On the Trail 7-6-09
Ranchers from the Little Snake River and Encampment River valleys will be recognized during the 2009 Grand Encampment Cowboy Gathering July 17-19.
Nominees for this year’s Pioneer Award are Shorty Ballard and Betty Merrill of Encampment, Wyo., plus Lee and Donna Jons of Baggs, Wyo. All have deep roots in production agriculture in Carbon County.
Betty Merrill with her husband the late Dale Merrill, operated a ranch along the Encampment River, where they raised their four children, Vonda, Bob, Ed, and Kay. She took an active part in the operation and also became involved in community projects and programs including the Snowy Range Cattlewomen. She has served on the board and as a volunteer at the Grand Encampment Museum for many years, and continues that work every Tuesday afternoon.
Shorty Ballard is a cowboy through-and-through and he has done all the work anyone involved in agriculture might be expected to accomplish in a long life. He has ranched on his own. He has operated a livestock trucking company. He has done contract haying and other ranch work for many years.
He has been involved with the Woodchoppers Jamboree and Rodeo for decades most often involved with the rodeo activities, running the chutes. He has worked as a rodeo judge and introduced a host of youngsters to the sport by working with them in the kids’ calf riding at Woodchoppers. He has been involved with 4-H programs, gymkhanas, livestock and ranch auctions. He has been an active proponent of responsible public planning and development.
Supporting him in all of these endeavors is his wife Hazel. They have two children, Cindy and Boyd.
Lee and Donna Jons exemplify the traits of the pioneers that settled the county. The Jons’ heritage in the Little Snake River Valley began with Lee’s father, Peter Jons, who emigrated from Germany in 1895. He spent some time in South Dakota, and then he and several other men were freighting and happened to be in Rawlins looking for work. They learned that there was some wool to haul from Baggs to Rawlins. When the job was finished, the group went back to Baggs and several of them filed homesteads along the river west of the Town of Baggs. Peter Jons raised three families because of the death of his first two wives on the Little Snake River. There were four children in the third family, with Lee being one of the children.
Lee grew up on the ranch. He attended school and graduated from high school at Baggs. He then attended the University of Wyoming for two years. During World War II he served in the United States Army Air Forces as a tail gunner over Germany. After the war he returned home to work on the ranch.
Meanwhile Donna was attending school in Yampa, Colo. She completed two quarters of teacher training at the University of Wyoming and was able to teach on a war emergency certificate. They married following the war. She taught for a time before settling on the ranch near Baggs.
Lee and Donna’s ranch was one of the last ranches in the valley to move from an all Hereford cattle herd to the Angus breed. They ran all Herefords until about 1985. The Jons family also had a diary of 20 cows. They sold sweet cream to Frank Collier’s Creamery in Rawlins during the 1950s. When Mr. Collier told Lee that he was closing the Creamery, Lee within a week began dispersing his herd. And that is when Bunny, the dairy cow came into my life. Lee and Donna also had beautiful Belgian work teams that they purchased from farms in Iowa. They used three different teams to feed hay in the winter on three different ranches. They used work teams until the year 2000.
Like all pioneers, Lee and Donna were active in the development of the community and the services needed for a thriving community to survive. Lee served on the West Side Canal Board for 47 years, the Baggs Cemetery Board for 45 years, the Baggs School Board, the County Grazing Board, was named a Carbon County Rancher of the Year, and was for many years Senior Warden of the Episcopal Churches in Baggs and Dixon.
Donna, too, was active in the community. She was a member of the Snake River Cow Belles, the Episcopal Guild, and was very active in petitioning the County Commissioners for a branch library in Baggs. Today, she is still an active member of the Friends of the Library.
Lee, 86 and Donna, 80 have been married for 62 years and have seen many changes to their ranching operation over the years.
These pioneers will be recognized during the events of the Seventh Annual Grand Encampment Cowboy Gathering. Other activities include stick horse rodeo, dutch oven cookoff, melodrama and cowboy music and poetry.
An evening concert on Saturday, July 18, features Jean Prescott, Award winning Texas singer/songwriter, Stampede, a cowboy musical group from Utah, and cowboy poets Andy Nelson of Pinedale, Wyo., and Chuck Larsen of Saratoga, Wyo. The concert begins at 7 p.m. at the Encampment School. Tickets are $15 and are available in advance or at the door.
The Grand Encampment Museum will hold a book signing at 10 a.m., on July 18, with several authors invited to participate. The Cowboy Outfit will hold the annual Stick Horse Rodeo for kids of all ages beginning Saturday, July 18 at 11 a.m., at Grand View Park in Encampment. Cowboy music and poetry will be presented on the stage in Grand View Park beginning at 1 p.m. The Encampment-Riverside Lions Club will serve lunch at the park beginning at 11:30 a.m..
Following evening events informal music and poetry jam sessions will be held by the campfire in Grand View Park. Anyone interested in sharing music or a poem is encouraged to attend.
On Sunday, July 19, events include a cowboy breakfast to be served from 7 to 10 a.m. on the museum grounds. Cowboy church will be conducted by Ken and Becky Kreusel in Grand View Park beginning at 10 a.m. Jean Prescott will present “Ranch Women, Then and Now – Their Stories in Verse and Song” at the Grand Encampment Museum at 11 a.m. The museum will also have programs on blacksmithing and hat making during its Living History events on Sunday, July 19.
The Grand Encampment Cowboy Gathering is organized by ranchers, musicians, poets and writers living in the area as a way to help preserve and promote ranching and cowboy culture and lifestyle. It is co-sponsored by the Grand Encampment Museum with assistance from the Town of Encampment, Town of Riverside, and many businesses and individuals in the Platte Valley.
For more information on any of the events contact the Saratoga-Platte Valley Chamber of Commerce at (307) 326-8855 or visit the Cowboy Gathering Web site at http://www.GrandEncampmentGathering.org.
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