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Klamath's Vowell brothers to join Buckaroo Hall of Fame

han-20190827-vowell 1.jpgHerman Vowell rides Lightfoot in this photo from May 1937

WINNEMUCCA, Nev. ó Three buckaroos from the Great Basin will be inducted into the Buckaroo Hall of Fame. The late Ray and Herman Vowell, brothers from Malin, and Loui Cerri, of Paradise Valley, Nevada, will be honored at a banquet Friday, Aug. 30 and induction ceremony Saturday, Aug. 31 at the East Hall Convention Center in Winnemucca, Nevada.

Herman Vowell, born Feb. 1, 1916, was 92 when he passed on April 28, 2008. His brother, Ray Vowell, was born Dec. 27, 1913, and was 85 when he passed on Feb. 14, 1999.

Their parents, Art and Myrtle Vowell, started out in Robert Lee, Texas, where Art was the cow boss for the 7F ranch. After their first child, Faye, was born the family moved to southern Oregon in 1910 for a better way of life. They found a homestead on Lower Klamath Lake near Merrill. They built their ranch and raised potatoes and grain irrigated from the lake. Art and Myrtle had five more children besides Faye. Ina, Ray, Herman, Rex and Dorothy. A diversion dam was built on the lake in 1918, which turned their ranch into a dust bowl. They couldnít make a living there without irrigation. Art moved the family to Klamath Falls where he started a log-hauling business with horse-drawn wagons, while still working for area ranches as well. Ray and Herman would watch the powerful work teams pull the wagons at the wood yard, hoping one day to drive those teams when they grew up.

Tragedy strikes

The family met tragedy in 1912 when Art passed away from pneumonia. Now, Myrtle with six children decided to sell the teams and wagons to buy train tickets back to Texas. Once the family got back to Texas, there was no way to make a living there. Myrtle had just enough money left to travel to Bakersfield, California. She and the children worked picking cotton until they had enough money to travel back to Klamath Falls.

Ray and Herman, age 9 and 7, got jobs delivering newspapers to help out. They also worked delivering milk for a dairy. Herman graduated from Klamath Falls High School in 1933, while Ray chased wild horses and didnít finish high school. In 1934, Herman talked to the Carpening and Donovan outfit about a buckarooing job helping drive 300 yearling cattle from Tule Lake, to the Meiss Ranch at Butte Valley. The drive would take four days and camping out on the trail. Though he didnít want to ruin his chances for the job, he mentioned he had a brother that could ride, too. Donavan hired them both. They had to shoe their own horses, so they learned on the job. They loved every moment of the four-day cattle drive realizing then they wanted to be buckaroos.

Ed Donovan was as good a buckaroo they could learn from at the time. The two brothers rode horses daily breaking wild horses they caught in the area. They used Leo Donovanís saddle to ride these bucking horses. It had a high back cantle which would hit them in the back, so they remodeled it by cutting it down an inch or two. Leo was upset about that and told them he would take the cost of the saddle out of their wage which was $30 per month so the deduction knocked a big hole in their pay.

Bronc dreams

In 1935, Herman wanted to ride saddle broncs and entered the rodeo in Dorris, he won the bronc riding at the age of 19.

In 1936, Herman went to work for W.C. Dalton at the Steel Swamp. Frank Pratt was the cow boss and decided to quit. Dalton asked Herman if he wanted the cow boss job. Even though Herman was only 21, Dalton liked him and his honestly. So, that was Hermanís first cow boss job. He was told he could hire whoever he wanted. So a year later his brother Ray joined him at Steele Swamp. The ranch was 75 miles by dirt road from the nearest town in the middle of the Devils Garden area of the Modoc National Forest. Cattle could graze for miles without seeing a fence.

Herman continued to ride saddle broncs, he entered a rodeo at Madrone, California, where he won the saddle bronc riding. He met rodeo queen Betty Torrens, an accomplished horsewoman. They kept in touch, writing to each other and were married in Reno, on Aug. 12, 1942. Bettyís introduction to ranch life riding along with Herman and other buckaroos was all new for her. They all accepted her and always gave her the utmost respect and courtesy. They gave her the best and gentlest horses to ride.

The nearest neighbors were Thelma and Ernie Archer who lived on the Willow Creek Ranch 17 miles away. Herman and Betty didnít quite know where they were going to live as they were just moving from cow camp to cow camp after they were first married. The couple went to Weed Valley to ride, they had a small one-room cabin there. Betty didnít know a lot about ranch life, cooking or gardening but she was more than willing to learn. She became a good cook, gardener, canned her own fruit and vegetables and became an excellent roper as well as an all-around hand. Not many other brides probably had to spend their honeymoon in a cow camp with four other buckaroos besides her husband.

Back to Willow

After they gathered up the cattle and sorted them the Huffman buckaroos headed back to Willow Creek Ranch with the 5X branded beef and the pitchfork branded cattle headed back to the Dalton Ranch. Once back at the Steel Swamp they learned Jerry and Ollie Stanton, long time employees were going to quit. Herman and Betty took their place running the ranch for the Daltonís. Brother Ray took over as buckaroo boss. This seemed to be a good thing until Herman had to sit by doing the haying and had to watch Ray ride out with the crew to go work cattle.

Summers were really nice at Steele Swamp, but the winters were hard and long. They would have to get 6 monthsí supplies (groceries and kerosene) in to the ranch by October to last through the winter. The ranch was pretty self-sufficient but still needed groceries to make sure they had enough. They had a milk cow, chickens, beef, vegetables in the root cellar, made their own soap and the essential sourdough starter for making bread and pancakes.

They got the mail every four to six weeks. It was a special treat to read the mail. Ray would take a pack horse and ride cross country to the home ranch 27 miles to retrieve the mail. There was an old crank phone with a telephone line strung along the tops of juniper trees. It was temperamental and worked when it wanted to.

Harsh winters

Winters were harsh on the livestock and the people at Steele Swamp. In 1949, it was a cold winter remembered still as one of the worst. It started snowing early and drifted over the fences and clear to the top of the hay stack on the crusted snow drifts. Temperatures dropped to 30 degrees below zero for weeks at a time. The lowest temperature was down to 42 degrees below zero. The winter of 1951-1952 was known as the winter of deep snow. Started snowing in November and never quit. It took extra hay to feed the cattle. So, they had to drive some of the cattle out to the home ranch. Bill Dalton made a trail with a D4 caterpillar dozer. One morning they sent 330 head on the trail behind the dozer. The snow was 3- to 4-feet deep and crusted so the cattle couldnít stray off the trail. Not much to do for the buckaroos other than follow along behind. The winter of 1937 was another bad one with snow and cold temperatures below zero. Minus 40 degrees in February for 3 weeks. Cattle froze to death on the feed grounds at Tulelake with no shelter from the bitter north winds. They were wintering 1,400 head at Steele Swamp.

In 1956, Betty and Herman adopted a baby girl, Susie. She took to riding horses from the start, later on winning barrel racing events in Klamath Falls seven years in a row. Always well mounted on Vowell horses.

Ray and Herman always seemed to work together all their lives working on ranches. After working at the Dalton Ranch the Vowell brothers bought a ranch in Langell Valley and moved there in 1960. They started having a few roping clinics for friends and neighbors. Something that would later grow into quite an event. The brothers had more time to team rope, the thing they really loved to do. They quit riding bucking horses and concentrated on raising and breaking colts for sale.

In 1963, the Vowell brothers found a place at Malin. This place was more suitable to them with nice sandy soil for a roping arena and 80 acres to run their mares and colts. They still worked part time for the Pitchfork Ranch for Daltonís daughter Betty Lou and husband Robert Byrne.

Time of loss

Betty Vowel passed away in 1966, at the age of 46, leaving a big void in the lives of Herman and Ray. Herman and Betty had been married for 26 years.

Ray and Herman won many trophies and awards at the rodeos, but they each won all around saddles. Ray won his at the Alturas rodeo in 1940 and Herman won his in 1968 at Klamath Falls. They both rode those saddles to use and break horses. Herman re-married in 1970 to widow Jean Mcfall. She was a big help helping the brothers organize their roping clinics.

Ray and Herman competed in team roping together Herman heading Ray on the Heels. After turning 60 they competed in the senior circuit taking a lot of winnings. They helped many youngsters get started roping at their arena.

The Vowell Brothers used the Quarter Circle H brand on their horses and the 76 Bar brand on their cattle. They could go to almost any roping event and find Vowell raised horses competing. Ray and Herman talked about their days ranching, buckarooing and long days they experienced in their lives and called it a vacation. Everyone that ever met the Vowell brothers felt lucky to have made their acquaintance.



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