I learned quickly that you don’t ask a rancher how many head of cattle or horses he runs; that’s akin to just asking a stranger what he has in the bank. By that time I was already sitting with the entire Perino family at their big kitchen table in a modest ranch house at the end of a long gravel drive, surrounded by pastures of grass as far as I could see. The Perinos came over in the early 1900’s from Italy seeking work in the Wyoming coal mines. They homesteaded land outside of Newcastle where patriarch Matt says they were “poor red-dirt farmers from up the creek.” Today they have a globally-known quarter horse business along with raising cattle on prime ranch land. I sat down with Matt, his wife Donna, son Preston, and daughter-in-law Nicolle at the kitchen table for a long chat, through which they invited me for lunch and some of Donna’s homemade berry cobbler. I would have loved to have spent two weeks there, and I am pretty sure it would have been OK with them. The first and last quotes of this post are sure to make it into my Wisdom Road Hall of Fame.
“Never show a man how cheap you are over the price of a drink.” (Translation: You don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t buy drinks at the bar. You don’t look down on anybody. Every single person has value; that drunk on the street knows something that maybe you don’t.)
“Some city kids were ‘hot shots’, thought they were better than us and treated us badly. It was their form of bigotry. Their families lived in town and maybe their parents were doctors or lawyers or bankers. They put us down. We didn’t mix into their social circles. Funny thing: now we own some of the land that used to be theirs!”
“You went to school and came home and did chores. There just wasn’t much time for much else. We helped out on neighbors’s ranches. Everyone did that, except there was one neighbor who seemed to get a bad back every year it was time to bale hay, but we helped him even though he never helped us in return. That’s just what you did. Sure, that was wrong of him, but we were taught to do the right thing.”
“If you had a dispute with someone you went over and settled it face to face.”
“I can remember there was a black guy came here and he was a good cowboy. I guess we could see that he was a different color. But what the hell does that mean? You know? Nothing.”
“Seems we always had kids living here with us, maybe they had problems at home or whatever. They might start by hanging around or doing some work here and then sometimes they just sort of moved in because they needed a place.”
“I haven’t been everywhere in the world, but this is the best place in the world. When we go somewhere now, the best day of those trips is when I walk back through these gates to this place. It’s not that I don’t like those other places. This is home.”
“We’re okay with people coming here, but they come here for our way of life, but they bring their way of life. They come in, buy 40 acres and they put chains and padlocks on their gates, put up a no trespassing sign, that’s the first thing they do. We don’t ever padlock our gates. Then they call and holler because we got a cow on their side. Well, how the hell am I supposed to get that cow with a padlock on the gate?!
“One huge problem is social media. That’s a detriment. Just go to the school football game. You see them kids are walking around, they’re all just looking at their phones.”
“We are grateful that we can do whatever the hell we want here, Even if we’re in town we leave the key in the ignition or the door of the truck unlocked. We know everyone.”
“It’s gotten so bad recently, so what if you’re a Democrat or Republican or conservative, we used to be able to talk things out and you know, there’s just a wall. You can’t have a civil conversation. I got the cure-all: term limits, that would help a lot.”
“I don’t know who people vote for and I don’t care. People from different parts of the political spectrum have told me that they’ve stopped listening to the news, they’ve turned it off.”
“The common man can’t get elected. All we got is the super ultra rich who got money and big PACS or whatever. And they’re the only ones that make laws and so forth.”
“Alcohol and drugs can be the two worst things other than politics.”
Over lunch we had a conversation about some new prospecting for rare earth metals nearby. Matt said, “Remember when the creeks below Homestake Gold were running black?” We agreed on some pretty basic things that utterly cross current political boundaries. We agreed that the United States should produce these resources rather than being beholden to China; that mining operations like that can and have caused huge problems with water quality, which is vital to ranchers; and that the federal government, not much loved in Wyoming, plays a big role in ensuring water quality. It was the end of a very good morning.