Community leader, long-time rancher Salisbury honoredWritten by Jennifer Womack
George’s grandfather, A.W. Salisbury, came into the country seeking gold at Hahn’s Peak. He and his partner decided that true wealth lay in raising horses. A.W. and his wife, Anna Louise, established a ranch at the confluence of Battle Creek and the Little Snake River. Their oldest son, George Sr., bought the homestead across the road, built a barn and a home, and started a family.
Salisbury’s tenure on his family’s south central Wyoming ranch began in 1921 when he was born in the corner bedroom of that house which he still calls home.
Running horses and milking a half dozen milk cows, Salisbury says they worked their way through the Great Depression. He and his older brother, five years his senior, began picking up bum lambs from area sheepherders who historically trailed 30,000 sheep a year through the mountain country around Ladder Livestock. The brothers’ efforts built the foundation for what has become one of Wyoming’s leading sheep operations as proven by their high level of performance in the Mountain States Lamb Cooperative (MSLC). Ladder Livestock is one of MSLC’s founding ranches.
“We could get about four lambs a day,” recalls Salisbury of the bums that were often too much of a burden for the herders who tended the large bands of sheep that grazed the surrounding area. Two wether lambs, he recalls, could be traded to a Rawlins rancher for a ewe.
“We got 300 or 400 sheep that way,” says George. In 1934 he says he lambed over 300 head of ewes on a meadow on the opposite side of the river from his home. Age 13 at the time, he says the school district didn’t have the money to pay a teacher for the entire school year so he was out of school early. It’s 1934 that Salisbury counts as the family’s full-fledged entry into the sheep business.
The family had gotten their start in the cattle business when fellow rancher Abe Stratton came by and offered Salisbury’s dad a loan. Despite the Salisburys’ uncertainty of their ability to repay the loan amidst times of economic instability, he says Mr. Stratton had a lot of faith in his father as a stockman. The cattle were branded with a double horseshoe until the note was paid. Since that time the cows and calves raised on the Ladder Livestock operation have carried the family’s Ladder brand.
Looking back on years that were less than plush, George says he’s found receipts in his father’s old desk that show steers in Denver selling for five cents a pound.
“I was 16 when I got out of high school and I went to CSU and took forestry and range management,” says Salisbury. “I was in one of the first classes where they gave you a major in range management.” At age 21, George was drafted by the U.S. Army and in 1941 sent overseas to World War II as a Second Lieutenant. Prior to his deployment he’d been involved in the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC).
Upon honorable discharge from the military Salisbury says he went to work for the Taylor Grazing Service, the predecessor agency to the present day Bureau of Land Management. His service there, combined with the education he received at CSU, provided the knowledge necessary for the then-cutting edge management practices he put in place when he returned to the family ranch.
“We’ve been practicing rotational grazing since 1954 or 1955,” says Salisbury. At the time, he says it took a while and a change in forest managers for the Forest Service to approve the proposed changes. Over the years he says they’ve expanded their forest permits as others in Carbon County have exited the sheep business.
“We’re one of the last range operations in Carbon County,” says Salisbury. Several Peruvian sheepherders, with the help of the Border collies and the livestock guardian dogs raised on the ranch, are employed to tend to the flocks. Spending most of the year living in sheepwagons, a couple of the herders take to the higher country with tents to spend a portion of the summer months.
“When I was a county commissioner,” recalls Salisbury, “there were 320,000 sheep on the tax roles in Carbon County. I bet there aren’t 10,000 left. Lots of sheep also came here out of Natrona County to graze.”
Salisbury was a county commissioner, a position that he began in 1950 and required a 103-mile trip to Rawlins for meetings, for 20 years. “After that I was out of politics for a while and in 1974 I was appointed to fill a vacancy in the State House of Representatives. I survived that about 13 years,” he says. During his tenure in the legislature Salisbury played an instrumental role in formation of the Wyoming Water Development Commission. He also worked on the legislation directing mineral severance tax money into long term “trust funds” for the state budget.
“After that Governor Herschler appointed me to the Board of Agriculture where I served for four years. Then, I came home and tended to my own business. I made a lot of friends while I was in the legislature,” says Salisbury. “I probably got more votes because I was Laura’s husband than because of me,” he says of his late wife of 63 years, Laura. “I had a wonderful wife.”
“Forest health, from a vegetation standpoint, has improved,” says Salisbury looking back over his tenure on the ranch. “At one time it was overstocked.” From a timber standpoint, given the orange-covered hills of trees killed by pine bark beetles, he doesn’t believe the forests are healthier.
Certain species of wildlife, particularly black bear, have become more numerous over the years. Salisbury says grouse populations in his area declined in unison with the tools available to manage the coyote population. “If they’d put a lot more effort into coyote control it would be a boon to the sage grouse,” he says. “As a kid, about once a week we’d have enough sage chickens to make a meal for the hay crew of five to seven guys.” Deer, he says, were most numerous in the 1950s when the state issued multiple licenses to return the population to management objectives.
Ladder Livestock’s modern day story contains an equally thick thread of innovation and work ethic. George and Laura’s daughter, Sharon, and her husband, Patrick O’Toole, live and work on the Ladder Ranch where they raised their three children — Meghan, Bridget and Eamon.
Meghan and her husband, Brian Lally, have returned to the ranch where they’re raising their three children. Meghan has added guest operations to the ranch catering to hunters, trail riders, fishermen and bird watchers. “The Battle Creek corridor,” says Sharon noting what appears to be a growing number of species, “has a lot of birds.”
“I like the overhead,” laughs George of trail riding and the bird watching aspects of the operation.
“Our son and his wife Megan are also back at the ranch,” says Sharon. The family is in the beginning stages of launching a landscape reclamation business. She says the sheep are brought into an area where they’re fed and contained to stomp in the organic matter. To date, she says the effectiveness of the livestock approach has surpassed traditional seeding and hydro-mulching.
George is justifiably proud of his six-generation ranching operation.