Friday, August 24, 2018

The Dude Was Born, and the Western Rockies Have Never Been the Same

On my way home from Lander, Wyoming, after a horrible start, so bad that I questioned the wisdom in flying out last week. My Southwest Airlines flight took off an hour and half late because someone got the emergency exit door stuck. My connection in Denver was a charter flight to Riverton, WY. Instructions were explicit. Pick up luggage from connecting flight, get to DenverAir ticket counter, check bag again (no later than one hour before departure), go through security, and be at gate no less than forty-five minutes before departure time. I had everything perfectly planned out, with a three-hour layover in Denver. With the hour and a half delay, I only had thirty minutes to do all of the above in Denver, no less! Do you know that airport? I was prepared to drive to Wyoming or fly back home. No more flights for the day to Riverton. On arrival in Denver, the passengers let me de-board first, the ticket counter called ahead to the charter, and I ran, like I haven’t run since 4th grade.

Unfortunately, California sent her smoke east. I never saw the famous Wind River Mountain range. With all this misfortune, the week was incredibly productive. I absolutely love research, and I was not disappointed with what I found at the Fremont County Pioneer Museum, including a newspaper photo of Sarah’s great-grandmother. The old jail register, beginning in 1885, also had surprises. Hank Boedeker, Butch Cassidy, and his sidekick Al Hainer were all three arrested within days of each other. Hank, arrested??? A district court arrest warrant, no less. Usually that was for selling liquor to the Indians or stealing horses. Yet, there he is again in 1894, this time deputy sheriff, escorting Butch to prison in Laramie. So many incredible finds, wonderful stories.

My hosts were members of the Boedeker family. Their ranch, atop a hill overlooking the Wind River Mountains, borders the North Fork of the Popo-Agie (po-po’ zhə) River. Moose, grizzlies, elk, deer, antelope, and mountain lions have wandered this ranch. I was able to get wonderful interviews and photo items significant to Hank Boedeker’s story. But this story is more than one man—it is a story of how the West changed. Not surprisingly, Hank knew Owen Wister, who wrote the Virginian, likely discussing trails with him. Characters and events in the book are loosely based on people and events around Lander and Dubois.

Wister revisited the Wind River Valley and mountains many times and intuitively knew that the raw country would not be able to stay the same once the rest of the world discovered it. Yet he was part of that change with his journals, stories, and Frederick Remington’s illustrations of his western travels.

On my final elevator ride downstairs in my hotel this morning, a tall Asian jumped in, decked out in mountain gear. He turned to me, smiled, and in accented words, asked, “Are you heading to Yellowstone today too?” The dude was born, and the western Rockies have never been the same.

“Some day, no doubt, when civilization crawls here, this poor creek with its canyon and natural bridges will echo with the howling of the summer mob, who will have easy paths made for them, and staircases, and elevators perhaps too. There will be signposts directing you to Minerva terrace, Calypso Garden, Siren Grotto, for every unfortunate ledge and point will be saddled with a baleful name rotten with inappropriateness.” 

Owen Wister, Warm Springs Canyon, Wyoming

Monday, August 20, 2018

The Best Part of a Story Is When It Changes

My mom died. It is a strange feeling being an orphan at my age. I am uncomfortable with the void I feel. I talked to her every day for the last twenty-three years. She had been diagnosed with lung cancer in January. Four months later, gone. One of my best fans, gone. Of course, I knew her condition was terminal. But I wasn't ready when she decided to let go.

Today I scrub gray gunk off the cabinet doors, light-switch plates, and door jambs in her house. Twenty-three years removed. It feels strange to wipe away my mother's fingerprint layers. Lysol cleaner is effectively erasing her physical evidence. 

A part of me wants nothing to change.  Do we rent my mother's house or sell it?  I wonder if this is what happens in other families. I am comforted in knowing my experience is not unique, though I feel it so. Fortunately, Mom leaves a legacy, including an autobiography. Though our lives are now altered, her story will endure.

My Little family effectively buried my uncle Frank Little, rudely murdered before he turned forty years old. I spent years uncovering his life, excavating family memories and stories, rare details in order for others to know him.  His death changed labor, and eventually he was provided a tombstone, marking his purpose in life. I compare him to my father, whose ashes disappeared after his second wife died. Even my memories of him are even getting vague. Dad’s life story will be gone within two generations.

I discover Death was the purveyor of change in Jane Street's life, the subject of my next book. Her life's direction veered West after losing her parents and became an early advocate for women.  Though Jane kept a filing system in which she journaled her thoughts almost every day of her life, another family member trashed it, deciding her words were of little value. Like Frank, I am digging to uncover Jane's life.

It’s the same in the Boedeker family. Too many untimely deaths, including Mary Bratek Boedeker, Bump’s wife. Mary died in an institution in Evanston, Wyoming, after she lost her mind to Huntington’s disease. I cannot find her photo. None of her descendants have offered her up. Was her life’s story buried? Mary was only 51 when she died, a year after her eldest daughter was killed. Did Mary know?

Catherine Boedeker was so beautiful, that if there had been a beauty contest, she would have won Miss Dubois—or so Don Ricks tells me. Four or five teenagers driving around, sober and sedate, her boyfriend at the wheel. He pulled off the highway, intending to turn around and go back to Dubois. A rear wheel slipped off the road, and the car did a slow roll down the bank. Though no one else was hurt, nineteen-year-old Catherine died instantly. I bury my thoughts in another family’s tragedy.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys

I email Bump Boedeker’s bronc image to Sarah. I hope the new discovery peaks her interest in her heritage. Cowboys may not impress her much; after all, she is a Wyoming girl where Steamboat is imprinted on everything except the state flag. (Steamboat is Wyoming’s ubiquitous bucking bronc logo.) And like my son, she attended the University of Wyoming, where she was a “cowboy.” I fondly recall the UW band playing Big and Rich’s “Ride a Cowboy” at a fall football game years ago. But it’s the old Waylon Jennings-Willie Nelson song, “Mothers, don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys” that fits Sarah perfectly. We even sneaked our grandson his first pair of boots. I wait to hear her reaction.

My Ancestry inquiries finally pay off! While most folks respond that they cannot help, one individual puts me in touch with Hank Boedeker’s grandson, the last living person to have actually known the man. Hallelujah! Introductions are now in order. Much to be done here.

I also receive John Foster’s giclée of “The Bronc.” I am delighted with it, and with the digital photo that originated the painting, I feel that I am closer to the Boedeker family, their story. Foster is a delightful man, wonderful artist, conscientious writer--and UFO believer. Besides viewing his lovely mountain-scapes, sculptures, and photographs, I spend time reading about alien encounters that began in the 1950s near, you guessed it, Dubois, Wyoming. He describes an event in Dubois during his summer break from the University of Nebraska below

"My friend and I finally landed jobs with the US Forest Service as fire guards. I was hired to be a member of “the trail crew,” clearing and improving trails in the deep wilderness with horses, and my friend was to be a fire guard and campground maintenance man using an old Dodge Fire Wagon truck. He was to stay at 'The Sheridan Creek Fire Guard Cabin,' a beautiful temporary cabin that sat 11 miles west of Dubois, near the spot where Sheridan Creek flowed into the Wind River. It was there where we experienced the most bizarre, important, historical UFO encounter of my life. It lasted from well before sunset until well after sunrise."

Got your attention? John has written books about these experiences, spoken to large audiences, and participated in UFO studies sponsored by prominent universities. John is now retired, having been in charge of ore extraction at a test uranium mine. He is definitely no crackpot. Having just read about UFO sightings near Nogal, NM, where we live part-time and having grown up hearing about the Roswell alien crash, I try to keep an open mind. John’s art may be viewed at His ufo studies and writings at

I check census records to see where Bump and Hank Boedeker were in 1930 and 1940. (The 1950 census has not come out yet). There Bump is with his wife Mary, living with Effie M. (Dot) and Perry Lewis on their ranch in Freemont County, WY, in 1930. Bump is working as a ranch laborer. This would have been the same time that the bronco photograph was taken in Pinedale.

By 1940, Dot’s family is renting in Lander, her husband working for the WPA. Bump and Mary, however, moved to Dubois as early as 1935. Bump has no regular job or reported income, five children to feed, and likely an ailing wife whose physical and mental debilitation is alarming and frightening. He is doing itinerant work, having worked part of March 1940. Like millions of others, the Great Depression changed the trajectory of the Boedeker families’ lives. Still, two more children would be born, including Sarah’s grandmother. Within seven years after the last birth, Mary Boedeker would be dead. I envision the tragedy settling into the ebb and flow of their daily lives. Still, my book will not be about this Boedeker family. I move on to Hank, Bump’s father.

Eighty-one-year-old Hank is still living in 1940, also in Dubois, renting a farm, with two children and his wife Maggie. No sign of him in 1930. These details provide a skeleton that will need to be fleshed out as I work backwards to Lawman Hank Boedeker and his legend.

One last observation from John Foster’s communications. He mentions being told that Bump Boedeker ran with Butch Cassidy’s son, who lived in Butch’s former cabin in Dubois. Foster reports Dot’s stories of how they were practical jokers, causing some excitement in the small community. Butch Cassidy had a son? This would have to be verified. One other detail, I record. “The cabin was about a quarter of a mile or a lot less to the west of the road that led up Horse Creek, approximately a quarter to half a mile away from town.” The Boedekers lived up Horse Creek.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Bump Boedeker, Ride "'Em, Cowboy!"

Taking care of a dying person is draining, but I can fend off depression by concentrating on the Boedeker family. This tack triggers another realization, adding guilt to my panoply of emotions. I realize that I am a voyeur, my mind's eye loupe is peering into their lives without permission. Should I tell Sarah?

I email every member who has a solid Boedeker tree, solid meaning having more documented information than I have. I might get lucky. Again, I surf the web, looking for anything on Bump Boedeker.

Then I see him, the subject of a painting entitled “The Bronc.” Mouth agape in exhilaration but right arm downward in virtual repose, Bump Boedeker sits snugly atop a contorted, bucking horse, strands of his woolies and scalp hair flung counter to the horse’s hard twist. As the painting’s artist John Foster explains, Bump’s wild bronco ride was captured on film in 1932 in Pinedale, Wyoming. By the late 1950s, Foster asserts, the photo was known in that area to be one “of the best dynamic photos of all time, showing a man breaking a bronc.” In Foster’s words, nobody handled a horse better than Bump Boedeker.

Foster also connects Boedeker Butte to Bump and his family, the landmark’s location as being several miles north of Dubois, just above Bog Lake. He claims Bump was the father of a deceased friend who was the cook on the Red Rock Ranch in Dubois, Wyoming, where the artist had worked breaking horses. Immediately I decide to contact Foster. I want a copy of the photograph and more importantly, information. A story is emerging.

I did it! I contacted John Foster. He was a teenager in 1957 when he learned how to wrangle horses at Red Rock Ranch. Besides room and board, he earned his living, breaking colts for trail rides. He wryly tells me he also had to break and train the dudes who arrived at the ranch for entertainment. Red Rock Ranch was a stopping place for tourists who traveled to Teton National Park or Yellowstone National Park when they weren’t riding older, savvy horses plodding along with their noses to the trail. So how did he happen to acquire a photo of Bump Boedeker, I want to know.

The deceased friend, a cook at Red Rock Ranch, was Dot Lewis. I recall this name on Ancestry. Dot wasn’t the daughter of Bump Boedeker—she was his sister, real name Effie Mae! The Boedeker family seems to have an affinity for nicknames. Foster mentions a Freddy, Dot’s son-in-law and a young WWII veteran, also working at Red Rock Ranch. Foster and Freddy Stevens became fast friends, and Foster acquired the photo directly from Freddy’s family.

I study the photo closely. A professional photographer had to have taken the action shot. Online I search other photos taken in Wyoming circa the 1930s. Rather quickly one name emerges—Charles Belden, famed Wyoming photographer. In Meeteetse, Wyoming, the Charles Belden Photography Museum features his works, many of which document daily life on the Pitchfork Ranch from about 1914 to the 1940s. I gaze at Belden’s photos, some quite similar to Bump Boedeker’s 1932 bronc ride in Pinedale, Wyoming, a circuitous 282-mile drive south from Meeteetse, circumventing the Wind River Indian Reservation. I decide to contact the museum, emailing the image.

In no time at all, the museum director sends me images of Belden’s mark and signature. Bump’s photo has no mark, and Belden typically signed the matting of photos he gave as gifts or sold. Could Foster’s unmatted photo be a Belden, I ask? Certainly, the director replies, but without a mark, the photo’s authenticity can not be proven. No matter. A handsome photo of Bump Boedeker exists, in an activity no one guessed.

Contacting John Foster again, I order a giclée of Bump Boedeker on his horse, beg for a copy of the original photo, and email questions about Bump and Hank Boedeker. How will Sarah feel, learning this new dimension to her great-grandfather? I wonder if I am making a mistake.

Researching Wyoming's Boedekers, Truth or Legend?

A famous quote best describes the written lore of Lawman Hank Boedeker: "When confronted with the truth or the legend, print the legend." Though not much is in print about Henry E. Boedeker, during the 1950s, campfire stories embellished tales of well-known past residents including Marshal Boedeker to impress visiting dudes at ranches across western Wyoming. Most specifically, he was reported to be more than an associate of Butch Cassidy's, whose own history is so thick with folklore, it takes a machete to cut through to the truth.​ Boedeker did escort an unmanacled Cassidy to Laramie's federal penitentiary. The exception to Hank Boedeker’s own apocrypha is a common narrative regarding a poster that the Winchester Repeating Arms Company distributed nationally in 1904, after its original presentation at the St. Louis World's Fair. That, and Hank Boedeker is my grandsons' third great-grandfather.

A few months ago, I needed to distract myself from thoughts about my mother’s terminal illness and all the stuff that comes along with the impending death of a loved one--in short, an abandon from autopiloting for the next day. As in the past, I found comfort lurking online with where I could wrap myself around others’ internet lives and the circumstances of their deaths with detached interest. As expected, worries about phone calls, groceries, and doctor appointments soon melted away, along with my reality. To augment the routine joys and tragedies of their digital lifetimes, I searched for all the “hints” Ancestry had posted on various family members in my tree, adding and updating pertinent information to various individuals’ “fact” pages. A mindless, analytical activity, at least for me. And then I shifted to Sarah’s family tree.

Sarah is my daughter-in-law, and like me, she was struggling with her mother’s imminent death. I was instantly ashamed of my pity-party. Sarah’s mom began her death-dance almost thirty years ago when she was diagnosed with Huntington’s Disease, or HD, at about the age of twenty. Most of Sarah’s childhood and adult life has revolved around her mother’s decline. Like me, she has detached herself as best she can from some realities, looking for daily joys in my two challenging grandsons. Sarah laughs at them.

Her detachment from her Boedeker ancestry (pronounced “bed-e-ker”) was primarily because the disease was introduced when her great-grandfather “Bump” Boedeker fell in love and married an immigrant girl from a Polish ghetto known for the disorder. It was not until 1993 that the HD heredity gene was identified. In mid-century Dubois, Wyoming, the Boedeker family had become alarmed and ashamed of the disease’s manifestation in family members, no doubt not understanding that they were procreating the disease’s reoccurrence through their progeny. In fact, as I looked at Sarah’s family tree, I was reminded that she had told me Bump became aimless after his wife Mary had to be institutionalized. He must have felt lost and confused, perhaps even condemned.

My interest began to peak as I filled in family-member facts on Sarah’s Ancestry tree. Then I switched to browsing the internet.

I searched Bump Boedeker, real name John Franklin Boedeker. The first hit was a blog written by Don M. Ricks called “Wyoming History Written in the First Person.” Ricks self-identified as both a historian and storyteller who grew up knowing the pioneers from the 1800s in Dubois, Wyoming. Specifically, he claimed to have known the Boedeker family. I became fully engaged, my misery evaporating, when I found a blog entry titled “Fecundity vs. The Boedecker Story” (July 10, 2016). Fecundity was not a word I have ever used: defined, it means “fertility or the production of new ideas.” Every idea would be new to me regarding the Boedekers.

Ricks believed a new street in 1950 was named Boedeker Street after Bump. Apparently Bump hauled the mail and freight from Riverton to Dubois five days a week for years. He drove for the Barnes Truck Company, and Ricks’ grandfather was Cordon Barnes’ partner. This did not sound like the story I heard. A street would not have been named after a freighter. Ricks’ mother lived with a fellow named Little Mike, a bartender, who likely would have known about Bump. Ricks had elaborated that Dubois was a two-bartender town, where Little Mike worked at the Rams Horn and a Big Mike tended bar at the Branding Iron.

Ricks even went to school with two of Bump’s daughters, Nancy and Barbara, and he had had a crush on the latter. I immediately went to my Ancestry tree and made certain this information matched. It did. So far, so good.

Ricks told of living in one of Mrs. Boedekers’ white tourist cabins and boarding at her table for several months. I wondered, which Mrs. Boedeker? He appeared to have an intimate relationship with this family, closer than even its grandchildren and great-grandchildren.The blog continued. Boedeker Street was not named after Bump Boedeker after all. The street was named after Hank Boedeker as was Boedeker Butte on the T-Cross Ranch. This must be the new idea, the fecundity part of the blog’s title, I surmised. I recalled that Sarah had, indeed, told me about a Boedeker ancestor who was a hunter, maybe even a trapper, and who owned a large property that had a mountain on it called Boedeker Mountain. He lost the property because he couldn’t pay the taxes or something like that. Perhaps a bereaved Bump Boedeker had lost interest.

Sarah told how this Boedeker left a photograph on the wall of the old cabin depicting him and his rifle with a mountain sheep he had killed. When the new owners, the Winchester family of firearms fame, saw the photo, they immediately turned it into a hunting poster, and Bump/Hank’s likeness became famous. Turns out the gun in the photo was a Winchester rifle. Where could I can get that poster? I once asked Sarah. She could only recall that her family had misplaced it long ago. When disease consumes a family like HD has done to this branch of the Boedekers, family heirlooms become trivial and irrelevant, and associated family stories bring pain and are best forgotten. My heart broke for the family who had lost touch with a beautiful western heritage.

Ricks continued his story, telling how Hank Boedeker arrived in Wyoming via Illinois and Nebraska in 1883, eventually settling in the Dubois area. As a family genealogist and new historian, I knew I would have to prove these revelations. I began by creating a timeline on Hank noting the source of each new fact and possible fiction. Next Ricks wrote, “Hank was a larger than life Wild West hero.” My heart began pounding. “As a lawman his historical apocrypha are enhanced because he shared the Wind River country with Butch Cassidy in the early 1890s.”

Here was a story, perhaps fiction, but if actually true, then perhaps I could redeem the Boedeker name for my daughter-in-law, even leave a legacy for my grandsons to be proud of. I was now hooked on the Boedeker family, and thoughts of what I needed to be doing for my mother’s care were not all-consuming. I needed this story.​​​

I quickly scanned the rest of Don M. Ricks’ blog on the Dubois, Wyoming, Boedekers. He provided titillating information, such as Hank was Lander, Wyoming’s town marshal. As such, he escorted Butch Cassidy to Fort Laramie to serve a prison sentence for stealing thirteen horses near Meteetsee. In another Ricks’ story, Hank Boedeker disarmed Butch Cassidy and his gang when they rode into town. These anecdotes would need sound investigation, research that I determined I would do. Would I find enough to warrant a book?

Ricks lamented that much of the information on Hank Boedeker was both true and suspect, dependent on “old first-person reminiscences who knew him and casually collected information full of misremembered details, melded events, and enhanced narratives.” Just the type of information I sought when investigating history! These anecdotes, full of faulty information, always have a seed of truth. Their telling brings color to the subject and gives way to begin honest research. The difference between Mr. Ricks and me, I surmised, is that I know how to ferret out the facts once I have the stories. I am an excellent researcher.

The exception to Hank Boedeker’s apocrypha is the common narrative regarding the poster that the Winchester Repeating Arms Company distributed nationally in 1904. Ricks even supplied a photo of the poster. There stands Hank Boedeker on the butte named in his honor, right hand firmly placed on his hip, in his left hand a Model 95 Winchester rifle with its butt and his left boot atop a “record” bighorn sheep. Hank Boedeker presents a formidable character, and, clearly, he and Bump Boedeker are not the same person.

​Then Ricks lost me. He next claimed that there were two unrelated Boedeker families in Dubois – Sarah’s great-grandfather, the freighter Bump, and the other Boedeker, Hank the lawman. Two Boedeker lines with no ties in a small Wyoming town? Impossible. Ricks spent a lengthy paragraph discussing anachronistic suppositions, and even he falls victim to dismissing the facts before his nose. He supplied erroneous information: Bump was a German immigrant who came to America following WWI, birth in 1908 and death in 1996. No way he could be Hank Boedeker’s son, Ricks asserts. Within this fog, Ricks still claimed to have known this family branch well.

I went back to my Ancestry tree. Our Bump Boedeker, my Sarah’s great-grandfather, was born 1899, in Lander, Wyoming, confirmed by ten sources, including his WWII selective registration card. Ricks also did not get Bump’s death correct. Ricks in his storytelling had unwittingly added incorrect information to the Boedeker story. Even more glaring was that Hank Boedeker, real name Henry Elmer Boedeker, was, indeed, Bump’s father.

Most disturbing in the blog was mention of an STD, discussion offered up by other Boedeker progeny, supposedly transmitted by a philandering Bump Boedeker, the freighter who spent much time out-of-town. Fortunately, Ricks noted that Bump should have slept in his own bed every night with the Riverton-Dubois trip being a short haul-- only eighty miles--and the salacious story illogical. Yet mention of the STD rumor bothered me. I knew it was a shadow-rumor of the genetically-transmitted disease, HD. Don Ricks and other Boedeker family members simply had no idea, Bump’s children had not discussed their mother’s illness, and some had not yet understood their own tragedies would unfold.

Don Ricks ended the blog with colorful memories of his Dubois childhood. Pictured were both Dubois bars, noting that Bump Boedeker delivered a new movie in Friday’s freight for Sunday-night viewing at the Rustic Pine Tavern. The entire town attended regardless of what film he delivered. The other bar, the old Branding Iron, had once been owned by Ricks’ great-grandfather. Built into a sandstone bluff in full view of Main Street, his cases of whiskey were safe from burglars. I could not wait to begin the real research about the Boedeker family. Despite some misinformation, gratitude swelled in my chest--someone had taken the time to record the Boedekers.