January 29, 2009
Got an inquiry from a Czech Republic film crew who want to film real cowboys in the real West. My first call was to my cousin Billy Hamilton, who has the Turkey Track Ranch in northern Mohave County. Billy, who's ten years my senior, was riding and roping from the time he could walk. Here's a photo of young Billy, in the 1940s at a local rodeo:
Although my family lived in Kingman and Peach Springs when I was less than a year old, my father took us back to his home state, Iowa, where he ran a Phillips 66 gas station in Swea City.
By 1955, he was tired of shoveling snow to clear the driveways (and Swedish farmers who wouldn't pay their gas bills), so he put my mother and I on a train (a steam locomotive!) at Webster City, to go out to Kingman and see if we could find him any better prospects. Grandmother Guessie and her second husband Ernie picked us up at the Las Vegas train station (right at the foot of Fremont Street). My mother stopped at a Western store on Fremont and bought me an entire cowboy outfit. From there we had a harrowing drive back to Kingman (Ernie wasn't used to the Stockbridge's big Oldsmobile that he borrowed to pick us up and he kept crossing the center line all the way across Boulder Dam and down the narrow two-lane blacktop to Kingman).
Thanks to my grandmother, we found a modern gas station for lease on Hilltop and, after a week or so visit, we went back to Iowa to get my Dad. By January of 1956 we landed back in Kingman and a few of my cowboy cousins showed up for a welcoming dinner and a picture:
Left to right: Ernie Swafford (my grandmother's second husband: my grandfather, Bob Guess, died tragically in 1945), BBB (in the cowboy outfit my mother bought in Vegas), Allen P. Bell (my dad), Louise "Guessie" Swafford (my grandmother), Mary Hamilton (Billy's mother and my mother's older sister), Choc Hamilton (Billy's dad), Bobbie Guess Bell (my mother) and Billy Hamilton.
Billy was, by that time on his rise in the rodeo world and would become The World Champion Steer Roper in 1964. After the group photo, they decided to take a photo of the future World Champion and the future owner of True West magazine (which I had just started reading about the time of this photo).
Billy bought the Turkey Track Ranch with his rodeo winnings. This is a ranch my grandfather worked on in the 1940s. Bob Guess first came to Mohave County in 1912 and worked as a cowboy for Tap Duncan on the Diamond Bar Ranch, which, I believe Billy also leases today.
And, by the way, Billy turned down the film request and recommended Bob Duey, another oldtime Kingman cowboy. Bob is in discussions with the film crew even as you read this.
"Never hold discussions with the monkey when the organ grinder is in the room."
—Sir Winston Churchill