Norman Henry Richie was born March 23, 1933 in Green River, Wyoming to Everett J. “Ebb” Richie and Ellen Williams Richie. He joined an older sister, Verla Sommers (1924-2006) and older brother, Jeptha (1931- .) He went to school at the Big Sandy School until it was closed in 1943. His parents bought the Allen Place on Eastfork, so he and his brother, could attend the Olson School. They also went to the Boulder School and Pinedale School. Norm didn’t want to go to school anymore, so his father told him if he wouldn’t go back to school he had to go to their Muddy Place and feed cows all winter by himself. That is what he did for over 60 years.
Norm grew up cowboying. He was either riding horses or calves or working goats on a wagon or sled. Norm was a good saddle bronc rider. He had filled his permit and had his PRCA card but then his dad died. At 22 years, he had to come home and help his brother run the ranch but Norm continued to ride the broncs locally. He became a judge for the bareback and saddle bronc riding at rodeos and he enjoyed judging at the Indian rodeos in Lander.
Norm likes Morgan horses because they have more stamina in the mountains. If a horse wanted to buck all the time when he was breaking it, it went to the pack string. Norm always said, “Bounce that salt off some trees on their ribs, they get a better attitude.” Not only could Norm ride saddle broncs and break horses, he was an excellent teamster. He loved to drive his four-horse teams feeding in the winter. One year, he and a friend tried five-horse hitch to pull a sod boat full of hay to feed the cows because so much snow had melted and the field was a lake.
No one else knows the Forest Service Silver Creek Grazing Allotment like Norm. He was the cow boss for over 30 years but started riding there since he was old enough to go. The majority of this high elevation (8,500-10,000 feet) allotment is in the Bridger Wilderness and is roughly 50,000 acres. It has been used by a dozen ranches in the past and presently used by five.
The cattle are not herded on to the allotment until July 1st because of waiting for the snow to melt and the grass to grow. The cattle have to be off the allotment by September 15 and sometimes the snow comes early. It is steep with lots of huge granite boulders and pine trees with grassy parks dispersed throughout the trees. The cow trails wind up steep hillsides through trees and boulders that nothing can travel across with ease if the trails are not cleaned. Cleaning trails is another part of the cowboys’ job. Norm keeps a hand saw in his saddle scabbard. There are no roads on the allotment other than a two track to the cow camp near Wolf Lake.
To scatter cattle on the far side of the allotment, it is best to pack in a spike camp and stay with the cows. Norm knows where the best grass is located, the best trails through the trees and rocks to move the cows to the grassy park. He knows what the old girls are going to do before they do, while driving them on these mountain trails.
Norm understands about range monitoring in his own way and how to make sure the range is ready for cows and not over grazed. He uses his “beer can” method: bring the cows when the grass is as tall as a beer can and take the cows off when the grass is grazed to the height of a tipped-over beer can. When the Forest Service employees and University of Wyoming range management professionals came to the mountain to do range monitoring, they found Norm’s beer can method matched with their standards. Norm also took them to the most heavily grazed pastures first, so they could see for themselves that under Norm’s leadership the allotment is not over grazed.
Norm also knows the good fishing holes, historical sites and scenic views. Just follow him on his horse and listen carefully. You can learn to tie knots and throw a diamond hitch so the eggs don’t break in the pack. Norm is innovative too. He forgot the spatula to cook with on one pack trip, so he cut the lid out of the top of a can and put it on the long handled fork. It flipped the sourdough pancakes just fine each morning in camp.
Norm has no kids of his own, but taught his nieces, nephews, and several neighbor kids as well as employees, the ways of the mountain. Some of his students recall lessons learned from Norm. “We boys never went to scout camp. Instead, our parents sent us to Norm’s camp. We didn’t have a scoutmaster teach us how to tie knots. If we didn’t tie it right, our horse simply got away. If we didn’t pack our own lunch, we went hungry, and if we didn’t dress warm, we shivered, hunkered down riding behind Norm. We darn sure were too scared to complain.”
When old age made the rides on the mountain too difficult, he spent days riding Richie’s cattle on the dessert across Big Sandy. It was a closer trip to camp (the horse trailer).
Anyone who knows the Richies can tell you what a fine Hereford cowherd they have. Norm is not shy about telling you they like the disposition of the Herefords better than the black cows. When asking Norm’s nephew, Eb, why the Herefords, he said, “Dad told me that the English breeds, mainly Hereford and Angus, have been here for 100 years, and will be here for the next 100 years. Lots of the other breeds have come and gone like fads.” Norm’s niece Carol said, “I think our cow herd is generational. The Herefords were here when Jep and Norm took over the place, and are still here today.” According to the Norm’s niece, Jonita Sommers, “Good breeding sires for livestock were difficult to get in the early days. Ranchers traded bulls. In 1935, old Eb had a load of registered Hereford bulls shipped in from Nebraska. The ones he did not keep, the neighbors took.” Norm must have inherited the bug, because he still loves to go to bull sales. He is an excellent judge of bulls and very aware of what needs to be checked on each bull. He likes to watch them walk on dirt especially rocks to see how they travel and how their legs, hocks, ankles, and feet work. He is very in tune to not only how they move, but their build for calving ease, growth and muscle. If you go to a bull sale with him and just sit and listen, you can learn a lesson on buying replacement bulls from the best.
When Norm’s new bulls get home, he calls the neighbors and they have a field day checking out his new blood lines. Norm recalls that when they took the place over from their Dad, he and Jep worked hard to clean up the scallywags and improve their genetics. The hard work paid off, proven by the fact that if you drive through their herd as they trail them down the road, you’ll say to yourself, “Man I wish my first calf heifers looked as good as theirs!”
Norm and his family’s legacy has not only been defined in their cows, but stories of gathering large desert horse herds, cutter races, and bronc rides are just a few more. Maybe most important is what good neighbors they are, and how much their neighbors look to them for leadership and honesty. If you want to meet Norm, come to a Boulder branding next spring. Norm, age 83, may be roping on his horse Shorty.