Nearly three decades ago, when I first came into the high desert farm and ranch country that I now call my home, Jeff and his wife and partner, Tammy, were two of the first people I met. Together, they’re watching their legacy grow as their grandchildren continue the cowboy and buckaroo tradition as the fifth generation on one of southern Idaho’s great ranches.
Somehow, Jeff is quiet and unassuming, yet oddly intimidating all at the same time. He’s all cowboy, from a tough cowboying family, and he’s about as ranchy as they come. He knows horses, and he knows cows. He’s as tough as a frozen cow turd in January, and whether it’s holding the goat-tying horse for his granddaughter at a high school rodeo, working the arena for one of Tammy’s barrel horse clinics or dragging calves to the fire in the shadow of Mt. Harrison, he’s the same Jeff all the time. His dad was a cowboy’s cowboy, and his granddad was a savvy and influential member of the Idaho legislature way back in the day.
Tammy comes from one of the state’s great ag families and is a pretty fair hand herself. Not only can her keen eye for horseflesh and uncanny feel for speed identify a good barrel horse from two counties away, but she can still turn and burn around the cans with the best of them. She can turn a mediocre wannabe cow dog into a legitimate stock dog, and she dotes on her grandkids like they’re royalty. But perhaps her greatest talent of all is that she knows how to manage Jeff.
Tammy once famously said that she’s made it a habit to start every day with a prayer and an apology for whatever it is that Jeff may do or say that day. Ironically, Jeff’s penchant for keeping Tammy on constant alert is what has made him such a valuable friend and asset to me, as a storyteller and spinner of yarns. You see, if ever I find my mind in a prolonged state of writer’s block, I need only spend an hour or so with Jeff, and I have a bucketful of stories, some of which are fit for print in a family-friendly publication, such as the one you’re reading right now.
One of my most recent favorites has to do with Jeff’s foray into swine production in the days of his youth. Back when he was 11 or 12 years old, Jeff really, really, really wanted to catch the greased pig in the aptly named greased pig chase at the county fair. Although we no longer sponsor the event at our fair, I’ve been led to believe it once was a very popular event, to which Jeff will readily attest.
If Jeff is to be believed, he worked all summer long to make his dream become a reality. He got up early to finish his chores every morning. He did nothing to rile his parents. He ran, did daily push-ups, dug ditches and fixed fence, all with one single goal: to catch a pig. He even built a pen fit for a pig in the corner of the leppy corral, so sure was he that he’d be victorious come fair time. And, wouldn’t you know it, all his dreaming and working and bleeding and sweating paid off. Sure enough, he caught his greased pig at the county fair that August.
Jeff proudly took his newly acquired Yorkshire gilt home and turned it loose in the pen he’d built for just this occasion, secure in the knowledge that in short order, he’d become the best hog farmer in this stretch of the Gem State. His life plans were all coming together.
All was well in Jeff’s little hog haven for a few weeks. But as dreams sometimes do, things went south in a hurry. As the Indian summer slipped into the second week of October, Jeff came home from school one day to discover his entrepreneurial venture into the pork industry had taken a disastrous turn. As he traipsed up the long driveway from where the bus dropped him off, he could sense that something was afoot. As he approached the rail fence that lined the yard around the house, his heart jumped up into his throat. There, in all its glory, was Jeff’s entire pig herd, which still consisted of only a single white gilt, rooting around in his mother’s flower garden.
The damage was minimal but devastating. The one plant that Miss Piggy had most thoroughly destroyed was the one plant that was most off limits: the prickly pear cactus that Jeff’s dad had carefully and lovingly dug up and packed off South Mountain as a gift to his wife. Jeff rounded up his pig and mended the fence where she had escaped. His mom didn’t say much, but he couldn’t help but notice her eyes moisten as she tried to resurrect her cactus, the one that somehow seemed to bloom with the brightest pink flower every year. It sure was a good cactus, but even Jeff, at his tender age, knew the cactus would bloom no more.
So, Jeff’s days as a swineherd came to an end a couple of months later in the form of some dandy pork chops, spicy sausage and some of the best smoked bacon he’d ever tasted. Jeff readily admits it was probably for the best, and I have to concur. Were it otherwise, the cowboy world would perhaps be without one of its best, and I would be without a good story.