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1711- How to stay married for 50 years in Wyoming

Over the years, I have become convinced there is something about Wyoming that makes being married for 50 years easier here than in other places.

         My wife Nancy and I just celebrated that milestone. When you have celebrated an event like this, it does cause one to ponder.

         We have spent 46 of those 50 years out here in frontier Wyoming and we give the people of the state and these 98,000 square miles of space a lot of credit for keeping us together.

         Now before I get all wrapped up in how wonderful Wyoming can be (and has been for us), it is fair to point out that what happens here can also be a cruel catalyst that probably causes some couples to split up.

         For example, Wyoming’s suicide rates are surprisingly high for a place that prides itself on being a paradise.

         Blame for those high suicide rates is often focused on our highest winds in the country, our bitterly cold winters, our inhumanly vast distances, our isolation and our boom-bust economy, among other things.

         It might be easy to contend that such conditions can also be catalysts to keep couples together. I think in our case, it was the latter.

         During our 50th, we had some family photos taken. We especially wanted one of Nancy and me toasting each other in front of a blown-up poster of the two of us toasting each other at our wedding 50 years ago.  We used non-alcoholic punch for drinks back then because we both were under the legal drinking age!  It made for a great photo and generated 63 comments on Facebook.

         We have a number of friends who are in the second or third decade of their second marriages.  Having failed once, they obviously found the right partner for the second time around and seem super happy.

         Our four children and 11 of our 13 grandchildren put on a nice party for us last summer. We enjoyed talking to well-known couples like retired Judge Jack Nicholas and his wife Alice and retired architect Gene Dehnert and his wife Char. Both couples have been married for over 67 years, making us seem like newcomers in this long-time married business.

         My 92-year old mother was also there.  She was married to my dad for 58 years before he died in 2000.

         There were lots of other folks there who had been married for over 50 years or were approaching that milestone. Lander friends Mick and Marge Wolfe and Don and Judy Legerski also celebrated their 50th anniversaries this past year.

         I asked some of my friends who have been married for a long time to share with me some of their secrets.  Here goes:

         Jim Hicks of Buffalo writes: “Since Mary and I are approaching our 60th anniversary I feel compelled to drop you a line. How about a sense of humor, the capacity to forgive and ability to keep life interesting?

         “When we were married in 1957 we left the wedding reception in Story, Wyoming, early. As we approached Kaycee, I realized we had left so early we had only enjoyed one bite of cake. We stopped at the Hole-in-the-Wall Saloon in Kaycee for a burger. 

“I noticed an old high school classmate, Pat Garrett.  I said: ‘Pat, how the hell are you?  We had a lot to catch up on. In about 30 minutes the conversation rolled around to the point where Pat asked, what are you doing in Kaycee? That’s when the light bulb went on for me. I looked over at the booth and I could see some steam rolling out of the area.

“Just got married today, Pat.  Come on over and I’ll introduce you to my bride.”

         Greybull native Diana Schutte Dowling writes that: “Tom and I will celebrate 58 years.  When my Tom was asked on our 50th what was the secret to a long marriage, he replied that I always give him the last two words in any conversation. Those words are, yes dear!”

         Tom Satterfield of Cheyenne thinks separate bathrooms have contributed to their 56 years of marriage.

Doug Osborn of Sheridan says he and his wife celebrated their 62nd and says: “Marry the right girl!  Have common life values and do not dwell on the insignificant. Work hard and keep a positive outlook.  It helps to have good kids and good dogs. Live most of your life in Wyoming but see the rest of the world, too.”


1710 - Passing out counterfeit $100 bills! Not

A few weeks ago, we were spending some warm weather time in Las Vegas.  It felt good to enjoy some 75-degree weather after enduring January’s temperatures of -29 and winter conditions like 17 inches of fresh snow in Lander.

         We loaded up our 2005-vintage motorhome and rambled down Interstate 15.  We stayed at a wonderful park called Las Vegas RV Resort, an RV park near a big casino called Sam’s Town.

         This column is all about my apparent attempt at passing a phony $100 bill at a lunch counter at Harrah’s on the Las Vegas strip.

         Lucky for me, the gal who received the bad bill examined it, held it up to the light and then marked on it with a felt tip pen. “Ah-ha,” she said. “This is phony.”  Her co-worker agreed and I was appalled. I handed her another $100 bill and this time, it was real. For some reason she handed me back the phony bill and gave me my change and we were on our way.

         I was stunned by the events. Where did I get this phony bill? These new $100 bills all look phony, frankly, but this one had a very faded look to it.  And it had other ink on it so it had been rejected before at some place, some time.

         The reason we were at Harrah’s was to buy tickets to see The Righteous Brothers, a musical duo that 50 years ago popularized what Nancy and I consider to be our song: Unchained Melody.

         This concert was going to be a special treat for us. After buying our tickets, we had a quick lunch and that was when the errant bill-passing attempt occurred.  What a strange series of events.

         For the past several years, I have been trying to wean myself from credit card use and writing so many personal checks.  No, that is not a giant wad of cash in my pocket, but I do carry several hundred dollars around with me and try to pay with cash as often as possible.  You really cannot buy gasoline with cash but I have paid for a lot of groceries and dinner tabs with cash. Not sure what my point is, but this sort of explains how I got myself into this predicament.

         When I knew we would be going to Las Vegas, I went to my local bank and got plenty of cash, which I stashed in a safe place. I know this bogus bill did not come from them.  But where did it come from?

         On another front, Nancy and I have been trying to downsize. In the last year, we sold three snowmobiles, a pickup truck, two trailers, a tow-behind lawn mower and one quad-runner. In some of these cases, the buyers apparently gave me cash. This is where I think my bogus bill came from.

Wyoming occasionally has problems with bogus (counterfeit) 100-dollar bills.  I talked with Kendall Hayford of Wyoming Community Bank, Lander; Mark Zaback at Jonah Bank, Casper; John Coyne III of Big Horn Federal in Greybull; Mathew Kukowski of Platte Valley Bank of Wheatland; and Steve Liebzeit of First Interstate Bank of Lander about bogus bills in Wyoming.

Although not an epidemic, they see bogus bills occasionally. They said merchants do a good job of detecting the false bills. They had seen both bogus 100-dollar and 20-dollar bills being passed.

         But there is more to my story.

         The TV newscasters in Las Vegas were going crazy with a story that ultimately went national about bogus $100 bills.  Seems some guy bought a whole bunch of Girl Scout cookies and paid for them with a bogus 100-dollar bill.  Who would cheat the Girl Scouts?

         Had my sweet tooth been acting up, that could have been me.

         Then it occurred to me that perhaps the security people at Harrah’s were looking for me. These places have cameras everywhere. What if someone really thought the Girl Scout culprit was me? 

         I quickly wrote an email to the Las Vegas Police explaining that, no, I was not the bad guy who had cheated the Girl Scouts. But I was the guy who attempted to pass a bogus $100 bill at Harrah’s, just in case it had been reported and they were looking for me.

         So far, no word from the police.  But I am keeping a closer eye on the quality of my cash from now on.

         Just thought I would pass along this cautionary tale.


1709 - What was eatiing my old dog now?

If there ever were a place that required everyone to own a dog, it probably would be Wyoming. This is a true dog-loving state. And everyone has his or her favorite dog story. Here is mine:

Our old family dog, Shadow, had been listless and seemed not well for most of the long winter months.

 She had been diagnosed with cancer and even after surgery, the vet said there wasn’t much we could do about her condition. Her days were numbered.  The dog seemed to know it, too, as she moped around.        

She hardly ate at all for months, yet was getting fatter.  Could she be retaining fluid because of her illness and age?

One day, I was in the house working and noticed her strolling away from the yard.  She had a suspicious look on her face.

This piqued my curiosity.

She walked across the bridge over the creek and headed into some small woods.  Where was this dog going?  She knew she wasn’t to leave our yard without me?

Stealthily and looking back at the house, Shadow sneaked through the wooded area and disappeared into an area where a neighbor was feeding calves.

I quietly went outdoors.  What the heck was going on?  This dog was sneaking somewhere.

As I got to the bridge, there was a well-worn trail through the little wood to the area with the calves.  This dog has obviously made this pilgrimage a lot of times.

I stood behind a tree and watched.  Pretty soon it looked like something was moving.  It was my dog returning home. And she had something huge in her mouth.

My first suspicion was that she had a cow pie in her mouth. One of the banes of old dogs is they love to roll around in fresh manure.  This is a habit that you don’t want your “house dog” to get into.

I moved out from behind the tree and confronted my dog there on the well-worn trail.  Some ignorant folks claim animals don’t have feelings.  Well, this dog had a combination of two feelings:  fear and guilt.  She wasn’t supposed to leave the yard. And what the heck was she carting around in her mouth from the neighbor’s barn?

She didn’t wag her tail, which was unusual.  She acted like a cornered animal. That big brown thing in her mouth dropped to the ground.  We looked at each other. 

Finally, I said her name, “Shadow,” and she ambled over to me.  She still had her tail between her legs and a very guilty look on her face.  Meanwhile, lots of questions were going through my mind.  Is she sick? Has she started eating cow pies?  Is there is a medicinal advantage there? No wonder she didn’t have an appetite!  No wonder she had been sick.

I patted my dog and scratched behind her ears.  She perked up considerably.  I swear she indicated she just wanted to go to the house. I had a different idea. What was it that she had been carrying in her mouth?

As we walked back to where she had dropped the mysterious item, she hung back.  When we got there, she made no move whatsoever to this cow pie or whatever it was.

I kicked it with my boot and it became obvious what it was.  It was an old cinnamon roll.  A big old dry one, too, with lots of frosting. 

It seems my neighbor had made a deal with the local grocery store to collect old donuts and other baked goods. My neighbor had been feeding them to his calves over the past few months.  And by the looks of the worn path from our house to that barn, he had been feeding them to my dog, too.

So the mystery was solved.  No wonder she wasn’t eating her dog food. 

Shadow has always had a severe sweet tooth and now she was truly getting her fill. We had recently taken her to the vet and surprisingly found she had gained eight pounds with no apparent explanation – up to now, anyway.

Later, I saw her lying on the cushion of a yard chair soaking up the sun, appearing listless and lethargic.  It could be assumed she was just an old dog worn down by the years.

But I knew better. 

She was bedded down there trying to digest several loaves of bread-type material. And she was dreaming of stalking more mighty donuts, long johns, bagels, fritters and cinnamon rolls.


1708 - Empty, empty spaces everywhere we go

What can you learn about America after traveling through eight states over the past four weeks?

         Perhaps the biggest shock to a Wyomingite is that there is so much empty space out there in other states other than the Cowboy State.

         We live in the least populated state. And I am among the busiest drivers in a state that includes the drivers who travel the most miles of any state in the country. Based on that, well, you just assume that Wyoming is different and has more empty space than other states, right?

         Well, no. Nope. No way. Nada. Nyet.

         Compared to some of the stretches I have driven in the past 28 days, Wyoming is positively metropolitan.

         Kansas is the flattest, most boring state ever.  Its windmill population provides the only diversion along Interstate 70. There are plenty of them and they are big.

         Oklahoma has more trees than you might think but again, you get to experience long, long stretches of empty space. 

         Texas is a gigantic state with vast empty areas. One of the most famous is the Llano Estacado. It is a vast flat plain that is so much like a tabletop; water can barely run out of it. It covers 32,000 square miles and slopes a tiny 10 feet per mile. The Spanish explorer Coronado discovered it. He wrote the following to the king of Spain in 1541, describing the area:

         “I reached some plains so vast that I did not find their limit anywhere. No landmarks. It was like the sea has swallowed us up. There was not a stone nor a bit of rising ground, nor a tree, nor a shrub.”  Now, that folks, describes a barren land!

         We did not travel on just vast empty spaces. One of the most scenic roads in America is Interstate 70 from Denver to its terminus in Utah.  Now, this is not flat and it is not boring. Huge tunnels and long stretches of highway built as bridges through the canyons make this a terrific trip at any time.

         Many Wyoming folks have never been on this stretch of Interstate 70 because we use Interstate 80 as our means to travel east or west.  

         I am always complaining about the semi-trailer trucks in Wyoming on Interstate 80.  Well, this time, we dealt with 30,000 Subaru compact cars heading to the ski areas west of Denver on a Friday afternoon. Yikes.

         The first 80 mph highway sign I ever saw was in the middle of Utah on Interstate 15.  Good reason for it. Scenery is better than Kansas but still we endured long boring stretches of highway.

         Arizona and Nevada feature incredible locales of “nothing,” which stretch from north to south and east to west. Again, some of these areas make lonely Wyoming places look as busy as Colorado’s front range.

         So, what is the cure for boredom on these long stretches? For me, it is an audiobook.

         We just finished listening to a terrific audiobook by Mark Spragg of Cody called An Unfinished Life. Now I am going to rent the movie, which stars Robert Redford, Morgan Freeman and Jennifer Lopez. Great book. Hope the movie is nearly as well done.

         Prior to that, I finished listening to The Way West by A. B. Guthrie Jr., a sequel to his wonderful The Big Sky (which included a lot about Wyoming, rather than the assumed Montana theme, because of the name.)

         Hard not to like Guthrie’s books.  One of his main characters, Dick Summers, always cannot wait to get back to a place he loves most along the Popo Agie River (present day Lander).

         Among my destinations during all this were two conventions, the annual Wyoming Press Association get-together and the Governor’s Tourism Conference, both in Cheyenne.

         Congratulations to longtime AP writer Joe McGowan for being elected into the WPA Hall of Fame. Well-deserved. Check out his book, From Fidel Castro to Mother Teresa, for a real insight into an amazing journalist career.

         Also congratulations to John Johnson of Casper for winning the Big WYO award, the top award given to folks in the hospitality business. Johnson has been a stalwart in the state when it comes to creating jobs and being an innovator.

         Many Wyoming legislators attended these functions. We were able to get a feel for how painful their efforts are in cutting state jobs and programs to balance the budget. Nobody appears to be enjoying the process.


1707 - Is today the golden age of journalism?

Journalists today face both the best of times and the worst of times.

         The good news is there is so much news to cover. And there is an unlimited audience out there that wants to feast on your excellent reporting.

         The bad news is that in this Facebook/Twitter age, your wonderful journalistic efforts face more competition then ever before from amateurs putting out their own news.

         For many years I have had the honor of lecturing to journalism students in Dr. Ken Smith’s Community Journalism class at the University of Wyoming.  Despite snowstorms we managed to get this lecture delivered to some eager students on Feb. 2.

         Although I have a prepared series of remarks, this year I prefaced it by the arrival of two recent foreign journalistic concepts, which have dominated media news in the past several months:

1.    Fake news.

2.     Alternative facts.

         Fake news is nothing new.  But nobody has ever seen so much of it as we saw during the recent Presidential campaign. The one billion Facebook readers were bombarded by fake news. 

Hillary got pilloried was my way to describe how Democrat Presidential Candidate Clinton was treated during the 2016 campaign. “Pilloried” describes how a public servant was demonized. By election-time, it was like Clinton should be sent to prison  that she was the worst political character in history.  I did not vote for her but she could not get a break.  She has spent 50 years in public service and a lot of it was good work.

         The UW students had been inundated with fake news like the rest of us.  My message to them was not only as citizens did they need to reject it, but also as future journalists. They need to provide honest, clear news with integrity. People will believe what you write if they believe you are an honest person. This sounds easy but it is not.

         Now this brings us to President Donald Trump’s Campaign Manager Kellyanne Conway’s famous line on NBC’s Meet the Press over some recent news stories when she used the term “alternative facts.”  

         There have always been alternative points of view.

         Among the few times I have seen alternative facts is when people who watch an accident happen to see it from different directions and truly do see alternate versions of the incident.  But Conway was describing how her estimate of the crowds at Trump’s inauguration was much larger than the media’s.  This is a dangerous concept. Facts are facts.

         Ken Smith’s class includes students looking forward to careers in journalism, advertising, Internet work and public relations.

         Some years ago, we owned one of the largest ad agencies in Wyoming. In what I now think was a self-defeating idea on my part, I came to the conclusion that one of the best ways for a company to sell themselves was called “direct marketing.”

         For certain clients, this method is almost mind-bogglingly effective.  But it also is time-consuming and can be quite expensive. 

Often it is much more fun for the customer to put together a clever TV campaign that makes no sense and which is seen by practically no one.  And such a TV ad campaign is much more cost-effective for the ad agency.  In fact, when you do such a campaign, everyone has a good time.  Not much is sold, but who cares, right? But I digress.

         That concept of direct marketing is similar with what is happening today when consumers can communicate directly with their favorite companies. Direct communication is amazingly effective.

         The best example in recent history was Trump during the presidential campaign.  While he was heaping disdain on the conventional media, he was putting out 25 million tweets to his followers, sometimes three a day.  He said it best when he described that power: “It was like I had just bought The New York Times.” For the first time in history, a major candidate did not have to deal with the mainstream media.  He played them so well during that campaign – truly amazing.

         I ran into Ken Smith at the recent Wyoming Press Association state convention and he was proud of his students.

         As I roamed around the convention chatting with earnest young men and women journalists, it made me excited to see these folks busy practicing our journalism craft. 

Back when I was a reporter we operated in much clearer, simpler times. Would I trade places with them?  Not so sure about that.

1706 - Belden sent Wyoming fawns to Germany

The first time I heard of Charlie Belden was during a visit to Omaha where my old friend Lee Myers lives a nice retired life with his wife Barbara.

Lee is a former publisher of the Cody Enterprise and is a native of Lovell. He lives near a wonderful enclave in downtown Omaha called the Old Market.  It is full of old warehouses that have been converted to upscale restaurants, bars and neat apartments.

He took me to a restaurant called the Twisted Fork and asked me to notice all the wonderful cowboy photos on the walls. They were amazing.

These images were all professional, incredibly sharp and showed old time Wyoming on the old prairies.

Except they were not that old. They are genuine cowboy shots that were taken in the 1920s and 1930s by an enterprising guy named Charlie Belden.

Charlie’s wife’s family owned the Pitchfork Ranch west of Meeteetse and was a spectacular photographer.

I got reacquainted with Belden’s photos during production of our latest Wyoming-themed coffee table book, Wyoming at 125.  His photos are stored at the Buffalo Bill Center in Cody and the American Heritage Center in Laramie.  Plus there is a museum devoted to him and his photos in Meeteetse.

The man was a genius when it came to photo composition.  And the quality of his black and white pictures was superb. We chose to use modern computers to sharpen and colorize these 1930s-vintage photos and his turned out amazingly well in the book.

One of the least known stories in Wyoming is an event promoted by Belden, which involved sending Pronghorn Antelope fawns to Germany around 1936.

Prior to World War II, Adolph Hitler and his deputies wanted to create a massive wildlife display in Germany and were importing animals from around the world to create herds of exotic animals in Germany.

Belden was a friend of Germany back in those days and his Pitchfork Ranch was well known for the tame Pronghorn that roamed the place.  There are even photos of him feeding fawns with a milk bottle.

One of the most unique photos of this era shows Belden and a friend loading Wyoming Pronghorn fawns on to the German dirigible Hindenburg in Lakehurst, NJ.  This is the same place where the Hindenburg exploded and burned a few years later.  A newsreel announcer watching that explosion exclaimed the famous line: “Oh, the humanity!” as the doomed airship crashed to the ground.

Cheyenne Author C. J. Box has published a novella that includes a reference to this true event.

My favorite Belden photo shows an old cowboy astride his horse at the front gate of the ranch.  He is looking up over his shoulder at a Beechcraft Staggerwing biplane circling the ranch and getting ready to land.

The image implies the old watching the new.

Author Sam Western of Sheridan also used this image for the cover of his prescient book published a few years ago called Pushed off the Mountain, Sold down the River.

Belden knew the famous pilot Amelia Earhart and assisted her in the location and then starting to build the building her cabin above the historic ghost town of Kirwin, at the end of the Wood River Road above Meeteetse.

Construction on that cabin ceased with Earhart’s disappearance while attempting an around the world flight in 1937.

Belden loved Wyoming, the cowboy life, photography and flying.  His photo collection shows off these aspects of his life.

His biography reads the following: “Belden had a great advantage over the photographers of today. He lived with his subject matter and thoroughly understood every detail of it. He was a master of composition, light, and angles and this showed in each of his photographs. His technical abilities, combined with an unequaled knowledge of the cowboy and sheepman, allowed Belden to capture the true life and times of the Pitchfork Ranch from 1914 to 1940.”

Belden was once quoted as describing his photography as: “If a picture does not tell a story, it is not worth taking.”  He reportedly lived and worked on the Pitchfork and, in 1922, became a co-manager but was not very good at it. He left the ranch about 1940 when the ranch was having financial problems.

On Feb. 1, 1966, Belden, reportedly suffering from cancer, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in St. Petersburg, FL, a sad ending to a unique cowboy photographer.

It is truly sad that Belden did not live long enough to see how much folks of his adopted Wyoming appreciated his efforts to highlight the state through his wonderful photography.