Harold E. “Smitty” Smith was born March 9, 1918 in Robinson, IL. As a young man, he found himself in Wyoming growing up in the oil patches around Lance Creek and later in the Bear Lodge Mountains. His career as a cowboy started at a young age, finding an education gained from the back of a horse punching cows. Smitty was, without question, one of the last of a very special breed. He was a cowboy! A bona-fide honest to God sure enough pull your boots on and get it done kind of cowboy. It was his life and he lived it well. It was his passion and he followed that dream through all his days here on earth. Cowboying was all he wanted to do, and he pursued that occupation without shirk or failure. He was good at his trade and mighty proud of it.
To work on big ranches in the west was Smitty’s challenge. After a stint with the United States Army during World War II as a farrier and mule packer, and some time packing for the Forest Service, he followed that challenge across the width and breadth of the west. He pulled duty working and tending cattle for Driskills in the Black Hills, Keelines south of Newcastle, the Matador by Split Rock and the Padlock near Busby, MT. He also punched in Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, British Colombia, and other places scattered around the west.
Smitty influenced many big-eyed young lads aspiring to make a hand. His generosity in teaching consummated his commitment to his craft. He was always willing to help someone learn and improve their understanding of and skill with horses and cattle. In that way he touched a lot of lives, mostly in a subtle fashion and always dashed with humor. Those qualities marked his path across all those decades of his life, directing a life that was nomadic yet purposed, all the while laced with adventure and a love of the great outdoors.
In the 60’s while he and wife Nita were at the Busby camp working for Padlock, they decided to go to the Custer Battlefield one fine Sunday spring morning. They got into their town duds which for Smitty was an Acubra hat from Australia, Levi’s tucked into high heel, high topped boots complete with “town” spurs, a wild colored shirt adorned with clashing suspenders and wild rag. Normal trappings for him. While on the sidewalk leading to the visitor center, they met a couple dressed in bibs, sandals, both with hair past their shoulders. They gave each other a neck twisting look as they passed. When out of ear shot, Harold remarked “that some folks sure dress funny these days”. Maybe a similar comment was emitted by the other couple too.
Smitty was pragmatic with his humor too. At Keelines one holiday season while the hands were off, chores consisted of riding some twelve miles gathering yearlings and stringing cake for them. One day a water belly steer was picked up which promoted a roping and field surgery. Hearing a remark about the lack of a veterinarian for the job, Harold stated flatly that they used to send them into town to the vet. But the problem with that was that it ended up shorting him two hands, one to take the critter in to town, then another a couple days later to go get the first.
Smitty had a way of setting a horse that left no doubt about his chosen craft. He was confident in his ability to work stock in a way that critters understood and responded to accordingly. He interacted with people that way too, spreading his wit and humor all around him, recounting his many life’s adventures whenever he had an audience, winning friends and building associations. In 1999, Custer National Cemetery became his final resting place, back in the country he dearly loved. From that vantage point, he can survey the beautiful grass country below and the mountains of Wyoming and Montana, riding that skyline forever.