Like his father before him, Joe Slattery kept records — detailed records of every receipt and expenditure of any importance.
Every dollar made. Every dollar spent over a lifetime on the family ranch just east of Rozet.
Most of it is written in plain pencil on plain paper, dating back to 1917, a year after Charles Slattery filed on his homestead.
By doing so, Joe and his father, Charles, left the third generation of Campbell County ranchers with a deep appreciation of their ancestors and the land they now occupy.
The youngest of the nine children raised by Joe and Callie Slattery, said every decision he makes about the ranch of 1,750 acres — it once totaled 4,000 — is with that dedication in mind. Mike Slattery said he, too, wants to ensure the ranch continues for the fourth and fifth generations who work and play on it now.
It’s a land of sagebrush and deep grasses flowing like a rugged carpet over and around hillsides that still holds remnants of the history it has witnessed.
Wagon ruts, still visible, testify to the freight route between Casper and Moorcroft that followed the Belle Fourche River to South Dakota.
On a hill covered by large rocks and boulders, you can still see the faint carving of two initials: H.W., and make out the date of 1821. The last name has faded now, a victim of wind and erosion, but the family reckons H.W. was on one of those wagons passing through.
The teepee rings from bands of Indians who camped there poke through the snow covering the landscape. From that vantage point, they could have see anyone or anything coming at them from a distance.
It all started in 1916, when Charles loaded an emigrant railroad car in his hometown of O’Neill, Neb., with a horse, two milk cows, 400 weaner pigs and a dog. All of their possessions occupied that boxcar.
When they arrived in Rozet, Charles, his wife Bea and son Joe, then about 3 years old, drove the animals cross country to the site of the homestead.
Charles and neighbor Fred Duvall already had built a 16-by-24-foot, two-story framed house with cedar siding and shingles.
“They were some of the homesteaders that filed on a section of land with nothing on it but grass, sagebrush and cactus,” Joe wrote later in a Campbell County family history, “The Treasured Years.”
Jim Slattery, a middle child among the nine that Joe and his wife later raised on the ranch, said the family likely left Nebraska for Wyoming when a friend, Jack Wolfe, told them about the area. Wolfe already had homesteaded near Rozet.
Charles met his wife at a country dance in Inman, Neb., a small town southeast of O’Neill. He was playing the fiddle at that dance and did so in many other dances over the years in Wyoming and Nebraska.
“Grandma said he would go to a dance and hear a new song and then he’d whistle it all the way home,” said Mike, 59. By then, Charles would get out the violin, play the tune and knew it for good.
“I remember grandfather. I was only 3 years old, but I remember him,” added Jim, 66. “Oh, he’d sit on the couch and play that violin pretty near every night.”
That was just one of Charles’ talents. “He was a businessman and he was honest as the day was long. Of course, he lived with a little Irish lady that pretty well kept him in tow,” Jim said.
Peanuts in Wyoming
Bea was a character in her own right.
Told by Nebraska family and friends that she’d never be able to grow anything in the God forsaken, wind-blown fields of Wyoming, her garden for many years included peanuts.
For many years, she’d ship peanuts to those Nebraska naysayers just to prove her point.
“She could ‘huh,’” Jim added. “That was her favorite thing, ‘huh.’ If she disagreed or disapproved, it was ‘huh.’ She didn’t have to say no more.”
Bea was a hard worker in the fields and skilled in the kitchen, too.
“She could stuff her dress in a pair of bib overalls and go to the hay field and buck hay with a sweep onto a beaver slide with a team of horses,” Jim said. “And she’d cuss and scream. She’d leave the hay field at 20 to 12 and have a five-course meal ready at noon. And if you weren’t there on time, she was mad as all get out.”
Charles died in 1949, but Bea lived on in their home until her death in 1976. She helped raise her grandchildren, all nine of them.
It was through Bea’s efforts that the ranch actually stayed in the family. Their son, Joe, and his wife, Callie, were raising their family in Rock Springs where he worked as a truck driver hauling freight.
When age began to take a toll, Charles leased the ranch to a neighbor for a few years. Then the neighbor wanted to buy it and Charles was leaning toward doing so.
It was Bea who put a stop to that idea. And Joe and his family — then with four children — moved back to the ranch near Rozet in 1942.
After the birth of their children Joe, Sue, Caroline and Catherine in Rock Springs, Jim was born in 1945 in Gillette. He was followed by Mary, Charles, Ann and Mike. That’s nine children over a 14-year span.
The first one, Joe, cost $7.50 to deliver. The last one, Mike, cost $54. The family has the receipts to prove it.
“What dad always said was that being an only child, he wasn’t going to have but one, he was going to have a passel of them,” Mike said.
Growth during hard times
By that time, the ranch had grown, much of it under Charles’ guidance.
Even in the 1930s, he bought the homesteads of nearby families as they left.
“The winter of (19)17 got some of them, and the winter of ’19 got some more of them and the winter of ’21 pretty well finished them off, the other homesteaders that was around here,” Jim said. “He bought up their places as they moved out.”
And Charles kept track of it all. Ledgers show how much he paid for each piece of property he picked up.
“He paid $1,100 for the Talley place, 320 acres in 1927, before the crash,” Jim said, looking over one page.
“He bought the Leidy place. Ralph Leidy. He’s the one that came here from Missouri with a whole slug of Holstein cows.”
“This guy (Leidy) worked for the railroad in Moorcroft and he had a harness built up with two cream cans and he walked to Moorcroft and he sold cream daily,” Mike recalled. After selling his cream, Leidy would work at the railroad for eight hours before walking the 14 miles back home. Then he’d milk the cows and prepare for the next day’s deliveries.
Even when Leidy would visit the family years later, at age 60 or 70, he could still outwalk them, Mike said. “He was just one of them that was always on a trot.”
As the neighbors gave up their grip on the land, the Slatterys gained, even in the midst of the Depression and the drought that stretched well beyond 1930.
A major part of the family’s income was selling hogs and potatoes, and selling or trading to the neighbors for work and services. They also sold potatoes to Robinson Mercantile in Moorcroft, at least those they didn’t need themselves.
“Granddad must have been a good money manager because we found receipts through the ’30s where he was paying notes at the bank and either trading or purchasing stuff,” Mike said. “Through the Dirty ’30s, he was financially sound.”
Nothing will go to waste
“This was his bookkeeping, just a pencil on a flat piece of paper and he kept track of everything,” Jim said, waving a page from a ledger. “It was amazing what they went through.”
That included battling waves of Mormon crickets or grasshoppers, and finding unique ways to water the pigs during a drought.
Their own father kept up the practice.
“He never wasted a penny of it,” James said. “I had guys tell me he was a self-made stockbroker. He just knew things.”
Both Charles and Joe served many years on the school board in Rozet. The school closed in 1958 and one of Mike’s and Jim’s sisters was in the final class graduating from that high school.
Joe also was well known for his ability to break horses. He would use teams of horses to build reservoirs, including harnessing a pair of wild ones between two of the dependable, gentler horses. Those old horses included Ham and a good poker hand, with King, Queen, Ace, Jack and Joker.
“Dad could work horses that nobody else could hardly get in the corral with,” Jim said.
“He had a reputation as a horsebreaker,” Mike added.
“He could drop the McCartney over his neck with a horse at a gallop and roll himself a Bull Durham cigarette,” Jim said, exaggerating the yarn just a bit. “He could make them just like the tailor-made ones too. ... He smoked them old Bull Durham cigarettes from the time he was 10 years old until he was 55.”
Joe and Callie also made use of everything that came their way. They would plant fields of potatoes and sweet corn. After filling their own cellar, they’d sell the remaining potatoes and corn in Moorcroft.
“I don’t remember ever going to bed hungry,” Jim said. “We never wasted nothing.”
And they won’t now.
Even the sheepherder monuments built by Bea and a herder they hired remain standing at the tops of hills nearby, the “Sweeney” Butte off in the distance.
That’s the locals’ name for the butte, because the Sweeneys homesteaded near it.
“Every decision we make is based on the future,” said Mike, who also runs a liquid feed business that ranks among the largest in the nation through Loomix.
He and his wife, Dorothy, have raised four children on the ranch. Dorothy and Jim, who has retired as a farrier, are third-generation bus drivers at Rozet Elementary School.
Among the precious cargo they transport are a fifth generation of Slatterys who have attended the school.