Smiling wide: Eldon Snyder reflects on 98 years as a cowboy

Miriam Campan
Friday, April 2, 2021
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Miss J.J. Bar, born near where this photograph was taken, has been Eldon Snyder’s friend and companion for 31 years.
Photo by Katherine Sears

Born on March 28, 1923, Eldon Snyder admits he hasn’t mastered computers.  For the past 98 years Eldon lived through the transitions of radio, television, airplanes, wars and conflicts, the Civil Rights movement, rock and roll, disgraced presidents, the fall of the Twin Towers and COVID.  For the most part, he did it on horseback or on the back of a mule.
Moving from Arizona to Lewistown in 1948, it was the weather that made him want to stay in cooler climates.
“There have been a few days with it being pretty cold, but when it is cold you just put on more clothes. I nearly died from the Arizona heat every summer,” said Snyder.
No stranger to ranch life and working with horses, Snyder competed in rodeos from the time he was 14 to 30, specializing in bareback and bronc-riding. It is a love of horses that has been a thread throughout his life.
“Well, I worked on ranches for about three years when I first moved here. Then I got into the outfitting business where I ran hunting and back country trips into the mountains for over 30 years, and then I just started laying around,” said Snyder.
In actuality Snyder is being modest, as the last time he rode his horse was two years ago. At 98 he continues to get up at 4 a.m. every morning, have a cup of coffee and then roll to the barn that is approximately 250 to 300 feet away, where he tends to his horse. He began riding horses at the age of 3, meaning he’s been on a horse or a mule for over nine decades.
It was while riding a mule that Snyder went from two legs to one.
“I’m a one-legged man. I was training some mules about 26 years ago and the mule ran into a post and wrecked my leg,” said Snyder.
No stranger to tragedy from his equine companions, Snyder said his first marriage ended over horses and his second marriage ended in death.

Snyder said, “It was two days after Christmas. Her horse kicked her in the head and killed her. I was doing work and I got back and found her lying on the hillside. She was flown to Billings, but the doctor in Billings told me, ‘the only way she’d have more damage is if a high-powered rifle did it.’ It was in 1990 and they turned off the power for her. She thought nothing could go wrong with that horse, but if anything touched his leg he would go berserk.”
Despite the losses in his life, Snyder maintains an optimistic attitude and always finds something to keep himself busy.
“I ain’t gonna change. I’ve loved my whole life and I make the best of whatever happens. I’m a firm believer if something is wrong—smile wide,” he said.



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