Nobles County cowboy made 1934 history

WORTHINGTON -- You should have been here. 1934. It is no surprise this summer, 75 years after the fact, we still talk about events of 1934. Not just one event, or two. Half a dozen of them. Even more. April. April 25. Black Sunday. The worst of a...

WORTHINGTON -- You should have been here. 


It is no surprise this summer, 75 years after the fact, we still talk about events of 1934. Not just one event, or two. Half a dozen of them. Even more.

April. April 25. Black Sunday. The worst of all the dust storms. The earth lifted out of Oklahoma and spread over the continent. The sky turned dark over Worthington, Wilmont, Windom, Westbrook. All our area. With this storm, even the sky over New York City turned black by Monday. Franklin Roosevelt beckoned visiting congressmen to a White House window to see the dirt in the air at Washington.

May. Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were shot to pieces by FBI men in ambush near Black Lake, La. 


June. Walt Disney introduced Donald Duck.

July. July 22. FBI men shot John Dillinger in the back as he filed with the crowd leaving Chicago's Biograph movie theater.

Aug. 2. Adolf Hitler became Der Fuhrer.

September. Sept. 19. Bruno Richard Hauptmann was arrested and charged with the kidnapping and murder of the 20-month-old son of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh.

I believe a movie has been made of every one of these events. None is forgotten. 

It also was the summer of 1934 when the only cowboy I ever knew arrived in Nobles County -- at Bigelow. L.B. and Emma Smith, the cowboy and the schoolmarm. This is a story for movies. 

L.B. (Smithy) remembered that summer when he arrived wearing cowboy boots and a Stetson hat, "Everybody gawked." 

"These days, of course, you see cowboy hats everywhere -- you can see them in New York. But in those days nobody around here wore anything like that. They thought I was some kind of monstrosity."


L.B. had come to Bigelow from Wyoming, where he was born. He brought wonderful cowboy stories with him:

"We were out about a week and I was standing guard about 1:30 a.m. It was black as ink and the cattle were restless due to St. Elmo fire playing on their horns.

"It was eerie as hell but really a beautiful sight -- that blue flame playing over all those horns. Soon the lightning and fire stopped and they all laid down.

"In about 20 minutes some old cow bawled not too far away and in an instant 700 big steers were running full speed. I was thankful that all good night horses are sure-footed and manage to see fairly well at night.

"I rode toward the lead of them screaming my lungs out and finally got them milling in a circle and got them stopped.

"I was riding Roan Tommy and I always liked him better after that."

Emma was the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. W.C. Wyatt. She was born at Yellowstone Park while the family was living there.

In an early day, W.C. Wyatt actually bought the Bigelow townsite. He owned the town. He was the first mayor. Emma went to Worthington High School and then to Carleton College. She began teaching on Minnesota's Iron Range and then went to Sheridan, Wyo.


"You know -- everyone wanted to go West."

Em and Smithy met on a blind date. He liked remembering, "We were married June 18, 1929, at Santa Monica, Calif., with my parents standing with us." Five years later, Emma's parents became ill. That brought the cowboy and the schoolmarm to Bigelow. Smithy trucked cattle and raised cattle in a spectacular way. He traveled west to buy cattle for 42 successive autumns. 

"I wound up with three straight trucks, two semis and a cornsheller. And more damned grief than anyone was entitled to." 

In 1972 he bought 4,000 yearling steers at Harrison, Neb., for nearly $150,000. "No one in that sale barn had seen or heard of me before but the office girl took my check and never even called the bank for an okay."

"Here, let me show you this," Smithy said to me during an interview. He found a cancelled check: $317,649.78. Sept. 26, 1978. "That was the biggest one. That was at Lusk, Wyo. Six hundred and ninety-one head." 

Em and L.B. lived in a two-story, white frame house at the corner of Broadway and Canterbury Drive and they told marvelous stories.

Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.

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