. S. Steel mine.  Alice was convicted of killing a previous husband and dumping his body in a mineshaft in Albany County.

Then they conspired to rid Gerald of his obligations — his ex-wife Virginia and his two adopted sons.

An acquaintance of the new Mrs. Uden (Alice) who worked with her at the mine reported on Facebook that Alice was always complaining about Gerald never having any money because he had to support Virginia and the kids. Thus, money appears to be the motive for the taking of these three lives 33 years ago.

On a fall day in September 1980, Gerald Uden convinced Virginia and her two boys to meet him in Pavillion, Wyoming, for some hunting.  He murdered all three.  He stashed her car down a deep canyon off the Dickinson Park Road.

Officers finally found the body of Alice’s previous husband and that led them to her and Gerald, by then living in Missouri. 

Meanwhile, officer Andy Hanson at the Dept. of Criminal Investigation (DCI) never gave up and connected the dots.  Credit also goes to a UW archeologist who with eight students spent some awful summer days in 2008 digging around in an old pigsty in Pavillion looking for evidence of the Uden bodies.  They were unsuccessful.

Gerald Uden confessed to all three murders — although he did try unsuccessfully to recant that confession and is spending the rest of his life in prison.  His wife Alice died in prison a year ago.

Gerald originally said he killed Virginia and the two boys and their bodies are at the bottom of Fremont Lake outside of Pinedale. Then he said they were not. Most folks believed the bodies were dismembered by Alice and fed to the pigs on their farm near Pavillion.

Amy, well, her fate is still a mystery.

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Bill Sniffin: It’s Time To Write About Lives Well-Lived And Young Lives Cut Short

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher

Once my wife Nancy and I reached a certain age, our approach to reading about deaths of folks in the local news services changed.

We call it “obituary roulette.”  It is not something to joke about. We go down the list of folks who died and if they are older than we are, well, that might be okay.  But when they are younger, heck, something is just not right in the world.

In my day job as publisher of the Cowboy State Daily, we recently started publishing a statewide list of folks who have died.  I think we are tracking down most of them.  Folks who, for some reason, saw that a Wyoming death was omitted should send their information to staff Writer Jen Kocher at, and she will be happy to make the addition.

In the latest list, there were 46 statewide deaths in a one-week period from June 10 to June 16.

When it came to our roulette game, there were just 17 younger than us. 

Seriously, our condolences go out to all these folks and their families.

Although we lost a few folks during the 2020 pandemic, including my 96-year old mother, and some local folks like Steve Mossbrook of Riverton and Sue Krebs of Lander, it seemed like we sure did not see as many deaths as we are seeing now.  

Lately, we have been seemingly bombarded by news of the deaths of folks we knew. Not a good trend.  It is almost like the grim reaper was in hibernation.  Statistically, some medical reports claimed that flu practically disappeared in 2020 since everyone was staying home and being masked up.  A huge reduction in the common cold occurred during this time, too.

As a young reporter back in 1964, I did not appreciate my job of having to write obituaries.  I knew they had to be accurate, which they always were. But I never made an effort to make them more interesting. 

Later in life, it suddenly hits you how interesting most peoples’ lives really are.

Some recent funerals featured some moments that need to be mentioned, too.

A local surgeon, Dr. John Whipp, 79, died in his sleep.  At his funeral, we found out he was truly self-made. After Vietnam, he rode his motorcycle from San Diego to Kentucky, as I recall, to attend medical school.

John and his wife Marie, had five children. Their first child, JP, was killed in a wreck of his pickup truck many decades ago.

John knew he was sick and had written a wonderful letter to his family, which they saw after he died.  His brother in law read the last part of it during his eulogy.  After expressing his love to his family, he ended the letter by saying: “So now, if you don’t mind, I am out of here. I am going to check in with JP.”

Chuck Guschewsky, 64, unexpectedly died of a heart attack. He was CEO of the 12 Fremont Motor car dealerships in Wyoming and Nebraska and was a good friend.

His funeral was in a big field on their ranch in Sinks Canyon outside of Lander and rain was threatening the entire time.  But Chuck, who loved flying, was given credit for holding off the weather.

Part of his service was a fly-over by local pilots.  Very solemn and very impressive.  They flew in what is called the Missing Man formation.

A big tent was set up for refreshments afterward where we toasted our friend when a downpour finally arrived.  It was memorable.

Probably the biggest and most notable funeral I have ever attended was for Foster Friess, the great philanthropist from Jackson.  Nearly 1,000 people attended his services in Scottsdale, Jackson, and Rice Lake, WI.

His good friend, former U. S. Sen. Rick Santorum, gave a remarkable eulogy for Friess saying “Foster had a Ph.D. in friendship.”

One of Friess’s four children, Michael, is deaf.  He gave a stirring eulogy about his dad in sign language with a person on the side reciting what he was saying. It was emotional and powerful.  Strong words from a loving son.  

Tucker Carlson of Fox News gave a rousing speech at Foster’s Celebration of Life and described how Foster had a rule when folks sat down for dinner. “Only one person could speak at a time. And everybody got to talk. You can imagine how hard that was on me, as voluble as I am!”

As I write this, we are anticipating the service for retired Judge Jack Nicholas, 94, and also a service for our wonderful next door neighbor Leonard Yost, 82. 

Writing about deaths, funerals, and obituaries should probably be more somber than this column. We need to celebrate lives well lived and mourn lives cut too short. Amen to that.

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Bill Sniffin: Poverty Of Time Describes These Go-Go And Rush-Rush Times

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher

“Time sure does change things,” said an airline passenger to his companion.

“When I was a boy, I used to sit in a flat-bottomed boat on that lake down there below and fish.  Every time a plane flew over I’d look up and wish I were in it.

“Now I look down . . . and I wish I were fishing.”

Time (or the lack of it) has always been a prime topic for people who work hard and miss out on all the fun activities that living in Wyoming can provide. 

This time stress is especially bad about this time of year.  Spring and summer are times for fishing, golfing, puttering in that garden, working in the yard, visiting relatives, taking that long anticipated vacation and, well, just doing fun things.

It seems like time is so precious and is flying by so quickly that before we know it, we are out of it.  Often precious time with family and friends gets lost amid the pressures of job and commitments.   

We are so lucky to live in a place like Wyoming.  When was the last time you went to Yellowstone?  It is so green and beautiful this time of year.  One of the reasons it is such a favorite in the spring is the appearance of all the calves and other baby critters.

Other national treasures like Devils Tower or the Oregon Trail beckon, too.

Our state park system is one of the best in the U.S.  It really doesn’t take that long to drive over to Fort Laramie, for example, or Guernsey or Seminoe.  Time may be precious, but Wyoming offers lots of see if we just make the time.

Philosopher Jacob Needleman refers to our present-day pressures as the “poverty of time.”  He wrote a fairly pessimistic (but accurate) essay on this shortage of time in people’s lives. His comments are as follows:

“Time.  We’re coming to the end of a hundred years or more of devices that were invented in order to save time.

“What has become of time? Nobody has enough time anymore.  We are all completely taken.  The way I would put it is that time is slowly disappearing.  We are a time-impoverished society.  We have lots of material things, but we have no time left.

“Human time has disappeared — and we’re in animal time.  Or vegetable time, if you like. Or mineral time. 

“The time of computers.  The time of things.  Of mechanical devices.  Animal time is literally the time of the rat race.  It’s the New Poverty. We are simply not living our lives.

“New Agers say: Do what you love, the money will follow.  That is a fantasy.  Many people will say: ‘Now I have found that when I’m there making my living, making money, I am completely wasted on meaning.  My life is meaningless. I come away exhausted and tired. I have no time for anything that I consider meaningful.’”

Now, the above is a pretty serious commentary, but sometimes we all feel a little desperate about the lack of time there seems to be for us to get everything done that we want to do.

Then here are a few of my favorite expressions that I’ve collected over the years about time:

• After all is said and done, more is often said . . . than done.

• A favorite toast: May the most you wish for be the least you get. May the best times you have ever had be the worst you’ll ever see.

• Which shall it be?  Go, Go, Go or No, No, No!

• Experience is a hard teacher because she gives you the test first and the lesson afterwards.

• It isn’t necessary to believe in miracles.  Just hope a few believe in you.

• Sympathy is never wasted unless you give it to yourself.

• People always ask how do you grow? Figure out what scared you the most and go do it.

Here is a great quote on time. It is from the 1953 classic movie Beat the Devil, which was directed by John Huston. In it, a character played by Peter Lorre launched a famous monologue about time, which went:

“Time . . . time. What is time? The Swiss manufacture it. The French hoard it. Italians squander it. Americans say it is money. Hindus say it does not exist.  Do you know what I say? I say time is a crook . . .”

In order to have more time, we need to get organized. A smart guy once suggested that we need to do an inventory of our lives. He suggested we list things “I have to do” on one sheet of paper and “what I want to do” on another sheet.

Then go through everything in your life and anything that clearly doesn’t fit on one sheet or the other – get rid of it.

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Bill Sniffin: Wyoming’s Red Desert Is Like A Vast Deep Sea – It Can Devour You

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher

I love the Red Desert.  And you will, too.

The ghosts of longtime friends Jimmy Smail and Bill Crump were hovering over us as Nancy and I made our first trek in three years to the vast Red Desert south of Lander and north of Rock Springs and Rawlins.

This gigantic place will devour you.  It is so big and stretches out so far in all directions.  I had forgotten how deep it is.  That’s right, the word “deep” comes to mind as you venture farther and farther into it.

Much like a vast dark jungle, this huge swath of open space just takes over. It stretches from one horizon to the other. It is like being in the middle of the ocean. 

I remarked to Nancy how native peoples roamed this area for 12,000 years. And for all but about the last 350 years, they did it on foot! 

From South Pass, you travel south for 10 miles to the magnificent Oregon Buttes.  They are so named because when the Oregon Trail emigrants reached these buttes on South Pass, it meant they were entering the state of Oregon. They stand tall next to Continental Peak and are major landmarks in the north portion of the  Red Desert. We love the buttes.

The area is known as a place to find Eden Valley petrified wood. In our early years in Wyoming, we hauled our share of the beautiful wood home. Now removing the wood is prohibited.

Southeast of Oregon Buttes we pass through the Honeycomb Buttes country and then come to a T-intersection.  If you go right, you see all the sights. If you go left, you literally drop off the end of the world. You feel like you are Columbus sailing off into the vast horizon.  We turned left. As we ventured deeper into this gigantic basin, you just feel overwhelmed by the distances. There were few landmarks. Just emptiness all around you.

The roads are well maintained and most cars would do fine, but I would recommend an SUV or pickup. 

We stopped once and I found a survey marker indicating the border of Sweetwater County and Carbon County. Also photographed a tiny horned toad. 

There were lots of wild horses roaming the area.  Stallions had clearly marked their territory with piles of road apples in the road at strategic locations.

This area is considered the largest unfenced region in the United States.  It also is a place where the Continental Divide splits, going east and west and creating a basin. Water entering this basin does not leave. 

After 90 minutes of experiencing this loneliest place in the loneliest state, we turned west and headed back to see the sights.  We could see two buttes off in the distance and knew that the Killpecker Sand Dunes and the Boar’s Tusk were on the other side of them.

The sand dunes were busy.  Lots of folks camping over the Memorial Day weekend and lots of expensive ORVs (off-road vehicles) roaming around.  We visited with Jose Perez of Rock Springs and took a photo of him and his daughter. He said his rig would go 80 miles an hour.  Wow!

We love the Boar’s Tusk.  This rock formation can be seen for a long distance all around. You can almost see it from Rock Springs.

Just south of there is one of the state’s best petroglyph sites at White Mountain. These are ancient rock carvings created by native peoples centuries ago. There are even rocks believed to be “birthing rocks,” into which handholds have been carved. Women over a millennia would grip these when having babies.  

The area is sheltered from that perennial western wind that occurs in this part of the state and was probably a wintering site for indigenous peoples.  

The site is well marked, well maintained and well worth the short hike.

It was over 50 years ago that a game warden named Bill Crump introduced me to the desert.   Bill died last September at the age of 95. On Memorial Day, the city of Lander named the day in his honor.  At 6 feet, 5 inches, he may have been the tallest sailor in the history of the Submarine service in World War II.

What a wonderful happenstance to have had a brilliant outdoorsman like Bill introduce me to the desert. I am so grateful for that.

In recent years, my late friend Jimmy Smail showed me all sorts of secret places in the desert. Jimmy died at 82 in February.

I could feel good vibes from both of these wonderful Wyoming icons while we were tooling around in their favorite place – the vast Red Desert.

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