From Wildsam Travel Fellow, Kristen Blanton: I met Tom Abernathy at his ranch, 30 miles outside of Lander, Wyoming on a Thursday at ten in the morning. I had to call a second time for directions as the little scrap I scribbled the turns and road names on had disappeared in the car. Millie answered and graciously dictated detailed directions to their home. When I arrived, Tom greeted me at the entrance, dogs and chickens at his feet. “You drive fast,” he said.
In His Own Words
Tom Abernathy, rancher
Dad worked for U.S. Steel and ranched on the side. He moved to Lander in 1962.
He built four or five ranches up in his lifetime. Our family is still running most of them.
I learned to milk a cow at nine. At thirteen I could work all of our haying machinery.
You didn’t dare eat beef. You could sell those.
We lived on elk meat.
The first roundup I ever cooked on was the Mackintosh, fall of 1974. They were gathering the cattle on 500 thousand acres. Pay was $25/day.
You hang the beef out on meat racks at night, and then put it in a meat sack and wrap it up in tarps during the day. It would stay just as cold to the touch, perfect aging because it was never froze. Grass fed. Melts in your mouth.
I built my own cow herd by raising bum cows from all the neighbors. I’d raise one, take one and usually I kept the heifer calf. That’s how I did it.
You can’t make a living on 100 head anymore.
All those years we didn’t hardly speak. If we did dad and I just growled at each other.
It’s a great life. I haven’t found a knack for getting rich yet.
I went home that night the first time I met Millie and I said, “Well I’ll never hear from her again.” She went home and looked in the mirror and said, “I’m gonna marry that man.”
The wide-open space, the fresh air, different seasons, and lack of people. I love it here.
One time I told my dad, “Those people have no range etiquette,” and he said, “Only you would even think about range etiquette.”
I've only missed one year of milking a cow. It was when I went to college for a semester.
My best horse is really falling apart.
I’d say the highlight of my life has been the old timers. There’s a lot of old characters and then the stories they’d tell about the old timers of their generation before them you know. Like going out on the Grand Roundup. You’d hear the same story every year for 20 years. They’re engrained in your head.
You know, the generation or two before me, my grandparents, saw the horse and buggy days to the jets to the rockets to the whatever. It’s changed so much since I’ve been out here in 42 years.
As the old timers start dying off, all the stories die off with them.