Getting ready for family home evening in a cowboy camp is no easy matter. After all, it’s tough when the watermelon you planned for refreshments is washed down the river ten miles and ends up stranded on an island.
And it’s no easy task persuading tough cowboys that it’s okay to jump rope, toss eggs, and run an obstacle course as warm-up games before the evening campfire.
And it takes some fast talking to arrange with the camp cook to let you make cinnamon rolls and salads as a special treat for family home evening dinner instead of the usual beans and beef.
And it’s impossible to hide the tears that come when, sitting around a campfire, one young cowboy says that the best day of his life was the day he was baptized.
Family home evening held outdoors around a campfire during a cattle roundup is one assignment that Salli and Syndi Kane, twin 16-year-olds, enjoy. Their family runs the Spanish Ranch near Tuscarora, Nevada, and each spring they hire cowboys to come help with branding new calves and rounding up the cattle scattered during the winter months over virtually hundreds of square miles of range. Most of the cowboys are not members of the Church, but sometimes one or two seem to be searching for something, something to guide their lives. They are the ones that can be reached by the special messages slipped in between the fun times at family home evenings held under the stars around a campfire.
The Kane family, including the twins and their three younger brothers, Dallas, Derek, and Denverr, often go along on the spring roundups to help out. It’s hard work with days that start before dawn, miles of dusty riding, driving cattle to better grass, branding new calves, shoeing horses, and falling into bed at sundown. But Syndi and Salli find that when they are alone on a mountain ridge, it’s a good time to think about things that are really important. And the long rides back to camp can be the perfect chance for talking about the gospel with a young cowboy.
Then there are family home evenings. The first evening, most of the cowboys don’t quite know what to make of the whole idea. Some even turn down the invitation saying they are too tired. “But after they see us out playing baseball and having a good time, they come,” says Syndi. “Even if they don’t come that first time, their tents are nearby, and we know they are listening and watching. Usually by the end of the month they are all excited to come. We sometimes have family home evening twice a week.”
“It’s always hard to give the prayer at the first home evening,” says Salli. “Dad will always ask one of us girls to give it. We get embarrassed in front of all these guys, and we want to say, ‘Dad, don’t do this to me.’ We wonder what they are thinking.”
The girls organize the activities for the evening. “We have lots of games,” says Syndi. “We’ll have a baseball game, and it is hilarious. The cowboys slide into bases that are just a saddle blanket or a piece of wood. I remember one time we had an obstacle race. They had to wash a sock and hang it up, run across the stream on a tiny board, and make it back to the finish line. They were just whooping and hollering. Their hats were flying off. They loved it.”
Things calm down a bit as the family reads scriptures, the boys sing a Primary song, and a lesson is given that everyone can relate to on patience or honesty. In fact, whoever is giving the lesson often uses examples from around the ranch to illustrate the point of the lesson. During the week Sister Kane takes a moment to ask each cowboy a question, so that he can prepare an answer to share at family night. For example, she might ask about someone who has shown them a kindness, or about something difficult they have had to overcome in their lives, or about something they have learned at camp. “Mom usually asks them something they have to be spiritual about,” says Syndi. When these thoughts are shared sitting around a dying campfire, a bond is forged, and a family feeling starts to develop.
One spring a young, lanky cowboy named Rick Errington came to work for the Kanes. At first he was quiet and took a background role in the events at camp. But Sister Kane sensed something about him that persuaded her to introduce him to the gospel. The twins confess that they are sometimes embarrassed to take the first step in inviting a new cowboy to church. After their mother breaks the ice, they are right behind her working just as hard to get to know him and talk about the gospel.
“I remember the first time Rick came to church,” says Salli. “Here is this new guy, and he’s really young, and Mom invited him to church.”
“We were wondering what he was thinking,” says Syndi. “Then he started coming to church in our trailer. We take a little trailer out to the cowboy camps and hold sacrament meeting in it. It’s really crowded with the seven of our family and two or three cowboys. There is a little bench and one chair and a little cabinet to put the sacrament on.”
Salli interrupts, “And the Spirit is always there. We have one hymnbook and try to keep in tune.”
“The sacrament means the same,” says Syndi, “even though it’s on an old pie plate with different kinds of cups.”
The meeting is a comfortable one for those trying to learn more about the gospel. Scripture study is combined with the talks. No one is afraid to comment or ask questions, even in the middle of a talk.
To get to know Rick a little better, Sister Kane asked him to help her sons with their Cub Scout projects. They had a great time building a scooter from old barn wood and used roller skate wheels.
At camp Rick came to meetings regularly and started giving talks. “At first,” says Rick, “I saw the Kanes as a very special family that loved each other and showed this love to everyone. After a while I learned that it was the gospel that pulled them together like that.”
Rick helped with family home evening and encouraged the other cowboys to participate. “At first, some of the men didn’t want anything to do with it, but then they started to come and liked it. Every family home evening, we were fed just a little more of the gospel.”
The time Rick spent riding the range after cattle became a time for reflection, growth, and prayer. He was profoundly affected by experiences he had while by himself in the sagebrush hills. And at the church meetings, “I heard what I needed to hear,” he says.
After the roundup, Rick attended branch meetings held in the Kane home on their ranch. Soon the missionaries from Elko were making the 60-mile drive to teach him. He was baptized, and his first calling was to be the Sunday School teacher to Salli and Syndi. “He was really good,” says Syndi. “Those lessons were really hard for him at first. He would study and study.”
But Salli and Syndi lost their Sunday School teacher. Syndi explains, “One day after Rick was baptized, Mom told him, ‘You know the next step after being baptized is to get prepared for a mission.’ He had a real desire to go. He saved up his money for a year after being baptized. Now he’s in Oklahoma serving his mission.”
The Kanes have influenced other cowboys to join the Church. Salli remembers one that was particularly hard to talk to. “It took him forever to believe something, but once he did, he was so strong. He would think of every picky question and fight against you. The missionaries really helped answer his questions. Once he knew it was true, he had to join.”
“There are some cowboys who don’t join the Church,” says Syndi, “that you know will someday.”
A cowboy’s life during roundup is full of hard work. “Every morning, the cowboys will get up about three or four o’clock,” says Dallas Kane, 12. “One guy gets up earlier and wrangles the horses. Then everyone eats breakfast, and each person catches his own horse.”
Syndi explains that early morning is the time for a little excitement. Sometimes a horse is not pleased about having a rider, and a little bucking contest takes place. “Each cowboy is given five horses. That’s called a string. Instead of riding the same horse every day—the poor horse would give out—the cowboys have different horses to ride. Those five horses are his to take care of. In the early morning when they start out, that’s when the excitement happens. Somebody might get a rank horse and take a duster.”
Often the girls will go help with the work, but even if they aren’t going cowboying that day, they’ll still peek out in the early morning to see if anyone gets bucked off.
It’s hard to eat a big breakfast at three o’clock in the morning, but that meal has to last until the cowboys get back to camp in early afternoon. The cowboys get started early because once it gets hot the cattle won’t move. But they still spend a lot of hours in the saddle. Salli says, “Sometimes you have to ride ten miles before you even start work. Then you gather cattle for ten miles and trail them five or ten miles. By the end of the day, you have to trot twenty miles back to camp.”
“It’s cold in the morning,” adds Syndi, “so you have all these clothes on. Then by ten when it starts to get hot, you just keep dropping off coats and sweaters as you go. When you trot back home, you gather up the clothes from the fence posts. And since you ate at three that morning, by three in the afternoon, you’re starved.”
The cowboys spread out, rounding up cattle, counting them, and driving them together ready to be moved to the summer range. “Each person is responsible for a huge area,” explains Salli. “The brush and grass is deep, and the cows will be lying down. You have to yell so they will rise up. So many times I’ll be on top of this mountain and holler as I’m coming down. Then I’ll look up, and there are all these cows behind me that I missed. I just have to go back up and get them. That makes me so mad.”
“Or you’ll go ten miles, and you’ll look back and there’s this one little speck way up there that’s a cow,” says Syndi. “I just pretend I didn’t see it.”
The range in northern Nevada where the Spanish Ranch runs its cattle is rolling acres of sagebrush and grass with hilly ridges separating empty valley from empty valley. It’s a place where, instead of feeling small and insignificant, a cowboy can feel closer to the things mightier than himself. “Sometimes when I’m out there all by myself,” says Salli, “I feel so close to the Lord. You can think about everything. You’ve got the whole day by yourself. It’s so vast. You can see for miles. There is sagebrush everywhere, and you can see deer, coyotes, wild mustangs, and snakes.” Salli shuddered a little, “I hate the snakes.”
Syndi was picturing the same scene as her sister was describing it. She added, “The river shines as it winds through the valley, and there are mountains with snow on them in the distance.”
“And there’s lots of great sunsets,” Dallas piped in.
In many ways it seems as though civilization has been left behind when a cowboy is alone on a mountainside. The area is essentially the same as it was when trappers and Indians passed through in search of beaver or buffalo. Then suddenly the silence is shattered. The most advanced fighter planes in the United States Air Force make training flights over the area from a nearby air force base. The sleek, needle-nosed planes ride the ridges and valleys leaving ribbon trails across the deep blue of the sky. Sometimes the planes fly so low that the pilot in the cockpit and the cowboy on horseback make eye contact. For a moment something flickers between the two. The pilot may envy the cowboy’s touch with earth through the feel of saddle and horseflesh. And the cowboy may wish for the freedom of flight. Then the plane is gone, and quiet settles back over the land like a quilt, a quiet that allows one man’s thoughts to be the loudest thing he hears.
Nevada is a land so vast that sometimes a cowboy can get lost, wandering in miles of wild grass and sagebrush where one rocky ridge starts to look like another. When they get lost, Brother Kane has told them to find a stream and follow it downhill until they come to the river. Then follow the river downstream to camp.
The family home evenings at camp on the Spanish Ranch are a little like those streams. A cowboy who is lost in this world can follow that small stream of truth and love which leads him to the river of the gospel. And then he can follow the river home to the Lord.