Green River Valley Cowbelles Ring in Forty Years of History
Compiled by Jonita Sommers and Tawnya Miller
A more extensive history of our group, plus all of its members and award honorees, is available here: Green River Valley Cowbelles History
The Green River Valley Cowbelles have been in existence for forty years. When looking at this history, one has to look at the early history of Cowbelles or Cattle Women.
The first Cowbelle meeting in the United States was held on October 17, 1939 in Mattie Cowan’s home on the Four Bar Ranch owned by Ralph and Mattie Cowan in Cochise County, Arizona. Sixteen women met and Mrs. Ben Snure suggested they call themselves “Cow Belles.” They planned to meet for only social events. It developed into an organization to help promote the beef industry and friendship among cattle people.
“The Wyoming Cow-Belles organized in Lander, Wyoming during the annual Wyoming Stock Growers Association’s meeting on June 6, 1940, which was a group of ladies who wanted to do more for the livestock industry.” They asked the Arizona group if they could use the name “Cow-Belles.” Mrs. Norman (Miriam) Barlow, Wyoming Cow-Belle president in 1946-47, told the 1947 convention of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, “…We have the distinction of being the first organization of our kind anywhere. While we did take the name of a group of ranch women in Arizona, they only were county-wide in scope. We organized in 1940, whereas the Arizona Cowbelles did not achieve state-wide status until this year. Colorado’s Cow-Belles are next to us in age.”
The founding members for the Wyoming Cowbelles, and the towns they were from in the Green River Valley were as follow:
Mrs. Earl Wright (should be Mrs. Eva Wright)—Farson (It is interesting to note our president, Sandy Wright, is the great-granddaughter-in-law of one of the founding members of the Wyoming Cowbelles.)
Mrs. Boyd (Mary) Kelly—Daniel
Ruthie Kelly (Mary’s sister-in-law)—Daniel
Mrs. Norman (Miriam) Barlow—Cora
Mrs. George (Ruth) Franz—Daniel
Mrs. Ned (Agnes) George—Daniel
Mrs. Robert (Virginia) O’Neil—Big Piney
Mrs. Thomas (Mary Ellen) O’Neil—Big Piney
There were four women from the Green River Valley who were president of the Wyoming Cowbelles. They were Mary Ellen O’Neil, Miriam Barlow, Virginia O’Neil and Ethel Jewett. Helen Kvenild, Rachel Jorgensen, Ruth Budd and Peggy Kvenild were all officers of the Wyoming Cowbelles before the Green River Valley Cowbelles were formed.
After the Green River Valley Cowbelles were formed in 1969, the following women from here served as officers for the Wyoming Cowbelles: Dorothy Marincic, Margie Thomas, Marian Mrak, Kay Jensen and Ann Barney. Margie Thomas also served on a committee for the American National Cowbelles.
The American National Cowbelles were incorporated on January 7, 1952 at the American National Cattlemen’s Association’s convention in Fort Worth, Texas. The following women from Green River Valley were charter members of the American National Cowbelles:
Mrs. Norman Barlow (Miriam)—Cora
Mrs. Donald Jewett (Ethel)—Big Piney
Mrs. Gordon Jewett (Lora)—Big Piney
Mrs. Carl Jorgensen (Rachel)—Pinedale
Mrs. Philip Marincic (Elva)—Big Piney
Mrs. Robert O’Neil (Virginia)—Big Piney
Miss Sandra O’Neil (daughter of Virginia)—Big Piney
To see if it would be possible to form a local Cowbelle organization in the Green River Valley, a preorganizational meeting was held at Marge Thomas’s home. Helen O’Neil, Ruth Budd, Miriam Barlow, Rachel Jorgensen and Marge Thomas attended the meeting. In March 1969, seventy women gathered for lunch at the Bowl-More in Big Piney to show their interest in forming a Cow Belle Auxiliary to the Green River Valley Cattlemen’s Association. Tharon Greenwood conducted the meeting. Miriam Barlow was the spokesperson for the officers’ nomination committee which consisted of the four Wyoming Cowbelle officers from the Green River Valley. These charter members were Miriam Barlow, Ethel Jewett, Ruth Budd and Rachel Jorgensen. The newly formed group called themselves the Green River Valley Cowbelles with Marge Thomas, president, Dorothy Marincic, vice-president, and Dele Ball, secretary-treasurer. The group’s objective was to help develop the social well-being of the women in the organization and assist the Green River Valley Cattlemen in their endeavor to promote the livestock industry.
There were thirty-three members of the Green River Valley Cowbelles after that first meeting. Through the year, the number of members grew to 73. In 2009, there were 53 members. Today there are eleven of the original thirty-three members and twenty-three of the other founding members still with us. The eleven members who joined the first day are:
The other twenty-three members who joined the first year are:
Nancy Anspach Smith
Nancy J. Carter
Betty Lou McLoughlin
Dona Rae Morss
Ruth Wilson Oliver
The Cowbelles wanted to get a plate with all the brands of the ranches in the Green River Valley, so they could make napkins and placemats. Rachel Jorgensen talked to Mr. Terwilliger, president of the First National Bank of Pinedale, and he stated the bank would pay for the first order. Toni Dapra designed the first napkins. In later years, Murlie Morss drew the scenes used on the napkins. The group is still selling napkins and they have just made a new plate with updated brands.
In 1970, the Green River Valley Cowbelles started the Ranch Woman of the Year making them the first chapter of Cowbelles to honor a ranchwoman of the year. Mildred M. Miller was chosen as the Green River Valley Cowbelle’s first Ranchwoman of the Year, making her the first from the Green River Valley and from the state of Wyoming. They are still honoring these worthy women. These ranch ladies are recognized for their special abilities as a wife, mother, and ranch worker as well as their participation in any community affairs, all of which make them outstanding. There are four sets of mothers with daughters and/or daughter-in-laws who were all Ranch Women of the Year. They were Mary and Barbara Pape; Mae Mickelson with Margaret Mickelson, Tharon Greenwood, and Bette Thompson; Ellen Richie and Verla Sommers; Mardell Fear with Mary Fear and Lynda Vickrey.
Father (Parent) of the Year was also started in 1970, which continued through 2003. In 1971, under the leadership of Dorothy Marincic, the group started the Friend of Agriculture to acknowledge the people in the Green River Valley who are very supportive of the ranching industry in the Green River Valley. The purpose of the award was to create a positive attitude toward ranching and ranch-organized activities between the Cowbelles and the business people in the Green River Valley. In 2010, all businesses, stores, financial institutions or companies as well as individuals such as teachers, and government employees are eligible for nomination. In 1974, the group started giving the award for the best first year showmanship at the Sublette County Fair. The Cowbelles started making brand quilts with the brands of the Green River Valley and selling raffle tickets for the quilt as a money making project in 1976. In 1978, the money made from the quilt was used to benefit the scholarship fund for a senior in the Big Piney and Pinedale High Schools. The first quilt featured 80 brands which were purchased for $1.00 per brand. Margaret Mickelson made the first quilt using scraps from her sewing material. There have been as high as 253 brands on a quilt. In 2010, there are ___ brands on the quilt costing $5.00 per brand. The quilt is a sought after item. The ladies do a wonderful job of making a unique quilt each year with the brands.
The first Barbie-Cue column appeared in the Pinedale Roundup in 1971 which was part of the beef promotion the group was working to bring to the public. They used the county papers for many beef promotions including “Toby and T-bone” and “What’s Your Beef” which included information about beef and the ranchers’ story. Spot ads were put in the newspapers about beef facts. They put out facts about different cuts of beef in the newspaper and the stores.
Harvest Ball was first held in 1971 at the Pit and Primer in Marbleton, Wyoming. The Cowbelles started the Harvest Ball to give back to the community. It was attended by 270 people who were served prime rib followed by a cocktail hour. There was dancing to the “Salty Dogs.” Many remember the Harvest Ball as elaborate and fancy, much to the credit of Anne Olson who worked tirelessly in the organization of the Harvest Ball in its early years. The Harvest Ball continued through 1997and was discontinued until 2000 when the Cowbelles held another dinner and dance called the Snowball at the Waterhole #3 in Marbleton. In 2003, they had the Fall Bash at the Boulder Community Center. At the Fall Bash in 2003, Sandy Wright danced the night away, only to require knee surgery following the event.
In 1984, the Cowbelles put together a brand book for the brands in the Green River Valley which was finished in 1985. Murl Morss drew the brands, and Verla Sommers was the chairperson of the brand book committee. In 1992, the Cowbelles started selling scarves with brands on them. Each of the 76 members was given one free brand on the scarf. There is a cowboy scene and Green River Cowbelles also on the scarf. Kathy Miller was in charge of getting the scarves made and on sale.
In 1990, the Cowbelles started acknowledging lifetime members, who have been a contributing member to the organization throughout the years. There have been 32 women recognized for their work and dedication.
Deanne Bradley spearheaded a committee which put together a cookbook and had it printed in 1991. The Green River Valley Cowbelles Beef Cookbook included general rules for cooking meat, a beef roasting chart, beef primal cuts, metric conversion table, steak broiling chart, and weights and measurements. The categories for the recipes provided by the Green River Valley Cowbelles were casseroles, steaks, ground beef, left-overs, sups-stews, salads, cured meat, hors d’oeuvers-dips, sauces, desserts and eat light but eat right. Forty-one people contributed recipes.
Holly Davis Green and Nancy Espenscheid presented Ag in the Classroom starting in 1992. Susie Blaha and Kathy Raper have also contributed to Ag in the Classroom over the years.
Carla Sullivan and the Green River Valley Cowbelles started serving Philly Cheese Steak sandwiches at the Sublette County Fair in 1998. In 2008, Bob Beierman, DVM asked the Cowbelles to serve the buyers’ luncheon on Sunday before the 4-H livestock auction to thank the buyers from the previous year. Bob supplied the meat and barbequed it while the Cowbelles prepared the potatoes, drink, bread and dessert.
Sharlene Lozier had learned in 2006 about the Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office in conjunction with the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, Wyoming Department of Agriculture, Wyoming Wool Growers, Wyoming Rural Electric Association and Wyoming Business Council recognizing Wyoming Centennial Farms and Ranches. Sharlene asked Jonita Sommers to help her find which ranches in the Green River Valley were eligible for the centennial ranch award. The Cowbelles decided to give each ranch a plaque and then send their forms on to the Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office. There were twenty ranches out of the twenty-six centennial ranches that decided to be recognized at the Green River Valley Cattlemen’s banquet in March 2007, and four more ranches have been recognized since then.
On January 28, 1986, the American National Cowbelles changed its name to the American National Cattle Women. In 1992, the Wyoming Cow-Belles changed their name to the Wyoming Cattle Women. The Green River Valley Cowbelles changed their name to the Green River Valley Cowbelles/Cattle Women in 2000.
Over the last 40 years, there have been 101 different Green River Valley ladies serve as an officer for the Green River Valley Cowbelles. I think all of the ladies involved in this organization have made an impact on the beef industry of our valley and should be proud of their organization and what they have accomplished.