Sheridan, Wyo., is set in authentic old West ranching country. Born and raised there, I was the oldest boy of seven children. To make it easier to care for a large family, my mother turned me loose at 6. I worked for three summers as a chore boy on the Banner ranch, feeding chickens, cleaning coops, and carrying buckets of water from the creek.
I was taught not to “slack off.” I started working at 9 for two summers at the Curley Wetzel ranch close to Big Horn, Wyo. Curley was a world champion calf roper who taught me to rope, push wire on a five-man bailer and keep my Irish blarney.
Now, a hardened ranch hand at 11, I hired out to the Murphy Land and Cattle Co. in Busby, Mont., 90 miles from Sheridan. On this isolated piece of hot ground just above Custer’s Last Stand, I became an experienced hay raker, driving an old Alice Chalmers tractor. There, I set about being my own person, independent, becoming a man.
Starting at age 14 and for the next five summers, I worked at the Beckton Stock Farm not far from Sheridan, in the foothills of the majestic Big Horn Mountains and the Foundation herd of Red Angus cattle. I hired out as a straw boss, running a seven-hand hay crew, picking bales from the fields, throwing them onto a “slip” and pulling them to the stack with an old Oliver Cletrac. Here, I started to learn blacksmithing, a fundamental creative art that lasted a lifetime.
At 19, I wanted to be a politician. As the president of the Wyoming Young Democrats, I introduced Ted Kennedy at a rally in Cheyenne. I stood on the stage and thundered, “I now introduce the brother of the next president of the United States.” This bellicose announcement was followed by silence. I forgot his name!
Sitting behind me on the stage was Wyoming representative Tino Rancallio. He whispered, “Danny, Danny, Ted Kennedy.”
I bellowed, “Ted Kennedy.”
From there I knew I could not be a politician. Later, around the ’80s in Carson City, after having forgotten a trillion words, most at the wrong time, a psychiatrist friend gave me a series of tests. He said, “You have anomic and alexic aphasia with a severe attention deficit disorder.” Yet I drew upon my experiences on the ranches, high school and college football, and parental support, refusing to let this anomaly interrupt my progress. It did explain why most of my college examinations were taken orally.
Advancing from the liberal thoughts of my father to conservative thought, helped me gain some insight into the subtleties of the astounding differences between these two highly charged and seldom-convergent belief systems emanating from good people on both sides of the paradigm.
I write from a fundamental Western value system, i.e., individual responsibility for individual behavior, not group responsibility for individual behavior, and about overcoming travails aggressively, honestly and not backing down from enlightened confrontation.
Dan Mooney, a 40-year Carson City resident, may be reached at Nevada4@aol.com.