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Tris Munsick was raised on a ranch in Sheridan County, but music has always been an important part of his life. Today, he’s taken his ag roots and used them to influence his start in the music industry.

“My dad managed a cow/calf operation on the east slope of the Bighorns for 20 years,” Munsick says. “When I was growing up, my parents bought their own little place, picked up some leases and started running their own cows.”

After high school, Munsick mentions that he and his younger brothers Sam and Ian worked around the region on ranches.

“I’ve worked in Colorado, Montana, Texas and Wyoming, and my middle brother Sam worked in Oregon and all over Wyoming,” he says. “Our youngest brother Ian is living in Nashville, Tenn. trying to do his music.”

Music roots

Munsick was raised around the music industry and says it has greatly influenced his life.

“My dad, Dave Munsick, plays music for a living. He plays quite a bit around the region,” he says. “My brothers and I started playing with Dad. Our family band is called the Munsick Boys.”

The family has recorded several albums, and they continue to play together as often as they can.

“As scattered as we are, it's tough to go hard with our family band,” Munsick says. “We play a few times a year together.”

He continues, “My family might not play together for a year, but when we get together, it works. There is nothing like playing with my family.”

Munsick says that playing as a family is special, and the chemistry they have is natural.

“If we do our job right, when we play as a family, it is special for everyone – not just us but the audience, too,” he says. “We feel a special chemistry together that’s unlike anything else.”

Forming a band

In 2012, Munsick and a group of close friends formed their own band – Tris Munsick and the Innocents. They have played consistently together for the last three years.

The Innocents have been together long enough that Munsick says they are very close.

“The band is family to me, for sure,” he says. “We’ve played together long enough that I’m confident saying that. My brother Sam just joined us. He plays guitar now, which is really awesome.”

Through the summer, Tris Munsick and the Innocents plays across the West. The number of shows they play slows down in the winter, and Munsick explains that it has been particularly difficult while he’s been back in graduate school. However, they’ve got plans to work hard toward growing their presence starting this summer.

Looking at the future

Munsick says they have reached the point where they have two options – pick up speed and make a living playing music or slow down and pursue other careers.

“We either have to go forward or go backward a bit,” he says. “We’re going to try to make a run at it and make a career. We’re going to work hard enough to make a living, so we won’t need to have jobs outside of the band.”

“What the future looks like is a good question,” Munsick says. “We’re going to take this one thing at a time. Right now, graduate school is my priority.”

He continues, “I’ve been around the music industry enough to know that it is a hard road to go.”

Being on the road all the time performing can be challenging, particularly for people with a family.

“Not having a family right now makes things quite a bit easier,” he says, “and if that changes, I’ll have to re-evaluate my priorities.”

“We’re not looking too far into the future right now,” Munsick continues. “I’m looking to finish up school, and we'll then grow the band. I want to see where this takes us to really try to do our music justice.”

Part of jumping in and running with the band means putting his heart and soul into the music, says Munsick.

“We really want to do a good job,” he explains.

Original music

At this stage in his career, Munsick has released two CDs, with a third scheduled for release this summer.

All of the music on their albums is original, and he says, “We get the inspiration for these songs from our experiences.”

Munsick notes that he respects those songwriters who are able to take more abstract ideas that they haven’t experienced and turn them into a song, and he strives to continue developing his songwriting ability to that level.

He adds, “My song ideas come to me when I’m driving and have the time to think to myself.”

“Ninety percent of the ideas I have I forget, and 90 percent of the ones I remember don’t pan out,” Munsick laughs. “Every once in a while, we get a song that goes all the way, but it takes a while to bring a song together. The people I’ve met and places I’ve been are the main drivers of my songwriting.”

Ag influence

The influence of the agriculture world has been pivotal in his music career.

“My upbringing absolutely influences my career,” Munsick notes. “We all grew up with an ag background, and we all looked up to cowboys. We wanted to be cowboys when we were kids.”

“The heart and soul of my music is based in the western culture and the lifestyle that we’re immersed in all the time,” Munsick comments. “We wouldn’t be where we are without these experiences and our background.”

The cowboy lifestyle is a challenge, as is a career in music, but Munsick says he is up for the task.

Tris Munsick and the Innocents are preparing to release their third album this summer, which will reflect their highs and lows, as well as their experience traveling the country from east to west.

“This new album will touch on everywhere we’ve been the last few years,” he says. “We’re excited about it.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Sheridan — “This is one of the bigger honors I’ve ever had, and I’ve been incredibly fortunate,” says saddle maker Don Butler of receiving one of the Governor’s Arts Awards presented Feb. 12 in Cheyenne.
The awards are designed to recognize artist, arts organizations and patrons who provide outstanding service to the arts in Wyoming and who have displayed excellence in the arts. They were established in 1982 and made possible by an endowment from the Union Pacific Foundation. To date individuals from 20 Wyoming communities have been recognized.
Butler started stamping belts in 4-H and put himself through high school stamping for Otto F. Ernst.
“The Ernst Saddlery was a very well known old saddlery in Sheridan that closed in 1976 but had been open since the turn of the century. It was quite a neat old saddle shop and most, not all, but most all the saddle makers in this area have worked at Ernst’s at least once during their tenure,” he says.
“I put my first saddle together with a book, well the back of a book, on how to make cowboy horse gear. It had a little section in the back by Lee M. Rice on how to make a saddle. I didn’t probably read everything there was to read in the deal; I was ready to apply leather to tree. I was on a cow camp on the head of the Little Big Horn River that summer and put a saddle together with that book. Needless to say it lacked a lot of ‘finish’ and it has never seen the light of day since then. But I gained a lot of knowledge from it and the most important thing I learned is that I needed to get some help if I was ever going to do it again,” explains Butler.
He put the saddle up and didn’t give saddle making another thought for several years. In 1972 Butler returned to Sheridan. He started stamping for Bob Douglas, who had a shop going and had learned from Don King.
“I spent the winter trading whatever stamping I could do for Bob to show me how to put a saddle together. I had a tree at home and whenever we’d work on a saddle in the shop I would do the very same thing that night at home. So I built two at the same time more or less and from there it kind of took off. I took a lot of notes and Douglas would help here and there,” says Butler.
“I just built a saddle or two in the winter until 1976 when my wife Kitty and I went out on our own. We had a bunch of cows and I was day working and riding colts and anything I could do to turn a dollar to buy groceries for the cows. Up until then I hadn’t given any thought to pursuing saddle making as a career. I wanted to paint pictures and I realized very suddenly that the picture market was pretty iffy and cows get a little hungry between sales of pictures. So I decided that maybe I ought to pursue something that generated a little more steady income, so I took to the saddle making and opened a shop and still day worked until the very early 1980s,” Butler explains.
In 1982 Butler went to work for the Wyoming Stock Growers Association as a brand inspector and held that position for 14 years. He says that up until then he had a little extra income from day working, riding colts or anything else that was available and he would build saddles at night.
Butler’s leatherwork isn’t limited to saddles, but includes leather goods of all kinds. He says he used to build a tremendous amount of chaps. “It didn’t take long after opening the shop before we were a long ways behind, then we got more and more behind. I would say that saddles have been an important part of our business and I’m not sure how many more than 500 I’ve built, it’s just over that. But, in the course of time, I have built equal that in belts and what-not in total volume,” he explains.
Don and Kitty had a full retail shop in Sheridan and opened another store in Cody during the Wyoming Centennial. “We ran two retail stores for years and about three years ago I decided it was getting to be too big a burden and tougher to find help, so we closed the retail portion in Sheridan. My daughter runs the store in Cody,” he says.
In addition to leatherwork Butler also does all of his own silver work. It was originally a diversion and hobby that turned into another business. “There’s always a blur of distinction between want and need and I decided that I needed a mill and lathe to make dyes for my silver work. Kitty asked how I would pay for it and I decided  to make stamping tools to sell to the public. That became overwhelming,” says Butler.
He was producing everything by hand and when Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machines came out they took over the business. Butler says he had too many balls in the air anyway and quit the tool business. He still produces his own tools and says selling tools served a purpose to the business and allowed him the machinery to make dyes for his silver work.
“Right now people call for a saddle since our front door isn’t open all the time. I shut off taking orders in the year 2000. I had a lot of orders on the books at that time. I finished the last of those in August of 2008. To qualify that I was hurt and laid up for about a year and half and didn’t produce much,” says Butler.
“Over the years I’ve put people on the list. Now I work on three orders at a time and when I finish or nearly finish those I get on the phone and call the next three on the list. So far is has worked extremely well. No one has cancelled and everyone I’ve called has wanted a saddle.”
Butler also enters saddles in shows around the United States. Some are gallery shows and others are competitions. Butler’s saddles have performed well at several shows and he sees them as a means of validating his skills and being compared to his peers.
Butler saddles are also featured in a number of collections, but are built to be used. “More and more are going into collections, but they’re all built to use. Even the really high priced ones you can jerk down a rope and go trip a steer or whatever. The first thing about any of this stuff as far as I’m concerned is that it has to be functional first before it can be artwork.”
“There are certain things in life that people look at as kind of a glamour thing and saddles are one that people look at and go, ‘that’s so neat,’ and they are. Having done a lot of painting and other forms of artwork, there’s just as much art that goes into making a saddle as painting a picture. There’s a lot of mechanics that go into saddles, but a lot of art too,” states Butler.
“It’s been quite a trip and it’s treated us incredibly well,” says Butler of his career to date. Adding that he often jokes he is the luckiest man in the world for being so accepted in his trade.
Heather Hamilton is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.





Evanston – Ranch life is a part of who Amanda Cowan is, and the inspiration provided the roots of her art career.

Since her youth, Cowan has been involved in the agriculture industry.

“I grew up on a farm and spent my time in the corrals drawing horses,” Cowan explains. “I was obsessed with horses. Drawing and riding was all I did in my spare time.”

From the beginning

“On the farm, I would draw for hours,” Cowan continues. “I’ve always loved animals, and I love drawing them.”

Cowan attended Snow College and earned a degree in agriculture, but she says, “I snuck in a couple of art classes during my college years – just for fun.”

Following college, she moved to her current location 20 miles south of Evanston, where she lives with her husband and two dogs.

“We work the ranch alongside my husband’s brother and his wife,” Cowan continues.

Her art career has blossomed with her work on the ranch.

“Ranch life is my painting,” she comments. “Everything around me is the ranch. Whether it’s cows, horses, family or friends, my life is full of beauty and inspiration.”

“My love for animals hasn’t changed over the years,” Cowan adds. “I love animals, often more than people, and when people can gain an animal’s trust, it’s awesome to see. The relationship that exists between animals – specifically horses – and people shaped my world and my work.”

Capturing a relationship

Painting provides an opportunity for Cowan to capture the relationships she sees in nature.

“I really enjoy when I hear people say they can ‘feel’ what is happening in a painting,” she says. “If I can get a feeling across to another person through my work, then I’ve really accomplished my goal.”

When given the choice, Cowan paints horses.

“But, I really love when I can capture a relationship between a horse and rider,” Cowan describes. “My favorite pieces are a few where I’ve painted my sister-in-law Tina and her horse Kate. They fit so perfectly together, and I love being able to capture their relationship.”

Painting

Cowan utilizes both oils and watercolors, but she prefers working with watercolors.

“My painting process begins outside when we’re working,” she explains.  “I take my camera along while we are moving cows or feeding behind the team of horses in the winter and capture the dusty, sweaty and sometimes bitter cold moments of ranch life.”

She continues, “I take a million pictures as reference for my paintings later.”

Cowan laughs that sometimes, though, she is so busy working that she forgets to take photos for reference.

“Most of the things that could be seen as challenges on the ranch give me ideas and inspiration,” Cowan says.

While the summer months are busy with ranch work, Cowan says she makes time to get some painting in.

“During the winter, I’m busy with an endless amount of memories to paint from,” Cowan says.

When she gets the chance to work on a piece, Cowan starts with a sketch, reworking the lines until she’s satisfied with the product.

“Sometimes I have a piece that I’m totally into, and I can get it done in a few days,” she comments. “Other times, I have a piece that I like, but it takes me longer to get into ‘the zone’ where things flow easier.”

Finding Cowan

Cowan’s artwork is primarily displayed on her website, amandacowanart.com.

“I also do a few shows, including the Heber Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Heber City, Utah. I can’t miss that show,” she says. “I also go to the National Cowboy Poetry Festival in Elko, Nev., too”

She has success in exhibiting her paintings around the world.

In 2007, Cowan was honored as People’s Choice Award Winner at the Western Art Roundup in Winnemucca, Nev.

“I’ve also been part of the San Dimas Art Show in San Dimas, Calif., the Phippen Art Show in Prescott, Ariz., the Cheyenne Frontier Days Western Art Show and the Red Bluff Art Show in Red Bluff, Calif., to name a few,” she says.

Cowan has also sold paintings to buyers in Australia, France, Korea, Canada and the U.S.

Recently, she illustrated two books for rancher and cowboy poet Pete Cornia.

Eyes on the future

As she looks toward the future of her painting career, Cowan says she has too many plans and goals to list, but overall, “One goal is constant in my life. I always want to keep improving my work.”

Regardless of the amount of ranch work required, she will always continue to draw and paint in her spare time. 

Cowan comments, “Painting the horses and the hard working men and women I work with – and the occasional wild critter – is my way of recognizing and showing gratitude for all the beautiful real life things I get to experience in my little corner of the world in Wyoming.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

After 43 years creating the largest weekly, syndicated cartoon feature in the agricultural sector in both the U.S. and Canada, Jerry Palen is retiring.

“I’m going to miss it. I really will miss it,” he says.

Although, he mentions, “I am still drawing cartoons. It’s a bad habit, and I can’t break it. We’d like to do one more cartoon book.”

Palen has published nine cartoon books to date, in addition to yearly calendars and his weekly series.

In addition to cartoons, he also creates watercolors, oil paintings and sculptures.

While he's retiring Stampede, Palen hopes that newspapers and magazines will continue to run the popular series, saying, “I just got a nice letter from the Governor saying I can’t quit, so somebody reads it.”

Governor Matt Mead’s grandfather, past senator and Governor Cliff Hanson, is honored with a monument at the state capitol created by Palen.

“Every U.S. president since Jimmy Carter has requested my art work to present to heads of state, etc.,” he mentions.

Inspiration

As for Stampede, Palen says, “I grew up with this cartoon series. My father, by vocation, was a large animal veterinarian, so he got to go around to all of the ranches and farms. Of course, he always carried around two helpers that he didn’t pay very much, my brother and me.”

He continued, “Watching all of those wonderful people out in the country is where the ideas for this cartoon series came from.”

Palen also developed a passion for his craft by helping his father verify the originality of various pieces of art, visiting museums and collections throughout the country.

“One of the biggest I was ever at was the museum in Kansas City. It was huge. For every one artist that is on display, there were probably 10 or 12 pieces in the basement that had never been shown. It was neat to see all the different artists, and I took advantage of it. I picked up my father’s love of art,” he explains.

Fascinated by the discussions of art and conversations with museum directors who described art and the artists, Palen announced at the age of nine that he, too, would be an artist.

Training

“One of the best stories that my wife Ann likes to tell is we met in a high school art class. Of course, she got an A, and I got a C, but I got a wife out of the deal,” Palen says.

After high school, Ann went to San Francisco, Calif. to study at Mills College, and Palen went to the University of Wyoming, earning a degree in economics and political science. After he graduated, he went to Santa Barbara, Calif. to study with artist Nicholas Firfires.

“I got to study with Nick for several years. That was a real door-opener because he was a really fine artist and wonderful man,” he remarks.

At that time, kinetic art became very popular, but it wasn’t a style that interested Palen. He returned to Wyoming and became an examiner at a bank.

“I did that for a few years, but in the evenings after work, I would go back to my room and start messing with my artwork,” he comments. “I would whine to my wife that I didn’t want to be in banking for the rest of my life.”

Getting started

One day, Ann convinced him to take the day off from work and gather up his favorite cartoons.

He continues, “On a Friday, we packed 10 cartoons up and took them to the Western Horseman in Colorado Springs, Colo. There, I presented them, and they were really impressed. They bought all 10 of them for five dollars apiece. With that kind of ‘big’ money, I went home and on that Monday, I called in and said, ‘I quit.’”

From there, the series took off. As different publishers discovered his work, they would reach out to Palen to find out if they could include his cartoons in their publications as well.

One of the first publishers to contact him was Bob Larson, publisher and editor of the Wyoming Stockman-Farmer. When he asked about the name of the cartoon series, Palen said the first thing that popped into his mind.

“I had not even thought about it. That’s big-time stuff. The first thing that came to my mind was Stampede,” he explains, adding that he also came up with the names Elmo and Flo on the spot. “I still don’t know where that came from.”

The ranch wife

Flo, Palen says, was really the character that made Stampede so popular with rural people, and women in particular, all over the United States, Canada and the world.

“Flo shows the importance of women in agriculture. She’s not only the cook, the mother and the wife, she really runs the show. She keeps the books, and she keeps everything in line. I still think that’s true today,” states Palen.

Crediting his wife of 52 years as the inspiration for Flo, he advises anyone who runs a farm or ranch to marry someone smart, who can keep the books, find the right parts at the store during harvest time and change a tire.

“We, as a couple, have had a wonderful time with Stampede,” he says.

Family

The couple also has two sons. The youngest is a critical care doctor and professor at the University of Washington.

“He is married to another doctor, and they are proud parents of our grandson,” Palen comments.

His oldest son resides nearby as an attorney and rancher.

Palen says, “He has a beautiful attorney wife and a daughter. They don’t live too far from us, but this is Wyoming – a three-hour drive one-way is just down the road.”

Speaking of his sons, he adds, “We raised them on our working ranch outside of Cheyenne, where we initiated one of the first intensive grazing programs in the state, tripling our yearling heifer numbers and doing wonders for our pastures. We were very proud of our work and shared it with others.”

Now, Palen will be focused on spending more time with his family and working on art that doesn’t entail the tight deadlines of weekly cartoons.

“We have to close another chapter, Stampede, with Elmo, old Red the pickup, Damit the Dog and, of course, Flo,” he says. “For all of us in agriculture, it’s time we bow down to our tremendous partners – our loving wives, devoted partners and tire changers.”

Natasha Wheeler is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Kaycee – A crowd tripling by 10 the usual population of Kaycee was on hand June 19 to witness the unveiling of the tribute to cowboy and musician Chris LeDoux, and the proclamation by Governor Freudenthal naming June 19, 2010 as “Chris LeDoux Day” in Wyoming.
At the center of the tribute was a life-and-a-half sized bronze of LeDoux’s world championship ride on the bronc Stormy Weather, with a base composed of a replica of his favorite Guild guitar. The bronze, entitled “Good Ride Cowboy,” was created by Buffalo sculptor Mike Thomas, and now resides in Kaycee’s Chris LeDoux Memorial Park.
“When you’re Governor, there’s nothing better than having an ambassador like Chris LeDoux,” said Freudenthal in his address to the crowd. ”He personified what we love about the West, and what we’re so proud of in Wyoming. He wasn’t a drugstore cowboy. He knew what he was doing, and his music spoke from the heart. When you’re Governor and you’ve got that ambassador out there, someone proud to be from Wyoming, you can’t expect to have much better.”
“I envy people who have the capacity to take music and words and turn them into a message, because those messages will live on far longer than any speeches I or anybody else might give,” continued Freudenthal. “Chris LeDoux has a lifespan that will live on in and annals of America that none of us can match.”
Chris LeDoux’s manager and a Western Underground band member Mark Sissel shared a letter from Charlie Daniels with the crowd: “No matter how great Chris LeDoux’s musical star shined, he never forgot he was a cowboy. He walked like a cowboy, he talked like a cowboy, he was a cowboy. He never got away from it. Even on stage he’d jump on that mechanical bronc and show folks why he was a champion rodeo man. Chris was a friend, a man who rose to the top in two separate careers and left a rich legacy in both of them. It’s fitting this bronze tribute is life and a half size, because that was the heart of Chris. Long live the spirit of Chris LeDoux.”
Sissel went on to say, “I consider Chris LeDoux to be one of the greatest entertainers of our time. He was focused, determined and creative, all behind the big, broad, stoic cowboy veneer, powered by practical joke playing and the fun-loving heart of a kid.”
Of LeDoux’s songwriting and musical style, Sissel said, “I’d never met someone who described their music with such imagery, and had no concern about the technical aspects of music, only the strong desire to paint a picture in a song to tell a great story.”
“The same determination he used to ride bareback horses he threw into his music,” said Sissel of LeDoux’s contract with Capitol Records and touring thereafter. “Before we knew it, we were headed down the road with full-blown rodeo rock and roll.
“One night after a show, he asked me, ‘Why do you suppose all the people follow a raggedy cowboy around to these shows?’ And I told him they believed him, and his honesty, integrity, loyalty and trust. And he said, ‘Aw, shoot.’ He was successful in rodeo, successful in music, successful in life, and all without ego. In 16 years running down the road, I’m forever grateful for what he gave to all of us.”
“Chris and I started our rodeo careers about the same time,” said Stormy Weather owner Bobby Steiner of Austin, Texas. “We all knew each other before any of the winning started. Chris had just as much fun, and was just as happy, and was the same guy before as after. I never heard Chris gripe or complain the whole time I knew him, or say a bad word about anybody. He just pulled his hat down real tight and went about every ride like it was his last one.”
Steiner recalled that LeDoux had “unbelievable survival skills” early on in the leaner times of his rodeo career. “He could do more with 25 cents than the rest of us could do with $25,” said Steiner. “He pulled into a rodeo one time with just enough money for entry fees and the gas to get there, and no money to eat on. He pulled into a roadside diner, went up to the counter and got to talking with a nice waitress and asked if she could fix him up with crackers and a glass of water. She brought a tray of crackers out, and water. He asked if she’d bother to heat some water, and bring him a spoon. She brought him the hot water, and Chris dumped ketchup in and stirred it up. When he got to the rodeo, he said he didn’t know if he’d have made it over without the waitress, the bowl of crackers and the good hot bowl of tomato soup, and I don’t know that I remember talking to Chris about anything that he didn’t end it up with that great big grin.”
“Everybody loved Chris so much because he was such a great guy all the time,” said Steiner. “Chris was a great guy from the first time I met him to the last time I saw him, and there’s a lot of things that happened in between there. It could have changed him, but it didn’t.”
“I enjoyed going to work every day on this piece,” said sculptor and friend Mike Thomas. “Knowing Chris, he’s a little embarrassed, but proud just the same.”
“In every picture when he was riding a bronc, he was gritting his teeth the same way, and if anything scared me on this project, it was that,” said Thomas of the bronze. Of including the Guild guitar, Thomas said it was an afterthought. “Chris had a lot of loves, and I thought I could at least get two of them in the bronze. Then it was so large, it needed something around the sides, and I was listening to Chris that day, and the words ‘Beneath these Western skies’ came out, so I thought that was very fitting.”
“Naming the sculpture was really easy, because the Garth Brooks song ‘Good Ride Cowboy’ summed it all up,” said Thomas.
Christy Hemken is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..