Laddie Smith: rancher, trailblazer, great-grandpa


Laramie Boomerang

LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) - In the organization’s second year, the Wyoming Cowboy Hall of Fame State Board chose Laramie resident Laddie Smith as one of three inductees for Albany County. With his 90th birthday on Dec. 12, Smith is the only surviving member of the group.

“I’m the only one left,” Smith said.

Smith said he doesn’t know for certain who nominated him for induction, but he appreciates it and considers it an honor. Considering he is a part of the first few inductees into the Cowboy Hall of Fame in the Cowboy State, Smith’s response is characteristically humble.

While receiving the award Sept. 27 at the Casper Event Center in Casper in front of an audience numbering around 1,200, Smith said he reflected on the things he’d done in the last 89 years.

“It just makes you reflect on the life you’ve lived in the past,” he said. “I haven’t done a lot, but I’m proud of whatever I have done.”

Smith said he’s “done a few things,” but in his near century-long life, he’s been busy.

Born in the Sandhills town of Lakeside, Nebraska, Smith was destined to be a rancher. His family owned a ranch in Nebraska, where they lived until moving to Wyoming, where his father was from.

“His roots led him back here, I guess,” Smith said.

Smith went to high school in the town of Brewster, Nebraska, which he jokingly said is ``just a wide spot in the road.’’ While there, he met the love of his life, Lilas Turner. They spent 71 years together until she passed away in June, just a few weeks shy of their Aug. 4 wedding anniversary.

With a cattle ranch on the Laramie River, Smith and his family would drive cattle every spring and fall from their land “right down the hill” from Harmony to Centennial. Laddie and Lilas would raise two boys and five girls together. Much like he did growing up, Smith said the children pitched in around the ranch. Today, Smith has more than 20 grandchildren and more than 20 great-grandchildren.

“I have a lot of relations,” he said.

After 40 years on the ranch, Smith sold out and came to Laramie, because, he said, he “had to go some place.” Though he was retirement age at the time, he chose to work at C&A Pet & Livestock Supply for another 20 years. During that time, he said he made friends with people around the county. Smith delivered feed to families, which yielded perks to the job.

“I liked just visiting people, but there were a lot of good meals, too,” Smith said with a laugh. “A lot of pie, ice cream cake and coffee.”

In addition to his home life, Smith had his share of adventures.

In 1979, he joined eight other men in a 1,920-mile trip by horseback in the annual National Pony Express Association Commemorative Ride. Beginning in St. Joseph, Missouri, the riders spent 31 days on their horses covering an average of around 60 miles each day until reaching Sacramento, California. Of the nine, only seven would complete the trip. Smith was not sure if he would be able to do it, but said in the end, he “got along real good.”

“It was an honor to do that,” Smith said. “You see a lot of things a lot of people won’t see.”

Smith describes himself as “sort of an old trail nut” who always admired the adventurous trailblazing of explorers such as Lewis and Clark. The fascination led him and his oldest son, Grady, to buy a boat and take a trip down the Missouri river, recreating a Lewis and Clark route.

“That was quite an experience,” he said. “Neither one of us had been in water any deeper than a bathtub.”

On both the Pony Express Re-run and the Lewis and Clark route trip on the Missouri River, Smith said he reflected on two things: first, how difficult it must have been for the people that traveled the path before him, and second, what has not changed in the untouched lands of rural states. The realization that parts of the Utah desert or the campsites along the Missouri River were largely the same as when the predecessors whose journeys he sought to recreate traveled them fascinated Smith.

Aside from the unchanged parts of the world he encountered on his journey, much has changed in the world since his earliest memories, Smith said.

“Golly, if you want a drink of water you go to the faucet, or if you want to turn on a light you flip a switch and if you want to turn up the heat, you turn up the heat,” Smith said. “Years and years ago, you burned cow chips, hay and wood, and that’s about it.”

Growing up in the dust bowl era, Smith came from a time when many people were living in poverty.

“It sure does make you wonder how we got through it,” he said. “We was happy. We didn’t know any better, I guess.”

One thing that has not changed through time is Smith’s love for raising American quarter horses. Though he sold most of his broodmares and colts when he sold the ranch, Smith still has three horses. Several received distinctions and won championships, including ``the best horse (he) ever raised,’’ Lads Miss Cimmaron. Smith said he enjoys the horses’ personalities, their appearance and going riding, though he hasn’t been on a horse in two years.

Though some of his family members relocated, many still live in Laramie. He said he considers his family the greatest blessing of his life.

“I have the best family anybody could ask for,” he said. “Now, in these later years, they are taking care of me. I don’t know what I’d do without them.”

“That’s how it’s supposed to be, Grandpa,” said his granddaughter, Amy Smith.

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