Financial History Issue 121 (Spring 2017) - Page 10

EDUCATORS’ PERSPECTIVE Risk Management on the Range By Brian Grinder and Dan Cooper Bill Grinder walked out of the bank, hat in hand, with a heavy heart. He had just lost his ranch south of Buffalo, Wyoming, where he had lived since his youth. The banker refused to loan him the money needed to meet operating expenses for the coming year. It was 1939. Bill and his father, Edward, had weathered the worst of the Great Depression only to lose it all just as things were beginning to turn around. “How,” he wondered, “would he tell his wife, Anna? Where would they go? What would happen to them and their two small children, Edwin and Miriam?” This was the second time the Grinder family had lost a ranch. In 1910, their ranch near Marquette, Wyoming literally went under water with the completion of the Shoshone Dam. 1 Bill was nine years old, and his brother Sam was six when the water rose and submerged the log build- ings on their ranch. The federal govern- ment paid them for their land, 2 and the family set off for the Nebraska Sandhills to start over. After three years, they decided to move back to Wyoming and settled in the Buffalo area. There were no safety nets for a Wyoming rancher in the 1930s, no social programs for failed ranchers or their families. All Bill had left to his name after he lost the ranch was a string of saddle horses. He eventually found a cabin near Boulder, Wyoming where he and his family could stay rent free, but he needed to find a way to get his horses there. Trucking them was out of the question; there was simply no money for that. So Bill and Don Rogers, a family friend, saddled up their horses and trailed the herd a distance of about 300 miles, crossing two mountain passes, to get them to their new home. The horses were sold off over the next several months to pay for living expenses until Bill could find work as a ranch hand on some of the area’s larger spreads. The 1940 Census for the unincorpo- rated town of Boulder, Wyoming indi- cates that neither Bill nor his 71-year- old father was working or seeking work. Under the heading “Occupation, Industry, and Class of Worker,” the Census form indicates that the families surveyed both before and after the Grinders owned their own ranches and were engaged in ranch- ing as an occupation. Under the Grinder family, all of the boxes under this category are ominously empty. The Census also identifies Edward Grinder as the head of the household with three generations living under the same roof. There was no Medicare at that time, and Social Security was only about five years old. It was common for families to take care of their elderly parents and grandparents at home. Any sort of insur- ance, not to mention something as extrav- agant as long-term care insurance, was out of the question for most rural folks. Bill eventually found work as a ranch hand on several of the larger ranches in the area, such as the Tanner Ranch, the Quarter Circle 5 Ranch and the Maytag Ranch. The owner of the Quarter Circle 5 Ranch was married to a descendant of blue jean magnate Levi Strauss, and the Maytag Ranch was a fishing playground for Lewis Bergman “Bud” Maytag, son of the founder of the Maytag Washing Machine Company. In her book, Rough Breaks: A Wyoming High Country Memoir, Laurie Wagner Buyer captures the essence of what Bill Grinder and other local ranchers have long felt about wealthy absentee ranch owne