TORRINGTON – “It’s never been about money or fame. It’s about the freedom to be close to the land and the nature of horses and cattle,” Joan, wife of Bruce Laird, wrote in his nomination letter to the Wyoming Cowboy Hall of Fame.
Laird, along with two other Goshen County men – Archie Johnson and Gary Walker –are among 47 individuals across the state to be inducted into the WCHF at the Casper Events Center on Sept. 22, during the first-ever Wyoming Cowboy & Cowgirl Legacy Week.
“I grew up in Goshen County, but not on a farm or a ranch,” Laird told the Telegram. “I cowboyed ‘cause I wanted to.”
He recalled his passion for ranch work and horses beginning when he was eight years old.
“The Newmans have a ranch up north, and when Blair and I were young, I used to help his dad drive the pairs up there,” Laird said. “That was like an adventure to me.”
He found work at the local sale barns, and began breaking horses for others at the age of 12, before becoming involved in rodeo – where he rode bulls and bareback horses.
“I got my RCA (now known as Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association) card in 1973, and rode bulls there for awhile,” he said.
In 1974, an accident in the arena left Laird with a horn puncture in his cheek, and while he recuperated in Goshen County, he met his wife, Joan.
“It was a God thing,” Joan said of the meeting.
“After I quit riding bulls, I went to shoeing school and learned to shoe horses, and then … decided I ‘d lots rather be on them than under them,” Laird said. “About that same time, it was the national horse craze of Ray Hunt (famed horse trainer). He was doing clinics, and there was a lot of interest in how he was doing things, and Joan and I got involved … that had a huge influence on our lives – I helped (Ray) put on three different sales, and then I worked for him … he was the best cowboy I’d ever seen.”
While Laird still trains horses, he’s also working full-time at Scotts Bluff County Feeders as a cowboy, does daywork “if I get a chance,” and helps with brandings.
“I didn’t ranch, but I dayworked here and there,” he said of his career. “If I was on a ranch, it was ‘cause I was hired to handle horses, but that didn’t mean I didn’t get in on the ranch work, and that made it fun because … I could kind of come and go as I pleased. I could get in on as much cattlework as I wanted to, or as much as they needed sometimes … usually when they called me to get into the cattlework, there was a wreck or something not going right.
“That’s come up quite a few times in my life,” Laird continued. “I was the guy that was supposed to show up to make sure things turned out right.”
In the nomination letter to the WCHF, Joan wrote extensively of Laird’s ability to think ahead, to anticipate exactly what the horse and the cow are going to do next, and act at the correct moment to ensure the task is completed safely and effectively.
“Bruce always surveys the situation to determine cause and effect,” she said. “He can see ahead for the shot that will cause him to come cleanly out of the rodear. He sees how the terrain can be used to his advantage to gather a herd of spoiled cattle. He can set up the branding pen so it flows. He can work efficiently to get the job done safely.
“Friends have counted on Bruce for 50-plus years to be by their side in the sorting alley, the branding pen, the round pen, the rodeo arena, and in rough or tame country,” she continued. “They appreciate his ability with horses and cattle as much as they appreciate the camaraderie they share. He may be on a colt with three rides or on a spoiled horse that’s scared of a rope, but if cattle need roped and doctored, he knows how to adjust to get the job done and how to do it with a smile.”
Laird’s outlook on cattle may have changed as he’s gotten older – “Now we look at the cows as a way of making a living, before they were really good to eat and really good to train colts with” – but his natural penchant for feel, timing, and balance stays constant.
“He uses that horsemanship with cowmanship, as a way of life,” Joan said. “Seeing a colt develop his talent with a relationship that can only be called a ‘dance’ between horse and rider is what draws Bruce. Add a cow to the mix, and Bruce can’t stop smiling. It’s a joy to see the childlike joy in his face.”
“When you get to that point, you are working in a deeper spot, fixing things up to come out the way you want to,” Laird said. “You’re adjusting to fit the situation, the ability to quickly think about what needs to happen. And timing – you can get an awful lot done with timing, with a horse and a cow, with feel and timing together you can get a whole lot more done. Balance is important, too.”
“It goes back to it being a lifestyle,” Joan wrote in the nomination letter. “It’s never been about money or fame. It’s about the freedom to be close to the land and the nature of horses and cattle. It’s about learning who God created you and your horse to be and enjoying living it with good friends who feel the same.”
WCHF nominations were accepted statewide during January and February. Regional committees in 10 different geographic sections of Wyoming sifted nominations from their areas and forwarded 75 to the state board for consideration this year, according to a press release. The 47 new selections will bring the WCHF Honoree total to 283 since the Premiere Induction in 2014.
In addition, this year WCHF members lobbied for and were successful in passing a bill creating an annual “Wyoming Cowboy and Cowgirl Legacy Week” the third calendar week of September. The law becomes effective July 1, 2019.
Formed for exclusively historical, cultural, literary and educational purposes, WCHF’s chief goal is “To preserve, promote, perpetuate, publish and document Wyoming’s rich working cowboy and ranching history through researching, profiling and honoring individuals who broke the first trails and introduced that culture to this state. WCHF plans to collect, display and preserve the stories, photos and artifacts of such individuals and anything else that will honor and highlight their contributions to our history.”
Look for future editions of the Telegram for articles on Laird’s fellow Goshen County WCHF inductees, Archie Johnson and Gary Walker.
“It’s definitely a lifestyle, that’s for sure,” Laird said of being a cowboy. “There’s just a lot of truth to it. There’s no phoniness.”