She Walked Beside the Wagon

Pictured Above: Lizzie Kate Longstreet (Hunter)Rich and Frank Rich
Guardian angels. I believe we all have one. And currently mine is looking down on me with rolled eyes, and her head shaking saying, “Heather, the good Lord thinks this would be a grand day for you to finally get your s*** together.” (I’m sure she’s cussed a time or two in her day, or I wouldn’t be feeling so kindred).

I believe 5′ tall Lizzie  Kate Longstreet (Hunter) Rich, my great, great grandmother, with her dark, raven hair is my guardian angel. Here’s why…

The stories of Grandma Lizzie have always intrigued me. She came west with her family on an oxen train in 1864 from Missouri, and settled in Montana, where she met her husband, Frank Rich. It was always said Lizzie was a crack shot and a helluva horsewoman, breaking her last colt at age 76 while riding side saddle.

 One of the stories my grandpa C.B. used to tell was of a feisty pony that kept bucking him off and running back to the barn leaving him afoot. He said Grandma Lizzie had had enough of the ornery pony and told him to go saddle him up because she was taking him berry picking that day. Well, the day went on, and Grandma Lizzie was nowhere to be found until later that evening.  When she returned, her basket was plum full of berries and the pony was worked over in a lather. Whatever transpired while berry-picking later caught up with the poor cuss, as it met its demise that night in the barn. She’d literally ridden him in the ground. Grandpa always said, he never crossed Grandma Lizzie and that story was proof why. 

Whether it was the lifestyle, or her raising, or a combination of consequences, Grandma Lizzie always seemed like the toughest lady, and in that strength of character, from listening to timeless story after story, I found something as a young woman I could grasp onto. 

I often listen to music, usually of the country variety, and I once came across a song sung by Lorrie Morgan called “She Walked Beside the Wagon”. I was fresh out on my own and unsure of everything. There I was, navigating life to the best of my ability, and struggling with decisions and choices, and now faced with raising a child. I felt lost, worried, and alone. I really had no inkling of where to go in life when I heard this song. It goes…

“She felt the cold and dreary wind chill her to the bone. Through the Oklahoma dust before there was a road. Determination on her face and aching in her feet. With all hope gone, she still walked on, into history. She walked beside the wagon, and she held her head up high. If she walked beside the wagon, so can I. So can I.”

This song brought Grandma Lizzie to life for me. I could picture her struggling and working hard to raise a family in the wilds of untamed Montana. And I could feel her blood pulsing through my veins and her picking me up and saying to me, “Keep a going, girl. A little hard work never did a body harm.” Knowing I had to be strong, I let her presence settle in my soul. And I’ve kept her tucked away to draw strength from on occasion, then and now.  Because if she could walk beside the wagon, so could I.

Strength. We all have it. I see it in women everywhere. I saw it in my Grandma Helen raising a family full of love, and loving one man her whole life, waiting out a war a half a world away for him to come home safely. I’ve seen it in my own mama nursing my brother during leukemia, and still finding it in herself to selflessly give of her time and love to the rest of us. I’ve seen that woman hit the ground hard off a wily colt and get back on the son of a gun for another go round.  I see it in girlfriends, my sister, my cousins, and most recently, my Aunt Sharon, who just lost her childhood love and husband this last fall. The grace with which she pushes on is nothing short of amazing.  And I see it in my own daughter, Kiley, as she now finds her way. 

Ladies, we’ve got this. We’re made of tough stuff. Because if she walked beside the wagon, we can too. No words ring truer for me. Grandma Lizzie, wherever you are, thank you for reminding me to always pull myself up by the bootstraps and to carry on. Because we all have this one life to live. It’s up to us to live it well, no matter how tough it gets. And that is a beautiful thing. 

Happy Trails~


Heather 

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A Story Worth Tellin’

The following post is dedicated to and written for the Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame.

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“The idea is not to live forever. It is to create something that will.” ~Andy Worhol

As I was driving home yesterday, we passed our neighbor’s teams of black percherons standing together in the corral.  It was said to me, “that is something I could never get into or find the fun in.”  And I thought about that, and it hit me hard how much the world has changed into a fast and so-called improved pace of life.  And I slowed down, and I smiled to myself thinking, “I could.”

I hear it often. The “I don’t get it. I don’t understand why you hitch a team to feed cows when you have a perfectly good motorized vehicle at your disposal?  Why don’t you use a 4-wheeler instead of that cold-backed colt to night check those heifers? Who cares about seeing the Bob Marshall Wilderness from the back of a horse leading a string of mules?  What is the point of climbing on that bronc just to hit the dirt short of eight seconds?  I don’t get your ways.”

Here’s my answer to that…

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I say iron sharpens iron.  Sociologists may label the cowboy’s choices a lifestyle.  Psychologists may see it as obsessive to worry over critters and hay crops and good horses.  Economists just say it’s damn pointless to throw your money and effort after foolishness.  But as for the cowboy, well, he just calls it living.

What you get out of life is just what you put into it.  And the benefits of being a cowboy, well, words don’t suffice.  It’s a life well lived and even harder earned, but it’s tradition and knowledge and heritage. It’s a legacy made of generations of hard living, hard working men and women before that carved a life out of the coulees and mountains and sagebrush seas.  It’s fixing old, worn saddles and harness, not buying new.  It’s the satisfaction of a well-aimed heel loop on a wily calf to drag them to the branding fire. It’s knowing that young colt is gonna test your mettle, but if you gentle him right, you’ve got a good dancing partner. It’s knowing nothing is going to be handed down to you on a silver platter, and you wouldn’t want it to be anyway.  Because the grit in your gut and the try in your soul is what makes the man.

It’s honoring traditions, and taking time to listen to the old men that talk about the days of long ago.  It’s considering yourself lucky to look out over a herd of well-matched and bred angus in the heat of summer grazing. It’s blazing new backcountry trails on a fine mountain pony.  It’s helping your neighbor come branding time whether the cooking is any good or not.  It’s teaching the younger generation the meaning of a little hard work while getting dirt under their fingernails; it’s responsibility and knowing their roots. It’s about having a story worth telling at the end of the day.  It’s a legacy.

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So, I believe in the old cowboy ways.  The things a cowboy has are simple. It’s work ethic, appreciation for land, good stock, a hard-working partner, and good neighbors.  These traditions deserve to be preserved and honored.  Take the time to visit with an old cowboy or cowgirl. Look around at this Big Sky country with its Charlie Russell sunsets, and be grateful for the cowboy, the Native American, and the land that made them. Is your story worth tellin’?



Happy Trails,

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Heather