OGDEN — Clyde Argyle has been catching cattle thieves twice as long as Kortney Backus has been alive.
But the 20-year-old from Moab and the 84-year-old from Spanish Fork stood in the Ogden Pioneer Days arena Saturday night being honored for their commitment to a lifestyle they both cherish.
“This is a great honor,” said Backus, after being one of 29 people honored by the Ogden Pioneer Days rodeo committee as part of Saturday’s National Day of the American Cowboy.
“It’s way hard to keep it alive because people don’t know the importance of it,” said Backus, a third generation cowgirl whose family raises alfalfa and runs cattle in Grand County. “Each generation gets a smaller passion for farming and ranching and horses and rodeo. Our key is hopefully raising our children to love it as much as we do and our parents and grandparents.”
For Ogden Pioneer Days Rodeo officials honoring cowboys and cowgirls from every county in the state is an important piece in tying the celebrations of today to the traditions of the past.
But for those honored, it was a nice, even humbling, surprise as the nominations come from the communities where they live.
“There are a lot of people in Box Elder County who do a lot for the Western lifestyle,” said Garland’s Jan Rhodes, who is the fair board president and manages the Box Elder County Fairgrounds. “Caught me by surprise, and I’m humbled, humbled they would think that much of me.”
The honor recognizes individuals who preserve and promote the “cowboy lifestyle.” It’s a lifestyle that is steeped in mythology, but grounded in practical realities that haven’t changed much in the last 200 years.
“It’s a hard life,” said Vernal’s Ned Nash. “I mean, everybody wants to be a cowboy until it’s time to do it seven days a week, 12-14 hours a day, calving cows all night. …When the real world comes around, they say, ‘This ain’t fun.’ … Christmas Day you feed cows.”
Still, like those who stood in that arena with him waving to a cheering crowd on a summer night, he wouldn’t trade it for the world.
“It’s a great lifestyle,” he said. “You’ve got to just have a love of the livestock and a love of the land. If we don’t take care of the land, be stewards of the land.”
The life they describe can be brutal. But it is also so beautiful that they fight hard to hang onto it.
“It’s different, but it’s still the same,” said Backus. “We’re still doing it; we still love it; but it’s just kind of changing with the way the world is changing.”
Nash points out that the average age of the American farmer is 65-70 years old.
“It’s a hard life,” Nash said. “None of the kids want to do it.”
But Nash’s son is doing it, and now he works for his son and daughter-in-law. And Backus and her husband hope to not only carry on their family tradition, but raise a new generation of cowboys and cowgirls who will see the beauty in a lifestyle that some see as outdated.
“The family aspect of it is always the same,” Backus said. “It’s always wrapped around patriotism and family and stuff like that.”
Argyle, who says he’s been a cowboy “forever,” feels blessed that he was able to spend so many days on a horse.
“It’s been a great life,” the 84-year-old said. “I still cowboy a little bit. … I don’t know when I’ll quit.”