During our our little excursion out west, back in August and September of 2914, we drove over 2,000 miles and ambled through parts of Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. One of the most interesting stops was when Peggy and I spent two or three nights with our r-e-a-l-l-y long-time friend, Rhonda Sedgwick Stearns, at her lovely and comfortable loghouse on the prairie.
Yessire, bob. Welcome to the wide open spaces.
Entranceway to Rhonda’s place.
Three of Rhonda’s horses came up each day for some food and lovin’.
This is one of several books which Rhonda Sedgwick Stearns has written. This non-fiction book is her story of the life Keith W. Avery, who was a respected Western artist. In addition, he was a knowledgeable horseman, rodeo competitor and cowboy, not to mention his decades as a high school teacher.
Rhonda took us a few miles to the northeast of Newcastle to this fine restaurant. It is snuggled down in the canyons, the pine trees and the deer and the pronghorn antelope. You talk about rustlin’ up a really tasty steak. Oooo, weee! Thes folks presented me with one of the doggone tastiest steaks my ol’ lips ever wrapped around. Mighty nice steaks and might nice folks, too.
Here on July 20, 2015, I have added a link to a video I made of Bob the cowdog playing pool on top of the pool table. Alas, Bob is no longer a spring chicken so she, like many of us, is pretty stove up. Still, she (yes, Bob is a female cowdog) does the best she can at “Senior Citizen speed” and seems to enjoy it. I posted it on YouTube and here is the link:
Will Stearns was a no-nonse, straight-ahead cowboy when he married our little Rhonda. Together they worked hard to scrape out a living. They were both cowboys who loved the land, the livestock and the people of the area. While they always had their own place to work, they also hired out to other ranches to help their neighbors with the fall and spring roundups, the doctoring, branding and such. They were often in the saddle from before sunup until after dark, no matter whether it was blowing snow or raining so hard they had trouble getting through the mud and the runoffs.
Will died in March of 2013. He had requested a true cowboy funeral. So his friends and neighbors built a beautiful wood casket for him, put his body in it and transported it to an old cowboy cemetery southwest of their house. And they did so in a wooden, horse-drawn wagon. He was buried in a quite pasture a long way from the highway. We miss you Will, but we plan on seeing you at the Great Reuion one day.
Believe me, I have known a large number of very fine and generous and kind people in my 73+ years. Most of those names you wouldn’t even know. But some of them have been famous in business or politics, the movies or on TV shows, or in rodeos, or as talented authors and poets and valuable contributors to their own town and/or state. A select few ever achieve national prominence.
However, this was my very first time to go visit a friend who has done that. Though she is still traveling to speaking engagements, writing newspaper columns and cowboy poetry, she already has a monument erected at the park near the fairgrounds. Yep, that is none other than our friend Rhonda Sedgwick Stearns. She is quite a lady and is an influential witness for Christ no matter where she may be.
I don’t know who made the following statement, but it certainly does apply to Rhonda. I am proud to know her, not just as a great writer and cowboy poet, but as my sister in Jesus Christ. She, as always, has been an encouragement to both Peggy and to me. As the cowboys say of dependable and trusty pards in difficult circumstances, “She would do to ride the river with.”
Keith W. Avery,
by Stan Paregien Sr
Copyrighted July 10, 2015
Keith W. Avery was born on Dec. 3, 1921,
Over in Lansing, Michigan’s west side.
However, when he was nearly age three,
They moved to rural Lowell to long abide.
It was a magic place with large maple trees,
And plenty of places for a kids to hide.
His parents taught him early that laziness
And dishonesty they would not abide.
Well, Keith went to a school with eight classes
In a one-room school far from any town.
While he was smart and learned quickly,
Often he was bored and played the clown.
One day, while his female teacher spoke,
He was clowning around with a certain pal.
She stopped and asked what he was saying.
“None of your business,” he said to the gal.
Keith had never been sucker-punched ’til then.
She gave him a knuckle sandwich to his jaw.
That cured the class clown of his rude behavior,
And–worse–someone told his ma and his pa.
Funny how things turn out, ’cause he loved
That woman for teaching him about respect.
And she taught him some folks really care,
And so he learned a lot from being decked.
Now the ancient Hebrew language was written
And read from right to left, so we are told.
Maybe that’s why Keith W. Avery’s teacher
And mom came up with a reading plan so bold.
You see, young Keith had a phenomenal memory,
So rather than read he memorized and recited stuff.
But his 2nd grade teacher and his mother knew
His odd way of learning would never be enough.
So to wean him away from his unique behavior,
They made him read from right to left.
Now that was a doggone big challenge for the kid,
But at “reading backward” he was quite adept.
Yes, in a matter of months he had learned to read well,
Rather than to memorize, so he got up to speed.
But all the rest of his days folks thought him kinda odd
For starting at the back of any book he wanted to read.
By the time he was in high school in Lowell, Michigan
He had another . . . , well, big mouth he had to feed.
That was no small expense to provide room and board
To his hungry horse, even if it was a pretty steed.
That’s when, to afford his horse, he ran a paper route
Seven miles long, out there in the country, of course.
Keith earned enough money for his equine expenses,
But the best part was he ran the route on his horse.
When winter time in Michigan set in, that was a test.
He often returned home in the dark, ’bout half-froze.
He’d dismount and liven his feet by kicking the barn,
Then he’d scrape ice from his gloves and his nose.
Why, back in about 1950 he was at Bartlesville, Okla.,
Ranching for hire and riding bulls and broncs for fun.
It was the thrill of the ride that really had him hooked,
Not to mention getting a nice check when he was done.
At various times he was a horse trainer, breeder, judge,
Trader, showman and rodeo producer to boot.
If there was a horse somehow involved in an event,
Keith W. Avery was probably there, the horses to salute.
Avery did not begin college until he was 30 years old,
But he excelled at the University at Las Cruces, N.M.
Even while deep in studies, he cleaned out stables, and
Trained horses to help bring home the necessary dough.
Keith, with a few detours, became a high school teacher
Because it paid to support what he really like to do.
That was to read, write his poems and paint with his brush,
When he wasn’t riding a horse or cooking up a stew.
He had begun writing general poetry way back in 1942,
When of all things he was a sergeant in the U.S. Army.
In 1990 he wrote a book, Ridden Hard and Put Up Wet,
A self-illustrated collection of his own cowboy poetry.
In 1995 along came writer Rhonda Sedgwick Stearns
With Trails of a Wanderer: The Keith W. Avery Story.
An experienced rancher, horse woman and author,
Rhonda told his tale with insights only she could see.
Fact is, pards, Keith W. Avery was a solid citizen cowboy,
One who never partied, got drunk or even swore.
He just never bought into the popular myth that a person
Had to do those kinds of things or life would be a bore.
Avery was a multi-talented sort of renaissance man–
A rodeo star, a teacher, a poet, and businessman.
And he was of the old school regarding business ethics,
For he accepted a man’s word and the shake of his hand.
He liked to call himself a wide-eyed wanderer,
‘Cause he loved to travel far and even near.
Travel, for him, was both fun and enlightening,
So he wandered here and there with no fear.
But he was always more at peace with himself
When around horses and back country land.
So Keith Avery always had horses in his barn
And a paint brush or a writing pen in his hand.
He was on the board of many horse organizations,
But the American Paint Horse Association was best.
He dearly loved those paint and pinto breed horses,
Not that he had any less appreciation for the rest.
Sadly, Keith Avery in his last years lost his vision.
Macular degeneration ended his ability to paint.
Not only that, but he couldn’t see the horse colors
Or a sunset, but he suffered with great restraint.
So, my friends, the next time you’re out in the wild,
Think how this horseman followed his very own plan.
Raise a glass or a coffee cup toward the north star,
And salute Keith Avery, for he was a real good man.
Rhonda Sedgwick Stearns’ book, Trails of a Wanderer:
The Keith W. Avery Story was published by Guy Logsdon
Books in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1995 for The Cheff Center
For the Handicapped, Inc., in Battle Creek, Michigan.
Do you remember this ol’ cowhand from the Rio Grande?
Fred and Barbara McGinn, long-time friends of ours who live in Edmond, Oklahoma, two different summers have had us up to their large and comfortable cabin near Westcliffe, Colorado for a few days. That 5+ bedroom cabin is surrounded by tall pine trees and gorgeous birch trees. In 2014 we were joined there by other close friends–Tom and Sue Gooch and James and Glenda Cotton, all certified Edmondites.
There’s never a traffic snarl up there. Hardly any noise, unless you call the wind blowing through the trees a noise. We drink coffee and eat, go for walks, drink coffee and eat, drive around to see the deer and the other wildlife, drink coffee and eat, play cards and usually go to a Sunday non-denomination church service outdoor among the birch. Last year, Fred kindly arranged for me to do the preaching there for some 30 or so friendly folks. A deer actually saundered through the woods behind me as I spoke. That sunny Sunday morning it didn’t matter what our politics were like, what our occupations or ages were, what our bank accounts looked like or what denomination we normally met with. We were level at the cross. Believers from many different states and backgrounds. We had a fine service and then enjoyed a potluck meal together, all in a small clearning under a canoply of trees. Friends, it doesn’t get much better than that.
That evening, the eight of us drove to the north side of tiny Westcliffe to attend a, . . . well, a different kind of worship. We met with the friendly and enthusiastic ranch folk at the Westcliffe Cowboy Church. Their music was of the country-Western variety, with Christian lyrics layered over some well-known melodies and played by four or five talented musicians. We were all blessed by being there with them.
The cowboy church there is just a few years old, but they have a nice “Western-style” building filled with Western-style decoration. And get this: their several acres of land and buildings are their’s, not the bank’s. Their mission has been and is to reach the unchurched cowboys in the area. The preacher explained that they did not want to “steal sheep” from other congreations and haven’t. They are making a real impact in the lives of people in that area who are involved in the ranching industry or who simply love the cowboy lifestyle. Jeans, cowboy hats and boots are the order of the day.
As visitors, each of our couples was given a “Cowboy New Testament.” Here are some photos of this NIV version. Needless to say, I was just a “w-e-e bit” surprised to open it up and see the faces of two cowboys (and Christian singers) Peggy and I know. That was R.W. Hampton and Jeff Gore, really fine entertainers and excellent witnesses for the Lord.
Well, buckeroos and buckerettes, that’s all there is. There ain’t no more.
This marks the very last issue of my THE COWBOY WAY blog, barring some miracle of resurrection a long way down the road. Due to health issues and other considerations, I am consolidating this blog and my STAN’S PARADISE REPORT blog into my THE PAREGIEN JOURNAL blog, located at http://www.paregien.wordpress.com .Writing this blog has been a fun and a satisfying ride for me.
Also, I will continue publishing every two months to my new web site, STORYTELLING DIGEST (http://www.storytellingdigest.com).
I hope you’ll mosey over and take a look at the two which are left standing.
— Stan Paregien