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Wayne Wright enjoys sitting in the sunshine on the front porch of his small frame house nestled in a grove of cottonwoods and located on a back street in Sonoita, Ariz. Gone are the pointy-toed boots, spurs, chaps and wide hats. He is usually dressed in a clean white cowboy shirt, jeans and soft shoes. Across the highway, local calf roping competitors use the fairgrounds for their practice. Aromas drifting from the stock make him feel right at home.

Wayne comes from hardy pioneer stock. His family homesteaded the rolling prairie sagebrush country of Powell Flats, in northern Wyoming, near Cody. He was 13 years old when he took his first cowboy job, moving a small herd of cattle from Powell Flats up to the open grazing land and the lush grass of Polecat Bench.

Teenaged Wayne was working in Wyoming on a neighbor’s place when a stranger rode in driving a two-wheel cart and leading a fancy Morgan horse. The Richardson family took in boarders and the gentleman stayed the night. The next day he put together a race from Powell Flats, Wyo., to Billings, Mont.—exactly 100 miles. Wayne’s boss, H.A. Richardson, agreed to the $15 bet and sent Wayne as his rider. Wayne’s horse was Old Scarface; 12 years old, not halter broken, and with an unpredictable wild streak. \

“You can’t ride that old horse for 100 miles. He isn’t even wearing any shoes,” the stranger said. Wayne explained, “This horse has never worn shoes and his feet are hard as steel.”

Several local men joined the race. The next morning at 6 a.m. the race began, with the horses bucking and running. The horsemen headed north, traveling through Warren, Mont., into the Crow Indian Reservation, beside the Pryor Mountains, finally crossing the Yellowstone River into Billings. Wayne averaged 10 miles per hour and finished the race in exactly 10 hours—an hour ahead of his nearest competition. “Old Scarface wasn’t even tired.” But Wayne was: “That ride is why I walk bowlegged even today.”

When asked what was the most memorable thing about the race, Wayne hangs his head, rubs his chin and smiles. “I reckon riding Old Scarface the 100 miles back home to the ranch. Old Scarface was bought by Leo Cramer, who supplied stock to the rodeos. That ornery horse finished his career doing what he liked best, throwing cowboys off his back.”

Wayne’s slender wife and partner since 1935, Clementine “Clem” Rassier Wright, enjoyed all of the good years. The mischievous twinkle in her eye says that she also enjoyed the rough years of cowboying, rodeos, and farming. They have two sons, John and Kenneth.

In 1948, they received an offer to move to Tucson and manage the horse program for the Arizona School for Boys. Clem says that the harsh Wyoming winters helped to make their decision quickly. Wayne’s job was teaching the boys how to ride, rope and play polo. Several times he led the polo team to national victories. His team played in the national competition at Madison Square Garden in New York. After the school year in Tucson he took his horses to Steamboat Springs, Colo., for a summer camp. He enjoyed both jobs until he was injured in a bad horse wreck.

After leaving the school, he became foreman of the Apache Springs Ranch in the Santa Rita Mountains north of Sonoita. It was rugged country, with mountain lions, and Wayne spent most of his time in the saddle pasturing brand new calves and maintaining catch pens scattered around the ranch for the wild cattle.
Wayne never made a lot of money as a cowboy but his memory of the easiest money he ever made was in supplying the sheep and horses for a Frank Sinatra movie called “Dirty Dingus McGee.” Wayne was paid two dollars a head per day, plus a salary for being a wrangler for the movie set. Cowboys are always polite and say a lot with just a few words. Wayne’s comment about Frank Sinatra is, “He was a hard man to work with.”

Swollen, arthritic hands and aching joints bother Wayne from time to time. All of the hard work of mending fences, roping, and busting wild broncos have come home to roost and now he pays the price. Aches and pains have done nothing to dampen his good humor, though, because a true cowboy never complains.

Wayne is filled with stories of his cowboy days. “By the way, did I ever tell you the story about the time I went hunting with the Lee Brothers and roped a mountain lion?”—Gary Warlick

Summer 2004 Contents

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