Most ranches on the edge of the backcountry have signs warning trespassers of dogs and assorted dangers of being an unwanted visitor. At the Rock Creek Ranch in the Clarks Fork Canyon, their signs …
Most ranches on the edge of the backcountry have signs warning trespassers of dogs and assorted dangers of being an unwanted visitor. At the Rock Creek Ranch in the Clarks Fork Canyon, their signs warn of Leroy, the ranch “mooscot.”
Standing nearly 16 hands high and weighing in at more than 1,000 pounds, the 3-year-old Holstein steer thinks he’s a “golden retriever,” says ranch owner Judith Jefferis. Leroy follows people around like a puppy, seeking interaction and wanting to play with his human friends. And, with his gentle spirit and inquisitive nature, he makes friends easily. While the rest of the livestock have limits where they can roam, Leroy is free to explore the property. But mostly he just likes to be with his family.
Jefferis purchased Leroy as a calf to help train their horses for roping. Then, during the ranch’s annual Independence Day celebration, Leroy came out to join the party. He ate watermelon, got rides in the back of the utility vehicle and made bonds that will last the rest of his life.
“He must have been bottle-fed,” Jefferis speculates, adding with a laugh that, “He acts like a dog. He follows you around; he rides in the back of the Gator; he comes when you call him.”
To put it bluntly, if Leroy didn’t have such a likable personality, folks may have called him veal for the short time he was supposed to be around. But now he is loved, like any pet, and has a home at the ranch.
“From now till age 16 or 17, or whenever he dies of natural causes, he’ll just be a completely useless animal except for the joy he brings,” Jefferis promised him, looking into his big eyes and swatting flies off his trimmed horns. “He’s just a big, docile, lovable, old thing.”
Leroy’s also becoming a celebrity. Jefferis decided to ride him in the Clark Rodeo parade last year, wearing her own Holstein costume of course.
In this year’s parade Jefferis was upgraded to grand marshal. The theme was “Small Community, Big Heart.” She painted Leroy with colorful hearts and led the parade through the course like a beauty queen in a convertible. However, by the look on Leroy’s happy face, you’d think he was actually the grand marshal and Jefferis was just along for the ride.
At this point in the interview Jefferis asked if I was ready for a ride. How could I say no? Trouble is, 16 hands is bigger than most horses I’ve ridden. With my pot belly and short legs, I need a big rock to climb in the saddle of a height-challenged donkey, let alone a tall cow.
Jefferis and her daughter, Jennifer Files, dragged out a ladder for me. Between all three of us — and a little help from Leroy — I was in the saddle.
“Just give him a little kick and he’ll go,” Files said.
“Don’t pull too hard on the reins, they’re attached to his nose ring,” Jefferis added.
It must have been like getting a piggy-back ride from the 6’10” MLB pitcher Randy Johnson, although I can’t imagine that being near as comfortable. I’ve been in the saddle before, but I don’t remember it being such a smooth ride. Leroy took long strides and seemed to enjoy our time together, despite me being at least twice Jefferis’ size.
Next up was Files. She absolutely adores Leroy and recently traded the picture of her grandchild for a picture of Leroy as the background on her cellphone.
“In the mornings he’ll walk up next to the house, by the stone wall. I can jump on bareback and he’ll just graze in the lawn with me on him,” Files said.
Jefferis, who is 76, has owned the ranch since the 70s after moving to Wyoming from just west of Philadelphia. She wasn’t a city girl and proudly claims she was riding horses before she was born. “I was riding since I was in my mother’s womb.”
She still goes back to Pennsylvania every year for equestrian fox-hunting. “This will be my 72nd season,” Jefferis says proudly.
The ranch itself is fairly famous. After escaping from jail and killing four people in 1939, Earl Durand hid in the hills near the ranch while fleeing from the law. A posse chased him, using Jim Owen’s cabin as the headquarters; Jefferis now lives in the cabin.
Ranch manager Jerry Hill said he hopes to show Leroy off at local schools and more parades. Even when he gets full-grown — several hundred pounds heavier and another hand or two higher — he’s going to remain the ranch mascot, er, mooscot.
“I’ve been around a lot of animals — a lot of cows and a lot of horses — and Leroy is one of a kind,” Hill said. “Leroy really enjoys company. And you know, who knows where he may have ended up if we didn’t buy him. But ever since, this is his domain.”
If you’d like to have Leroy come for a visit, call Jerry Hill at the Rock Creek Ranch, 307-645-3184.