This past week we lost a true icon of the west, Ian Tyson passed away on December 29th at the age of 89.
I met Ian over 30 years ago when a friend of mine, whom I was riding some colts for, asked me to jump in with him and give a neighbour a hand at gathering some heifers. To my happy surprise, the neighbour turned out to be Ian Tyson. Ian had pastured down south of Longview Alberta which bordered the Spruce Grazing Co-op. It was a real good pasture with native grass and plenty of natural shelter and good water. Ian had been running a bunch of heifers down there that summer, and they were sharing the pasture with Ian’s stud Docs Summer Wages and Doc’s band of broodmares. Ian told us to be aware if they came around, as old Summer Wages could be a little protective of his harem of ladies. Well, it didn’t take very long for him to come to investigate who invaded his own private domain.
I had some experience with aggressive studs in the past, so as soon as he made his presence known to us, I took down my rope. I was riding a big long-legged thoroughbred gelding called “Limo.” And Summer Wages took a real interest in him right off the bat. We were riding in a group, the three of us crossing a meadow, when the ornery stud decided to make his move quickly. He picked out my horse as his target and came after him with both his ears pinned and a mean slant in his eyes. I kept my horse's butt pointed at him and smacked him on the nose when he came into range. I guess I successfully called his bluff because it didn’t take too long for old Summer Wages to gather up his ladies and take them elsewhere.
That was my introduction to Ian Tyson and Docs Summer Wages. I guess Ian liked the way I handled the situation because not too long later I got to start some of his colts, and they were all nice horses! With that excitement over, we gathered up the heifers and trailed them over to the corrals at the spruce.
This was the first day I spent cowboying with Ian but lucky for me, it was far from the last. Over the years, we got to ride together quite a bit. When I started training cutting horses, I always looked forward to the phone calls that would invite me to bring my colts over and work fresh cows in Ians' round pen. These were always fun times, and listening to Ian share stories about people, places, and horses he’d known was just icing on the cake.
Ian ran mostly yearling cattle but had a nice little herd of mother cows as well. Being on the road a lot back then, the yearling grass cattle were easier for him to manage as they take less maintenance. One of my favourite memories of cowboyin’ with Ian was a little branding that he was having at the stone house pasture just south of his home place.
Keith, Ian & Sandy Stafford at a branding at the OH Ranch in the 90's. Photo by John McQuarrie.
One day, he called and asked me to meet him at his place the next day at 7AM and we would ride out and gather from there. I rolled in the next morning to see the gathering crew Ian assembled was just myself, Ian, and his daughter Adelita, who I’m thinking would have been 12 or so at the time. We said our howdy’s, saddled up and headed out to gather the cows and calves. Once we got through the gate into the pasture, we tipped our horses into a trot to make a circle around the herd we could see down in the draw. Adelita was riding a big cold-backed bay gelding that immediately took offence to being asked to move out at a brisk pace.
Well, with little warning, he dropped his head and went to hogging with her. In about two jumps, he was getting his bronc on pretty well but didn't appear to be causing Adelita any trouble. With words of encouragement being hollered by Ian and myself, Adelita made a sure ‘nuff bronc ride that morning. When she got the bays head pulled up, and spanked on him a time or two with the end of her reins for his outburst, she didn’t appear any worse for wear! It appeared that the bay hadn't phased her one iota, and she had just put on a bronc riding clinic for the two of us. I glanced over at Ian, and if you had looked up “proud father” in the dictionary, you couldn’t have gotten a better picture than him in that moment. Ian smiled and nodded his head, and said, “good ride Adelita” and we were off again. Adelita Rose Tyson proved that day that at age 12 that she could cowboy as well as any boy in the Longview area.
I have many memories of time spent with Ian, whether it was cowboyin’, working cutting horses, branding his colts on his birthday in the fall, trips to the Pollockville Hardgrass Bronc Match, steak dinner at the Silverslate Arena or simply a phone call. His small concerts at East Longview Hall were always a treat that I looked forward to each year.
Keith & Ian at the 2019 Hardgrass Bronc Match
So with Ian riding the “roan mare” over the great divide, he will be missed greatly, but thankfully I still have his music and my memories of the time we shared.
Hasta luego, old friend.