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Remnant of the Wild West: Cooksey carries on family ranch with a vibrant history

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Robbers Roost Ranch sits on the banks of the Cheyenne River near Mule Creek Junction, a location boasting a wild and vibrant history straight out of an old John Wayne movie. 

Years before Don Cooksey’s grandpa Mose settled on the place, an old stagecoach stop called Robbers Roost Station – the namesake of the Cookseys’ ranch – was in operation. 

Stagecoach lines brought news, mail and passengers to distant and isolated Western towns during the late 19th century and had stations along the way where drivers could switch out fresh horses.  

This particular station, on a route connecting Cheyenne to the gold fields in the Black Hills of South Dakota, derived its name from the many robberies that took place during the gold boom beginning in Deadwood, S.D. in 1875.  

By the end of 1877, gold seekers had removed more than $10 million worth of gold from the Deadwood, S.D. area – much of it transported on weekly stage runs to Cheyenne.

Located near the Cheyenne River crossing, Robber’s Roost Station was built in 1877 on a new shortcut, but the crossing was dreaded by stage drivers. Steep riverbanks slowed coaches to a crawl and provided concealment for lurking bandits. 

Later, Robber’s Roost Station was burned twice by Native American Tribes and rebuilt only once.

Early days

The Cheyenne-Deadwood Stage Line, though not in existence for long, went right through the Cooksey’s ranch. 

“This is why I call it Robbers Roost Ranch,” notes Don. “We have a little box of things we’ve picked up along the stage line over the years – old bottles and things people threw out of the stagecoach. No one was worried about littering in those days.”

“I haven’t found Buffalo Bill’s gun,” Don adds, “But there are some interesting things in that box.”

Don explains the ranch was started by Mose, who moved to Edgemont, S.D. from southwest Iowa with his family.

“A company called Kirkpatrick and Collins brought in a bunch of people but it didn’t last very long, so my grandpa, his brothers and sisters and their father all moved to Wyoming to homestead,” Don shares. “Grandpa homesteaded this place around 1919 and paid $25 for the filing fees.”

Don notes Mose had to travel all the way to Douglas to file the papers – a fairly big stint back then. 

“And, $25 was a lot of money,” states Don. 

He adds, “Grandpa then married Irene Bennett. She had a homestead a little farther west, but she abandoned it to throw in with grandpa. Together they started the place where we are now while raising their two children – my dad John and my aunt Jeanette.”

Diverse operation

As a young couple, Don’s grandparents started by farming potatoes and a few other crops and raising sheep. 

“They farmed for several years,” Don notes. “The climate must have been different back then, because today we can hardly grow weeds as dry as it is.”

After Mose and Irene quit farming, they decided to expand their flock.

“They nearly lost the place during those years,” shares Don. “They’d borrowed money from the Land Bank and it seemed to have a policy of letting people over-borrow and then foreclose on them when they couldn’t make payments.” 

“My grandparents hung in there, however, and began to be more successful when they started raising registered sheep,” he continues. “Grandpa raised Corriedale and sold breeding stock to other sheep ranchers, which he continued doing into the 1970s.” 

In addition to the sheep, Don notes Mose and Irene always had a few cows and horses around. 

“He raised Appaloosa horses alongside the registered sheep, but it wasn’t a very big horse operation. He had two mares and a stallion and raised foals every year,” Don says. “He gentled the foals and got them halter broke, but he didn’t break them to ride.”

Changing hands

Following Mose’s passing in the early 1970s, Don’s father moved back to the ranch. 

“Early on, he and grandpa tried to work together on the ranch but it didn’t work out. They were not very likeminded about anything, and there was not enough cash flow to support two families,” Don admits. 

“Dad went into the airplane business in Central Wyoming but later came back to the ranch to take care of his mother after grandpa died. She had some hip and knee operations by that time and was having trouble getting around,” he shares. “Dad was only there for about 10 years until 1986, before he passed. My mom was there on her own for a long time – until 2008.”

Don notes his father didn’t have much interest in the livestock – he had acquired a passion for aviation – and when he passed away, Don’s mother sold the livestock and started leasing pasture out to the family’s neighbors. 

“Dad had developed an aerial pipeline patrol business and just used the ranch as his base of operation. There is a little airstrip at the ranch that he used to fly around the country for his pipeline business. However, he did have about 20 sheep and a few cattle,” Don says.  

At the end of her life, Don’s mother was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, so Don dropped what he was doing and moved to the ranch in 2008 to take care of her. 

“Mom died in 2009, and after she passed, I stayed on at the ranch but I don’t have any livestock. I still just lease the pasture to the neighbor,” Don remarks. “I am like my dad – still working with airplanes.”

Despite this, Don expresses pride in his family’s resilience to hold on to the historic operation and looks forward to passing it on to future generations of the Cooksey family. 

“I have two children, Jared and Kelsey, and three grandchildren. My son Jared and his wife Robyn have two daughters, Riley and Jacy, and I am very proud of them. Their son’s middle name is Mose after my grandpa, and he will turn one in early 2024,” Don shares. “Perhaps I will get him a stick horse, and he will become a rancher.”

He adds, “The place has been the Cookseys’ since its inception 105 years ago, and it would be nice to see it keep going.”

Heather Smith Thomas is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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