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Sheep Gave This Cowboy A Start in Ranching

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Lura Roti
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Joe Painter (second from left) with his wife, Cindy and their daughter, Jessica Holmes, her husband Casey and three of their grandchildren.

This interview posted above is from SDPB's daily public-affairs show, In the Moment, hosted by Lori Walsh.

In 1895, Joe Painter's great-grandpa rode into Harding County as the head horse wrangler for the CY Cattle Company. As the story goes, great-grandpa Painter loved the country so much that he lived on the land out of a tent for two years. He eventually acquired the right paperwork to take legal ownership of the land in 1910.

One-hundred-twenty-seven years later, the Painter family continues to ranch in Harding County. Joe Painter shares how he got his start in ranching. And the role sheep played in helping him keep his family's ranching legacy strong.

“I’m Joe Painter and we ranch northwest of Buffalo, South Dakota, right in the northwest corner of South Dakota not too far from Montana and North Dakota. I am a fourth-generation rancher and today we have our daughter and son-in-law ranching with us and they are fifth-generation ranchers and three of our grandkids are the sixth generation.

Well, I must have known I was destined to be a rancher when I was about 10-years-old. We went in and dad wanted us kids to buy a herd of sheep. We went in and he made me go to the banker and talk to the banker about getting a loan for 200-head of sheep.

He’s a big old, mean-looking man sitting across the desk from me and I was scared to death. I went in and I got this loan for 200-head of sheep. Which in those days for $10 a piece is what we had to pay for the sheep. That is how tough money was to come by.

And basically, that is how I got started. Those 200-head of sheep us four kids had basically paid the way for our rodeo horses and college and clothing. 200 head of sheep in those days. That is how I got started, was with sheep.

About everybody in this country got started with sheep. We all want to be a cowboy and a cow man, but sheep is what paid all the bills, paid the taxes in this country.

What I kinda like about it, it goes back to the deal, you never do the same job very long. We get going haying, then we get going hauling hay, then we work cattle, then pretty quick we are weaning calves. It’s all different aspects – it is not like sitting in an office doing the same job day after day after day. You kinda get used to the freedom of it. And the older you get, you get to enjoy the fruits of labor and take a little more time off.

The best part about it for me now is watching my grandkids grow up on the ranch. That’s why we did it. And luckily we have three grandkids we hope to stay around and hopefully more who will gravitate back here. That is the most rewarding part of it all.”

Lura Roti is a freelance reporter working with SDPB.