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1414 - In Wyoming, we have the Code of the West

When you make a promise, keep it. – From Code of the West, Wyoming.


         It makes sense that the larger the population base, the bigger necessity for strict rules of conduct. Places like Hong Kong, New York City and Dallas would not function well if people could not be counted on to obey the same rules and regulations.

         But the same can be said for folks who live in sparsely-populated places, too.     

When you live in an isolated state with a small population spread over 98,000 square miles with occasional severe weather, well, you better have some universal codes and standards to help you survive.

         Back in 2008, I published a column that involved six years of on-again and off-again research. I called it Wyoming’s Universal Truths and Fundamental Values. It was an attempt to put into words those concepts and values unique to our state.

         It cited ideas like “small is good” as a Universal Truth. And “you do not drive by a stranded motorist on a lonely country road in winter” as a Fundamental Value.

         I wasn’t the only person trying to figure out a way to verbalize these concepts.

         A group of folks were thinking along these lines when they put together a video based on Cowboy Ethics called Code of the West, Alive and Well in Wyoming. You can access it at

         It was funded by a consortium that included The Center for Cowboy Ethics and Leadership, Anschutz Foundation, UW College of Business, Daniels Fund, McMurry Foundation, Trihydro Corporation and the Wyoming Business Council.

         The guy who is the inspiration for all this is Jim Owen who developed The Code of the West, which has been adopted by Jonah Bank and Trihydro companies in Wyoming, among others, as an operating philosophy.

         What I liked about it is that is took the relatively long and wordy attempt (like the effort I put together) and boiled it down into ten very simple phrases. Those phrases are as follows:

         • Live each day with courage.

         • Take pride in your work.

         • Always finish what you start.

         • Do what has to be done.

         • Be tough, but fair.

         • When you make a promise, keep it.

         • Ride for the brand.

         • Talk less, say more.

         • Remember that some things are not for sale.

         • Know where to draw the line.

         Even the Legislature has taken notice of the code and passed a bill outlining this as our state code. A bill co-sponsored by Pete Illoway of Cheyenne and Jim Anderson of Glenrock pushed it through.

         A recent copy of UWYO Magazine profiled ten people on campus who displayed the meaning of the Code of the West. Very well done. Get a copy if you can. You can also access it online.

         This Wyoming Code is a much-abbreviated version of the very first Code of the West, which was compiled by the famous western writer Zane Grey. Grey wrote a lot about Wyoming and a lot about cowboys during his long career nearly 80 years ago. 

         And he knew what he was talking about. A few of the more interesting ones on his 37-item list include:

         • Never try on another man’s hat.

         • Never shoot a woman, no matter what.

         • Give your enemy a fighting chance.

         • Never wake another man by shaking or touching him, as he might wake suddenly and shoot you.

         It would be natural that a humorous version of this would be developed, too. One of the best was by Cowboy Poet Bix Benders, which included these gems:

         • A smart ass just don’t fit in a saddle.

         • Always drink upstream from the herd.

         • Never miss a good chance to shut up.

         • When you give a lesson in meanness to a critter or to a person, don’t be surprised if they learn their lesson well.

         • When you’re throwing your weight around, be ready to have it thrown around by somebody else.

         • Write it in your heart. Stand by the code and it will stand by you.

         Those are just a few of the items on his very long list.

         That Code of the West, Alive and Well in Wyoming video, by the way, included clips of Clarene Law, Jackson; Mick McMurry, Casper; former Sen. Al Simpson of Cody; CJ Box and Gus Fleischli of Cheyenne; Greg Schaefer of Gillette and Scott Ratliff of the Wind River Indian Reservation plus many others.

         Look it up. It will make your day. And it will make you proud of Wyoming.

1413 - Does Wyoming qualify a a melting pot?

One of the great things about the whole concept of the United States of America is that it is a fantastic melting pot of people of different nationalities, colors and creeds all coming together to form a nation of 50 different and diverse states.

         One of those states, Wyoming, is not much of a melting pot in most sections of the state.

         Along with North Dakota, our state is one of few states in the country that is almost entirely Caucasian. Very few African-Americans and very few Mexican-Americans live here. We have about 10,000 American Indians, but for the most part, the bulk of the population of Wyoming is white.

         There is no attempt in this column to make any judgments. And with the state motto of “The Equality State,” you could assume it is obvious that the people of Wyoming are not trying to prevent folks of other ethnocentricities from coming here. Right?

         If no one is preventing folks from coming, could the reason they are not coming be because of the cold weather? And it may have a lot to do with the lack of large cities, thus no large employers. Some believe that a lot of Wyoming folks do not want more people coming here. And especially people who are different than the majority already here. But I digress.

         During a recent trip south to escape from that afore-mentioned Wyoming cold, we experienced a few situations that brought to mind how diverse the population of America really is, despite the white bread look of the Cowboy State.

         One cold Sunday morning, Nancy and I decided to attend Mass at the St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church in McKinney, TX north of Dallas. We missed the 8 a.m. Mass. The 11:30 a.m. service just seemed too late. We chose to attend the 9:30 a.m. Mass which was “The Spanish Mass.”

         Whoa, was it ever.

         We joined nearly 800 brown-skinned, Spanish-speaking folks who jammed the church. It was standing room only. The service was colorful and impressive.

         The priest gave a wonderful homily, of which we could not understand a single word. It brought lots of laughter from the crowd.

         Folks were very kind and one friendly gal even leaned over and sort of interpreted a few things for us.

         We enjoyed it immensely. It brought back to me those days 55 years ago when I was an altar server for a Mass done entirely in Latin.

         I was awestruck, though, by the fact that here we were nearly 400 miles from the Mexican border in what we had assumed was a white man’s church and we might as well have been in Mexico City.

         Who are all these people? What do they do?

         A Xenophobic tendency came out with the thought that why are they holding on to their own language when they were living here in the English-speaking United States? 

But then you realize most of these folks are in transition and are newcomers to this country from another country. It was probably appropriate that they could attend a service that was conducted in their original language. It could also be assumed they are proud of their native culture.

         So that was one example of what a melting pot America is.

         The second one occurred when we met my brother Tom and his wife Liv, in Vicksburg, MS for a get-together.

         I have a keen interest in the Civil War but had never visited a battlefield. One of the most important ones was the Siege of Vicksburg.

         The battlefield was amazing.  I was also fascinated by the large percentage of African Americans in that part of the country. Just about every employee at the excellent RiverWalk Casino, where we stayed, was black. The facility, overall, was outstanding.

         During our time there and in neighboring Natchez, we were in constant contact with the large local black population. We were definitely no longer in Wyoming.

         I was reading the FreePress from neighboring Jackson, MS and a writer claimed that city had a population of 80 percent African-American, which is pretty amazing. That is the second largest such black population density in the country after Detroit. There are 170,000 people in Jackson, MS.

         Wyoming will probably continue to maintain its large white majority population. I am thankful that it really is the Equality State and that evidence of racial prejudice is usually hard to find.

1412 - Springtime in Rockies means `mud season`

The first time I heard the Wyoming term “mud season” it conjured up images of the sloppy dirt roads that I had to drive on growing up in the Midwest far country a long time ago.

         But here in the Cowboy State, mud season means the sloppy mess you get when snow and ice freezes and the sun comes out and warms it all up. Then it melts and freezes again and warms up and then melts again for what seems like an eternity.

         Some places are more muddy than others.

         It would seem that Cheyenne and Laramie are not so muddy. Lander, Riverton, Worland, Buffalo and Sheridan are messy because they get so much more snow. Jackson is almost always a muddy mess, as can Pinedale and Afton.

         Booming places like Rock Springs, Rawlins, Gillette and Douglas can also have lots of mud due to construction.

         No matter, springtime in the Rockies is a crapshoot when it comes to weather.

         I like to say that Wyoming has three normal seasons, summer, fall and winter. Spring is another story. If a season could be schizophrenic it would be Wyoming’s spring. Sometimes it can be like an early summer. Sometimes it can just be a continuance of winter. And more often than not, it is a hybrid season full of mud and occasional rains and, this year, massive ice flows in some rivers.

         Since I am a whiney old guy, I recall how the winter of 2009-2010 was one for the record books. But it still might not be as odd as this one.

         That winter started early and ended long. This year has been the same with four major snowstorms hitting Lander early, starting in September and blanketing us in October. Trees were especially hit hard by those wet snows.

         One wag referred to Wyoming’s four seasons as Almost Winter, Winter, Still Winter and Summer. Under that description Spring is Still Winter. It has been like that this year.

         And while we are focused on our own weather here in Wyoming, the rest of the country has really been blasted, especially the northeast and the southeast.

         And we experienced an amazing drop of the thermometer to just five degrees during a quick trip to Dallas, Texas to escape the cold. Yikes. We talked to some folks in even farther south Houston, which was buried by an ice storm during that same early March event.

         Meanwhile, some amazing things were happening in Wyoming’s Big Horn River in mid-March with ice blocking the river and causing flooding in Greybull and Worland.

Spectacular video has been shot from a drone of the Big Horn River in both towns that you can find on YouTube. The videos were shot by Brandon Yule and are amazing. 

         Pat Schmidt of Thermopolis who grew up in Greybull has some history of the current high water and stories of previous springtime flooding:

 “Hopefully the dike will save Greybull this year as it did twice when I lived there in the late 1950s and early 1960s,” said Schmidt. “The town council was being criticized for spending the money to have the Army Corps of Engineers build the dike, and then they had the last laugh as the dike saved the town the very next year.

“This is much smaller ice this year than the two floods I recall, which had blocks of ice room-sized and bigger. I recall a cow standing on one huge chunk of ice as it floated into town from the south.”

Schmidt also recalled crews were pushing junk cars into the southernmost corner of the dike where the river enters town, trying to fill the gouges made by the icebergs. “It was like watching a modern car crusher at work!

         “Also, Morris Avery and Mel Christler were helicoptering over the ice jams north of Greybull, using dynamite to get the river flowing. The jams started at the canyon through Sheep Mountain several miles north and backed up around the bentonite plant first.

“The problems those years were caused by heavy rains melting deep snow in the mountains and hills, mostly from the Greybull River starting above Meeteetse.

“That river was a mile wide in some places and we were using tractors to get people`s possessions out of farm houses. Several of us drove the tractors back and forth through the water where that river was flowing over Highway 310.”

Ah, spring. You gotta love these strange occurrences on Wyoming’s calendar each year.

1411 - When People Magazine calls . . . answer it

Last October, I was shopping at a store in Two Rivers, Wisconsin, when my cell phone rang. I answered it.

         “This is Caitlin Keating of People Magazine. I . . .”

         “No, I don’t want any,” I said, and hung up. 

Our family had been bombarded lately by telemarketers and my wife had just renewed her People subscription through a school program for our grandson Braley Hollins’ band. 

         So, no thanks. We do not need another subscription.

         The phone rang immediately again. This was odd. Usually they aren’t this persistent?

         “Look, I told you . . .”

         “No, Mr. Sniffin. Please can you give me just a few minutes?” the gal on the other line insisted. And she suddenly did not sound like a telemarketer. 

         I sort of recognized her tone. She sounded like a journalist.

         “I am a reporter for People Magazine and I wondered if you could help me,” she finally was able to get through to my impatient ears.

         “Oops, sorry about that. What can I do for you?”  

         She had read a column item on the Internet I had written about the 33-year old cold case involving the long missing Virginia Uden and her two sons, Richard and Reagan in Wyoming’s Fremont County. It had just been revealed that Virginia’s ex-husband Gerald admitted to murdering Virginia and the two boys. He had been arrested in rural Missouri.

         People Magazine is 95 percent glitzy stories about Hollywood celebrities but each issue features a few hard news stories. The Uden case was going to be the flavor of the week in an upcoming issue.

         So I recalled for Caitlin some of the facts of the case which had baffled my law enforcement friends. 

         Caitlin appreciated me steering her toward Sheriff Skip Hornecker, former sheriffs Tim McKinney, Dave King and Larry Mathews and investigator John Zerga. 

I was also able to tell her about Virginia, who worked for me at our Lander newspaper, coincidentally, telemarketing and selling subscriptions.

         Later Caitlin and I became “friends” on Facebook and when we turned to her page, here is this attractive young woman in a bikini piloting a sailboat somewhere off the East Coast. My wife was looking over my shoulder and gave a little snort at that. Facebook also noted that Caitlin had a big article about New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s daughter in Glamour Magazine.

         Her Uden murder article appeared in a recent issue and veered away from Fremont County. The cover story concentrated more on Uden’s daughter who grew up in a loving family only to discover that her parents were both long-ago murderers. 

         This news story turned out to be so odd that Caitlin is now going to write a book about it. She was in Wyoming last week doing research and meeting with folks for information.

         This was not my first experience with People Magazine.

Back in 1982, the biggest lightning rod in America seemed to be Secretary of the Interior James Watt, who later became a resident of Jackson Hole.

         Watt was famous for telling outrageous jokes and ultimately had to resign because of a bad joke.

         Prior to that, he was the most publicized member of President Ronald Reagan’s cabinet and he was in Lander shooting on a team at the One Shot Antelope Hunt.

         The national press was in a big tizzy about the chance to cover Watt killing a poor defenseless antelope. Plus they were drooling at the chance to photograph Watt participating in the hunt’s unfortunately-named “squaw dance,” which occurred during the Saturday night banquet.

         As chief photographer and historian for the One Shot, I usually went out on the hunt with the host Wyoming governor. This time, hunt officials asked if I would go out with Watt, since they had had so many requests from national photographers.

         So, there I was loaded down with three extra super-expensive Nikon cameras thrust at me by photographers (including People) with instructions to be sure to snap photos of Watt in action.

         The rest of this story is pretty dull. Watt shot an antelope and I took all those photos, some of which made it in national publications, including People’s cover story.

         Watt did dance with the Shoshone Indian gals in the squaw dance and it got all the negative publicity you could expect from such a derogatory and demeaning name for such an event. To the credit of Hunt officials, they ultimately changed that part of the ceremony to the “round dance.”