Howard Peterson, brand inspector and local cowboy legendWritten by Jennifer Womack
“I was born and raised in Glenwood, Utah,” says Howard. His wife Beverly was raised just 45 miles away in Fremont, Utah. The couple, who recently celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary, didn’t, however, marry until Howard returned from a stint rodeoing and service in World War II.
“In 1939, 1940 and 1941 I competed all up and down the West Coast, up to Montana and down into California, Arizona and Nevada,” says Howard. “In 1940 I rode at Madison Square Garden. That was a place us country kids could get lost.” He competed in both the bareback and the saddlebronc riding.
There wasn’t any catching a plane to the next rodeo, he laughs. “I had a little 1937 Studebaker car and another kid from Provo, Utah named Eddie Cox traveled with me. We went everywhere in my little car and we got 35-36 miles to the gallon with that little Studebaker. Gas was about 12 cents a gallon. We had a lot of fun. We didn’t make much money, but of course they didn’t pay like they do today.”
A 1942 call to report to Salt Lake City, Utah for entry into the military brought Howard’s rodeo days to an end. “I didn’t like the Navy, but that’s where I ended up when I got drafted.”
Howard recalls, “We lived down in Utah where my dad ran sheep and cattle. When I went to Salt Lake to have my physical they said my dad had got me deferred. I said, ‘Well, I want to go with the rest of the boys.’ I had two brothers at home, although one of them was too young to do anything.”
Inquiring about the Calvary, Howard says he was disappointed to hear that wasn’t an option. “They said you’ve got to go in the Navy. I told them I was scared of a bathtub and they said, ‘That’s alright we don’t have bathtubs.’” Howard says he’d gotten “tangled up in the fence” riding a bronc at the Cow Palace and broke his leg. He’d just had the cast removed when he reported to Salt Lake, so they wouldn’t consider him for the Army or the Marines.
Bomb concussion while his ship was attacked at sea near Okinawa broke both of Howard’s hips and landed him in a New Guinea hospital for the first six months of what proved to be a long recovery. When armistice was declared in 1945 Howard was transported to Oakland, Calif. He was honorably discharged on Oct. 15, 1945, the time at which he was able to walk with the assistance of two crutches.
“When he got home he used two canes to maneuver himself around,” recalls Beverly, “but he just kept walking and walking.”
Doctors told Howard his cowboying days were over. He decided to limit their advice to the arena and was shortly working on ranches across Utah and southwestern Wyoming.
“We broke horse and we rode broncs, but I didn’t go back to the rodeo,” says Howard. “Some of the ranch horses were a lot worse than the ones we’d been riding at the rodeos.”
Howard recalls, “When Beverly and I got married we started working for a cow outfit in central Utah. We were riding year around, summer and winter. We lived in a tent. We lived in a tent the first three years we were married.”
“I had two mules that I packed,” says Beverly. “I was the camp jack and he’d go off and herd the cows. I had to pack them little mules. They were cute little mules.”
“We had a lot of fun. It was cold and everything, but it was a lot of fun,” laughs Howard. “We’d take colts and we was breaking horses for $10 a month. We took them whether they’d been started or been monkeyed with. Most of them we started were five years old or better and they could give you a lot of good times.” Different than modern days horses, he says they were mostly Thoroughbreds, Morgans and government remount horses.
“Now everybody just has a little old Quarter Horse,” laughs Beverly.
“I wouldn’t ride a horse like we used to ride down there even if somebody paid me a lot of money,” adds Howard.
More than the camp jack, Beverly was also Howard’s riding partner. “One time we were riding colts in southern Utah,” he says. “It was raining and we were on the mountains. The cows got in the larkspur. You could cut the veins under the tails so they would bleed to keep the blood circulating.” Howard had roped a cow to doctor her when his horse broke away. Beverly, says Howard, went after the horse.
He was left to contend with the cow. “That cow just kept knocking him down the trail,” recalls Beverly of the scene playing out upon her return.
Recalling the days of “roping wild steers,” he says, “We’d rope them and tie them to a tree for two or three days and tip their horns so they’d be tender.”
“One time we was gathering a lot of cattle off the mountain down there and they were wild, we run some Brahma cattle, too,” shares Howard. “It was steep and rough country. I was trying to get an old cow out of some ledges and she jumped off a ledge. I didn’t think it was very high and my horse jumped off that ledge and he lost me. I jerked one boot off and I never did find my boot and my spur. I rode three days until one of the guy’s with us, his wife ran over 200 miles and bought me a new pair of boots and a new pair of spurs.”
1951 brought the Petersons to Uinta County, Wyoming. “We bought a ranch in 1951 with her father and a couple of her brothers,” says Howard. The first winter they spent at the ranch was a hard one. “Beverly and I fed 400 head of cows that winter. We used sleds and we had four head of horses on each sleigh. The snow was deep that year.”
Beverly’s father and brothers decided they wanted to move to Phoenix, Arizona. “We tried to buy the ranch,” says Howard, “but at that time money was kind of hard to come by.”
J.R. Broadbent purchased the ranch and asked Howard to stay on as manager. “I went to work for him in 1960,” recalls Howard of the job he held until the early 1980s. “We ran a lot of cattle and lots of sheep. It was fun. That’s about the biggest ranch in Uinta County.”
All of the ranch work, even the haying, was done with horses. “We put up a lot of hay on that place,” he says. “It was all with horses mowing and raking, a push rake and a beaver slide. We’d have about six teams going at one time. It took us 30 days to hay and we hayed about 1,000 acres.”
Livestock from the ranch was trailed to the Altamont railhead for shipping. “It was about six miles from the ranch,” recalls Howard. Corrals, complete with a scale, were added to the ranch in the mid-1960s and the cattle began shipping out on trucks in 1966.
In 1984 Howard became a brand inspector for the Wyoming Livestock Board. Now 85 years old he says, “I’m going to keep inspecting as long as they’ll let me. When I quit it’s going to be because I really have to. I just love this job. For two years I had the record of the most sheep inspected in Wyoming.”
Howard says, “We’ve been married 60 and we’ve had a good life, lots of fun.”
“We’ve done lots of things with ranching,” adds Beverly. “We’ve had hard times, but we’ve enjoyed it.”
“We’ve had to work all of our lives, but that’s good,” says Howard. Brand inspector Don Proffit and Howard cover western Uinta County and travel further for inspections when needed. “We can go over to the valley or up to Cokeville to help one another out,” he says.
Of the county in general he says, “There are more yearlings than cows and calves here now.” With shipping season getting underway, Howard’s looking forward to his time in the corral inspecting cattle and sheep and visiting with southwest Wyoming ranchers. No doubt he and Beverly have some great stories to share.