Still Smiling: 94-year-old cowboy loving ranch life

Sitting in a wheelchair by his wood stove at his cabin on Gilt Edge Stage, 94-year-old Eldon Snyder reads Louis L’amour’s “The Riders of High Rock,” entering the world of Hopalong Cassidy.
“I’ve read a lot of books since I quit riding two years ago,” he said. “That’s one of the main things I do: sit around and read…but I did a lot of riding up to this point.”
The middle of 11 children from Mount Trumbull, Arizona, Snyder has spent his whole life riding and ranching, A former professional saddle bronc rider and 2015 inductee into the Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame, he is a legend to many, revered around the state as one of the true cowboys of the West.
But you wouldn’t know it by speaking to him. Calm and reserved, Snyder keeps to himself, reading his books and only stepping outside to feed his horse, JJ Bars.
On his way back into his cabin from visiting JJ, he often takes a look out at the Judith Mountains and smiles, proud to call this area home.
“I love Central Montana,” he said. “I’ve traveled all over the U.S., Canada and Mexico, and there is nothing I like better than right here. I knew that the first time I stopped through in 1948. That’s when I met Julia Jackson. “
At this time, Snyder said he was “getting to the top” of the rodeo circuit.
“I was winning pretty regularly,” he said. “I figured I could ride any horse that came my way. I never found one I couldn’t, and I rode a lot of bucking horses. For a while I was doing 30-40 rodeos a year.”
His last rodeo was in 1957, and he won that one, too.
Although he could have kept going, Snyder let it go, choosing to settle down instead.
“I ended up marrying Julia,” he said. “She wanted me to put that life behind. I think she was afraid if I kept rodeoing I’d chase other women.”
For 29 years, Snyder worked the Jackson Ranch, and it didn’t take him long to get the hang of it, especially considering his ranching background in Arizona.
Although a part of him wonders what would have happened if he stayed with saddle bronc riding, he’s glad he stumbled upon this part of the world.
“I’ve had extremely good years here,” he said.
A large part of this is Snyder’s passion for ranching and horseback riding of all kinds. This includes teaching riding, which he did through 4-H for almost 20 years.
“My wife was a 4-H leader and helped start a 4-H horse project,” he said. “I was asked to help them with their horses. I’ve always liked helping young people and I had some standout students.”

Eldon at Home MAIN

Eldon Snyder sits by the fire at his home on Gilt Edge Stage in January.

Community Cowboy
When Snyder and Jackson split up, Snyder was unsure what his next move was going to be, but he soon remarried a local woman named Barbara. They worked together as outfitters, operated a hunting camp and regularly would go on pack trips in the Little Belts and the Bob Marshall Wilderness.
“I had a license to pack anywhere in Montana,” Snyder said.
Snyder also stayed busy helping friends out with sorting, branding, trailing cattle and training horses and mules. He’d help out at the Schultz Ranch, Wickens Ranch, Rickl Ranch, Teigen Ranch and many others.
“It was nothing for me to go to seven or eight brandings,” he said, “but now my horse is old like me. I’d probably still do it if I had a different horse.”

Overcoming Tragedies
Wanting a change of scenery, Snyder and Barbara moved from their place on Upper Spring Creek to the place Snyder lives now on Gilt Edge Stage, but sadly their partnership would not last much longer.
“We were only living here three years when a horse kicked Barbara in the head and killed her,” he said.
“I’ve been by myself ever since then. That was in 1991.
Five years later, Snyder lost a leg after a mule ran him into a corral post. Such tragedies would debilitate many men, but Snyder pushed through, getting back in the saddle the following May with an artificial leg.

Blessed to be in Central Montana
At his age, Snyder admits life is harder now, and he appreciates the support he receives.
“I can’t go out and cut wood anymore, but I have neighbors who do it for me. I can’t believe it. I’ve never asked anybody for help in my life.”
Snyder can’t say enough about the people who have helped him out, as he can’t imagine a different lifestyle, and caring members of the community have made it possible for him to stay at home.
“I’d be lost if I lived in town,” he said. “I have to be out in the country.”
Snyder doesn’t ask for much: a warm fire and a good book is enough to keep him smiling, which he intends to do, no matter what comes his way.
“I’m a firm believer in smiling,” he said. “Smile when you’re in trouble it will vanish like a bubble: if you only take the trouble to S-M-I-L-E. I’ve believed that my whole life.”

(as published in the Lewistown News-Argus)


About CharliesTrail

Originally from Indianapolis, Denison is a writer and musician who has picked up culture and influences from eccentrics all over the U.S. and overseas. He is a University of Kentucky Journalism School grad and an award-winning Montana journalist. Through the years he's had work published by "Chicken Soup From the Soul," DVD Netflix, Montana Quarterly Magazine, NUVO and Americana Highways. He has a solo album, "Whispers of the Lonely," and continues to chip away at his first novel. Currently Denison is the editor of The Boulder Monitor in Boulder, Montana, where he lives with his wife.
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