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It was always an adventure in the mountains, on the E.O. Bischoff Ranch in the Bighorns of northern Wyoming, where for 20 years I spent two weeks each summer riding and moving cows, a break from my job as a biology professor from Boston.  

The trip to the ranch began with a stop at the Diamond J Bar in Lovell – not to drink but to pick up ice for the half dozen or so coolers we packed in on the pickup or trailer – and to pick up beer. The Diamond J was owned by one of the Bischoffs, and there was an outdoor window for drive-ins where we’d stop, and the bartender would hand us buckets of ice, which we’d dump into the coolers.  

One year, I was getting the ice while John Nation, my guide and friend, was off getting the horses loaded in the trailer. While I was parked at the drive-in window of the Diamond J, there was a sudden hailstorm. It lasted about half an hour, and the ground and roads nearby were covered with hail afterwards. I sat out the storm in the cab of the pickup, then drove to meet John at the trailhead.  

We unloaded the horses to ride in. The gear and supplies had been driven in previously. The ride took several hours and took us up a dugway that I had been through several times before, only this time, all along either side of the trail there were huge trees that had been ripped out of the ground and were lying flat, the result of a tornado that we learned had blown through here an hour ago while I was waiting in the cab at the Diamond J. Had I not been delayed by the hailstorm, John and I might have been riding in that very place when the tornado touched down.  

On another trip into the mountains, John and I were hauling a long horse trailer. We were fairly high up, and the pickup truck started smoking under the hood. A radiator hose was broken or leaked, and the radiator was out of water. Fortunately, there was water nearby – a drinking hole for cows about a quarter mile away. John unloaded one of the horses, I mounted. He looked through the hodge-podge of “stuff” always kicking around in the back seat, and sometimes front seat, of the pickup – empty coffee cups, a pliers, a small empty gas can, shoeing equipment, half a box of shoeing nails, an old jacket, another old jacket, two unmatched gloves, a wrench, a ranch rope, empty soda cans, empty beer cans, metal parts to something, a tool box, chinks, a broken rein, more gloves and objects I didn’t recognize, and found a couple of empty plastic jugs which he handed me. We did have several horses in the trailer, so John could have ridden as well, but we only had the two jugs – or he stopped looking. And I was out there to ride, so ride I did. 

Off I went to the drinking hole, dismounted, filled the jugs, then had to figure out how to get back up on my horse while holding two full jugs of water with no caps. It was one of those “I don’t know how to do it, but I have to” situations, and now it’s one of those “I don’t remember how I did it, but I did” memories. After a dozen of these trips, the radiator was filled, we loaded up my horse, drove to the ranch, and there the radiator hose was fixed.  

Over the years, I met many folks in the mountains – members of three generations of the Bischoff family, their friends who would come in to visit or help with the cattle and “strangers” riding four-wheelers through the country, though I was probably more the stranger to them.  

Mostly, I never talked about my job as a biology professor. I was more interested in hearing about their lives, their work and their fun. Once, a fellow asked me what I did, and when I told him my job, he said, “You must be smart.”

I believe that are lots of kinds of “smart.” Folks I met out West can live off the land. I can’t.  They can doctor a cow and shoe a horse. I can’t. I met a guy who ran an oil rig most of his life. It was fascinating talking to him about his work. Folks there can skin a bear, build dams, irrigate the land, grow crops, help birth a foal, fix a tractor, build a cabin or an outhouse and fix fences. I suppose I could handle the outhouse, and I’ve learned how to fix fence but not the rest. There’s the “smart” of getting the most out of the folks who work for you and the “smart” of getting along with people.  

 

Make sure you save the ham bone from your Easter ham, and you will be all ready for a super easy and healthy meal.  There’s so much flavor from that ham bone, and if you leave a little meat on the bone, it makes this meal even better. This could not have been easier. With just four ingredients, the slow cooker did wonders towards a hearty, no-stress meal.

SLOW COOKER BLACK BEANS 

1 pound dried black beans, rinsed and picked through

1 32-ounce box chicken broth

1 ham bone

1 teaspoon salt

Add black beans, chicken broth and ham bone into a crockpot. Cover and cook on low for 8 to 10 hours. You can stir the beans about half way through, if possible. 

When beans are tender, stir in salt and place slow cooker on warm until ready to serve.

 

When I bake sweet rolls, they are generally of the cinnamon variety.  I wanted to make something different, and I have been craving citrus goodies, so lemon it is! The whole family loved these sweet rolls, and I think you will, too.

LEMON SWEET ROLLS 

For the Rolls

1 1/4 cup warm water

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup Light Olive Oil

1 package yeast 

1 egg

4 cups all purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons butter

1/4 cup sugar

zest of 2 lemons

For Glaze

4 ounces softened cream cheese

1 cup powdered sugar

6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

In a large mixing bowl add warm water, sugar, oil and yeast. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Set aside about 5 minutes.

Add egg and stir together. Add 2 cups of flour and stir together. Add salt and one more cup of flour and mix well. Add another 1/4 to 1/2 cup of flour until dough pulls away from bowl.

Pour onto a well-floured surface and knead 5 minutes, adding additional flour as needed.

Place in a well-oiled bowl and cover with a damp tea towel. Set aside to rise 30 minutes to 1 hour until dough has doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Punch dough down to remove any air bubbles. Place on a well-floured surface and roll into about a 9x12 inch rectangle.

Spread with butter and sprinkle with 1/4 cup sugar. Sprinkle with lemon zest. Roll up from the long side, as tight as you can. Pinch the seam to seal.

Cut into 1 to 2 inch slices and place in a well-greased baking dish. Cover and allow to rise 15 to 30 minutes.

Bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown.

Mix glaze together and drizzle over sweet rolls.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Milisa Armstrong lives on a cattle ranch in Hugo, Okla. where she cooks, writes and raises a family. Visit her blog at missinthekitchen.com for more recipes.

Elwood Blues may be the best-known Elwood out there. However, Elwood Mead may be the most important to us in Wyoming. 

If our present Governor is related to Elwood, I haven’t found the link. Elwood lived from January 1858 through January 1936. In a time when many rarely left the county they were born in, Elwood got around. He was born in Indiana, earned a B.S. from Purdue 1882 and received a doctorate from Iowa State College in Civil Engineering a year later. Then, in 1883 he moved to teach math at Colorado College of Agriculture, today’s CSU. 

Being close to Wyoming, he got involved in politics, and in 1888 he became the first territorial/state engineer for Wyoming. He also took on the responsibility of not only drafting our water laws but those of Colorado, as well. I can’t help but wonder at the influences that ended up creating two very different standards. 

In 1907 he moved on to Australia and became chairman of the water management for the state of Victoria. Returning in 1911 to California, he became a professor at the University of California. 

In 1924 he was appointed chairman of the Bureau of Reclamation under President Calvin Coolidge. He made two trips to Palestine to assist in designing a still-working irrigation system. While at the Bureau of Reclamation he over saw the development of all the major irrigation systems in our West and the dams that feed them – the Hoover, Grand Coulee and Owyhee Dams. Lake Mead, above Hoover Dam, was eventually named in honor of Elwood.

This very special man had the ability to see that Wyoming was at the head of every major watershed west of the Mississippi and that the downstream demands would be enormous. His answer to a future rife with deals to siphon off the water originating in Wyoming was to attach the water rights to the land. With a small population and an often-absentee ownership, Wyoming was vulnerable to those downstream demands that might otherwise overwhelm a system of landowner approval for water distribution. 

Parts of Colorado are a great example of what not to do. South of Limon on Highway 71 near Punkin Center and down around Ordway and Rocky Ford you can see prosperous farms with fine crops of onions and other vegetables, as well as hay and dairy pastures. At one time, this area was sugar beet central. Interspersed among the bright green farms are the skeletons of equally prosperous farms that, for various reasons, fell to the seduction of one-time money from the municipalities of Colorado Springs and Pueblo. There is no water in the Arkansas River or the Colorado Canal to revive these dry, dustbin stretches of once-abundant land. It has been sold off. 

Downstream from Wyoming, the thirst is still there. Nevada, particularly Las Vegas, Arizona and southern California, all with armies of lawyers with checkbooks, are looking at the Green River. How many dollars has Nebraska spent trying to tie up Platte River water? All the managing agencies and states on the Missouri River keep a close eye on Wyoming and its water. There are schemes to shift Little Snake water to Denver. The Belle Fourche and the Little Missouri have been in the news lately. And thanks to Elwood Mead, this flowing lifeblood that allows agriculture to endure in Wyoming has legal protection for all of us by being attached to the land. Elwood may not have lived here much, but he is truly a Wyoming hero.

     As I sit to write this column, it’s hard to believe I have been a part of the Roundup family for a year now. As cliché as it sounds, the year has truly flown by, and I have been amazed time and time again by the willingness of the Wyoming agricultural community to welcome me here with open arms.

As somewhat of a nerd, I’ll admit that I love keeping up with the new advances in agriculture, veterinary medicine and current events, which is, in part, why I love my job. You mean I get paid to continually learn about everything from chemigation to tax reform and don’t have to take an exam? Sign me up!

These advances are an integral part of the agricultural industry throughout Wyoming and the nation. Arguably, a nation cannot thrive or even be independent without the assets of sustainable agriculture.

As Allan Savory, a biologist and grasslands specialist from Rhodesia, stated, “Agriculture is not crop production as popular belief holds – it’s the production of food and fiber from the world’s land and waters. Without agriculture, it is not possible to have a city, stock market, banks, university, church or army. Agriculture is the foundation of civilization and any stable economy.”

However, what truly is the backbone of Wyoming agriculture is the unchanging and unquenchable spirit of the West that is exemplified in each person I’ve met in my time here. Learning more about and being welcomed into the lives of those individuals who work on the front lines to provide our nation with food, fiber and fuel is by far the most rewarding part of working at the Roundup.

Thomas Jefferson aptly said, “Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous and they are tied to their country and wedded to its liberty and interests by the most lasting bands.”

In addition to being a nerd, I’ll also confess to having some romantic leanings sometimes. The words of others are more than simple articulation. They are the speaker’s memories, values, pain, joy, hopes and dreams. Spoken words reminisce the romance of the past and imagine the possibilities of the future. They have the power to ground our minds while also giving wings to our hearts.

Through my job here, I’m incredibly blessed that I have been allowed to chronicle those words that speak to my soul. They come from ordinary people I’ve met – those that will probably not be remembered in history books – and oftentimes while in humble locations like the family kitchen or driving in an old work truck.

Whether eloquently spoken or simply stated, the power behind, emotion in and inflection on their words is profound. These individual’s lives and stories are what continue to shape our future and embody the spirit of the West.

I am truly humbled to be permitted to partake in your life stories and share them with others. As my family and I continue building our lives rooted here in Wyoming agriculture, I look forward to the privilege of not only sharing valuable information with our readers, but learning more from each of you, as well. Thank you for sharing your lives and your stories with us.