Roy looking over his spread


Midlife Moments'

Midlifer of the Week

Roy Ransom

The Toughest Man I Ever Met

by Mike Bellah

He was the toughest man I ever met. Picture a real-life replica of Jack Palance's character Curly in City Slickers, and you have Roy.

Like Curly, Roy was one of a vanishing breed of American cowboys, men who rode horses long before they drove pickup trucks. Like Curly, Roy rolled his own cigarettes, something he could do with one hand still holding the horse's reins. And with a face leather-like from three-quarters of a century spent working under the West Texas sun, Roy even looked like Curly.

Or Curly looked like Roy. For Roy was not a Hollywood rendition. He was the real thing, toughness personified.

I've seen Roy perched on top of a windmill making repairs on a December morning when the wind chill must have been -10 Fahrenheit. He never thought of waiting until the weather improved. The cattle were thirsty today, so today they would get water.

Roy knew no fear. I've seen him approach a five-foot-long diamondback rattlesnake, coiled and ready to strike, with his only weapon an 18-inch stick.

Roy killed rattlers and coyotes and an occasional mule deer, all plentiful on his ranch, but I never saw him mistreat an animal (I know this sounds contradictory, but both cowboys and Native Americans of the Old West would know what I mean).

Once I was checking on the cattle with Roy when he found a golden eagle caught in a trap intended for a calf-killing coyote. Roy had me hold the eagle (something I didn't volunteer for, but one didn't say no to Roy) while he carefully and gently released a bruised but unbroken claw.

Roy was born in a dugout on his father's homestead overlooking the Palo Duro Canyon. As a teen-ager he watched his dad tame horses for the legendary cattleman, Charles Goodnight. During Roy's first year at Baylor, where he hoped to become a lawyer, he received news of his father's untimely death. Roy returned home and, with a brother, managed and expanded the family ranch until his 1991 death at 87.

I didn't meet Roy until he was in his 60s, but even then he could outwork any two 30-year-olds. His days began at sunrise and ended, daylight savings time notwithstanding, at sunset. During his 70s Roy began to struggle with arthritis. It slowed him down but never stopped him. Roy's wife remembers seeing him crawl to his pickup truck on a morning when his knees refused to work.

Through all this, and throughout a life-ending six-month struggle with lung cancer, I only saw Roy shed a tear twice, once when he told of his religious conversion in a little country church at age 10, and once when he held a small green-eyed blond-haired granddaughter.

Roy had his faults. He could lose his temper; he sneaked cigarettes long after promising to give them up, and he sometimes appeared insensitive to others. But I never met a more honest and caring man.

Yet what I remember most about Roy is his toughness, a toughness I've seen live on in his children and grandchildren. In fact, the little girl that make him cry, now in her 20's, guides backpackers through some of the more remote and rugged regions of the Colorado and Wyoming Rockies. I know. She's my daughter, Joni. And Roy Ransom was a man I was proud to call father-in-law.

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