First I’d like to give a big ol’ thank you to Randi, and the extremely talented authors at Wild and Wicked Cowboys for allowing me to stop by, introduce myself and jaw a bit!
I write historical Western Romances most set in and around Sheridan County, Wyoming. My cowboys are hard-headed, hard-working, and hard-bodied and the only thing wild enough to take ‘em on are the cowgirls and ladies tough enough to lasso ‘em in, and then make good use of that rope. 😉
I’m not published…Yet. But, I keep on researching and writing until a door opens, or I end up pushing through and taking on self-publishing.
The series I’m currently pounding away on is close to my heart. The characters are based on my ancestors who settled in, and sometimes unsettled, the town of Sheridan.
My current hero is a cowboy, of course, but since his story takes place in the early 20th Century, I wanted to venture away from the gunfighters, gamblers, and marshals. But what?
Well he does live at the base of the Big Horn Mountains. And I know what you’re thinking. There’s one thing that comes to mind when you think of that area of Wyoming…POLO, “the sport of kings!”
Of course, Polo! Why, one of the ten largest polo clubs in the United States today is the Big Horn Polo Club near Sheridan, Wyoming. There are forty-five, full-time members including the last three winners of the U.S. Open. Some of the best American polo players make annual pilgrimages to the Big Horn Polo Club. Not only are human polo players honed and trained in the shadow of the Big Horns, but one of the most prestigious polo horse breeding operations in the world is located there, as well.
Englishmen and Scotsmen purchased huge tracks of land in the area, during the late 19th Century, intending to breed thoroughbred horses. With them they brought the game of polo, and in no time they were teaching this game to their ranch hands.
On July 4, 1893, the first spectator game of polo, in Wyoming, was played at the Sheridan fairgrounds. The hour and ten minute game pitted Beckton against Sheridan. Both teams were primarily composed of British players, including Captain Pete Stockwell a British officer formerly stationed in India, who played for Beckton.
The umpire during that game was Frank Grouard. Grouard, a horse rancher, had quite a history. In 1870, the Sioux captured him. He lived with the Sioux until he joined the U.S. Army and scouted for General George Crook. After the Indian Wars, Grouard came back to the Big Horn area.
Only a few years after over a thousand spectators witnessed that first polo game, Scotsman Malcolm Moncreiffe moved from Powder River to the Big Horn area and built a polo field and breeding operation in 1898. Moncreiffe’s breeding operation was one of the finest in the world, and he exported Wyoming-bred thoroughbred polo horses and foxhunters to England. Moncreiffe also provided over 20,000 of his Wyoming thoroughbreds to the British cavalry and artillery during the Boer War.
Along with building his breeding operation, Moncreiffe developed a polo team with his friend Bob Walsh. Bob Walsh, a former piano player in a whorehouse in Miles City, Montana, was by this time the president of Moncreiffe’s First National Bank in Sheridan. By the turn of the century, Moncreiffe and Walsh traveled with their team to Colorado Springs winning a tournament on the lawn of the Broadmoor Hotel. The tournament featured several Army teams, a Denver team and a team from Kansas City.
Neither Moncreiffe nor Walsh led their team to victory in Colorado Springs. It was genuine cowboy John Cover. Cover was a bronc rider, steer roper, relay rider and cattleman. As a teenager he started working for Moncreiffe. Recognizing the cowboy’s talent, Moncreiffe put Cover in charge of the polo operation, and Cover evolved into one of the top players in the United States. He quit Moncrieffe after a dispute, but remained unemployed for about a minute before Goelet Gallatin, who owned the Circle V Polo Company in Big Horn, put Cover in charge of the Circle V.
Started at the end of World War I, the Circle V held its own alongside the premier polo operations in the world. The Circle V expanded its polo operations to include more than 150 top brood mares, and established a winter location in Aiken, South Carolina. Broodmares from the Circle V were sent to top international players including Tommy Hitchcock, Ambrose Clarke and Deveraux Milburn. When Cover arrived at the Circle V, Hitchcock and Milburn trailed him like a pair of pups in an attempt to acquire a few of his secrets. Cover evolved into such a well-respected player, he was asked to join a team of Americans traveling to England. He refused stating “he had cows to look after.” Cover was known as the second-best Back in the United States, behind his protégé Milburn.
By the 1920s and 30s, world class horse breeders such as Cameron Forbes, Alan Fordyce and O.H. Wallop were rooted in the area. They wasted no time establishing polo teams and rivalries, friendly and not, resulting in local games benefiting charities such as the Salvation Army, Red Cross and local charitable organizations. Many of these thoroughbred breeders had been in business over 30 years, producing some of the heartiest horses on Earth.
In 1948, the Neponset team, from Sheridan, repeated history on the lawn of the Broadmoor Hotel winning the National 12-Goal Championship match. Bloodlines of six Kentucky Derby winners were present on that team.
But polo started to fade from the local scene in the late 1950s. Bob Tate began a resurgence of the sport, in 1963, with Malcolm and John Wallop, Doc Connell, Ike Fordyce and a Tepee Lodge team.
By the early eighties, the Moncreiffe field was sold and a group of players established the Big Horn Equestrian Center including the Big Horn Polo Club. In 2000, two teams with their breeding operations in Sheridan won the U.S. Open.
The Flying H Polo Club, started on what used to be the Circle V, became one of the premier summer clubs in the United States offering high-goal polo. Top international players participate at the Flying H, including eight U.S. Open winners.
If y’all are interested in takin’ in a game, no need to high-tail it across the Atlantic. Just set sail on a prairie schooner to Sheridan where three days a week from July to Labor Day you can see “the game of kings” at either the Big Horn Polo Club (the oldest polo club West of the Mississippi) or at the Flying H Polo Club.
And if you’re lookin’ for a lot of fun and cowboys with sticks on horses, the wranglers from local dude ranches are known to challenge each other for rip roarin’ game of Cowboy Polo. This usually includes brooms, a football (or any ball available), laughter and of course beer!
Click HERE to check out some great photos!
There Clayton Boden was born. Part after my great-uncle who infiltrated and caroused his way through Sheridan society and part John Cover, humble cowboy and one hell of a Polo player!
And just a side note while researching Clayton’s story, I found a lead for his mother’s story. Based on my great-grandmother, a trick rider and iron-willed woman of the West, the Boden’s became a blend of immigrants scraping out a living to become successful horse ranchers supplying horses to the British Army.
ABOUT ME: I’m livin’ the dream in the shadow of the Big Horn Mountains! By day I do my best to help preserve the history of Wyoming managing the artifact collection at a local museum, or collecting oral histories from the amazing people who made Sheridan County what it is today!
In the evening, I use the knowledge gained in my day jobs (and a lot of my own imagination) to create Western Romances celebrating the spirit of those who settled in this amazing area of Wyoming!
But I always carve out some time to play pioneer and venture onto the various dirt roads around me going wherever they lead, or to head downtown and enjoy walking the historic streets of Sheridan and sharing a tipped hat and smile with those I meet.
It’s a blessing when work feels like play and play feels like an adventure. I’ve been truly blessed.
Come on over to www.kirstenlynnwildwest.com and kick off your boots and join me ‘round the campfire for more about Wyoming, and two free reads “Race to Marry” and “Christmas Stroll”. A spring short read will be coming soon!
Thanks again for having me today!
SOURCES FOR THIS BLOG:
Blair, Pat, Prater, Dana and the Sheridan County Museum. Images of America: Sheridan. Arcadia Publishing, 2008.