Last weekend, I heard Wyoming’s new governor delivering an address at a conference. Mark Gordon began with a virtual driving tour of the scenic wonders of our state. People would whoop as he mentioned their regions – Devil’s Tower, Thermopolis, Lander.
What better way to endear yourself to a Wyoming audience than to extol the beauties of our state? Gordon was preaching to the choir, for certain.
I waited for a mention of Dubois and a chance to call out. But on his imaginary counter-clockwise circuit, Gordon veered away and entered Yellowstone from the north.
I sat back and sampled the little fruit tart in front of me.
Eventually, near the end of the speech, I did have a chance for my shout-out and it took me by surprise. Gordon drew toward his close by alluding to his father, and it was not the history I would have imagined. Fundamentally, Mark Gordon–the epitome of a devoted advocate of the spirit of the American West– is in Wyoming because his father fell in love with the West in Dubois.
Crawford Gordon (1917-2014) was given one of those patrician East-Coast names made up of two last names joined together. He grew up on a farm in Lincoln, Massachusetts, and went to Harvard University, where he earned a degree in economics.
The young Crawford could easily have taken a bank job and stayed on out East, and his son could have been born in Massachusetts. But he chose the tougher life of ranching in Wyoming. That’s because at the age of 15, Crawford visited CM Ranch in Dubois, where he developed a passion for the cowboy spirit and for rodeos. He had begun the evolution to the “Crow” Gordon he would be for the rest of his life.
For a while, young Crow Gordon rode the rodeo circuit. He won prizes at the Johnson County Fair and Cheyenne Frontier Days. I wonder what his parents thought.
That was long before Jerry Jeff Walker recorded these lyrics:
Why does he ride for the money?
Why does he rope for half share?
He’s losing his share, and he’s going nowhere …
He must have gone crazy out there.
At the age of 30, Gordon settled with his wife and began ranching near Kaycee, Wyoming, in the northeast of the state. The new governor grew up on that ranch.
I had a brief conversation with Mark Gordon last weekend. He is urbane and engaging, but he also has the demeanor of a Wyoming cowboy – soft-spoken and easy-going. Without inquiring, I took him for a rancher, that combination of businessman and farmer that is so prevalent among Wyoming politicians.
But like his father, Mark Gordon was educated back East. He went to boarding school in New Hampshire and college in Vermont. After graduating — and I’m sure skipping his father’s dude ranch step, as he did grow up out here — he returned to Wyoming and began ranching.
When I spoke with the governor, of course I said I was from Dubois (not, strictly speaking, the truth). “You know,” he said, “my father created a silent film when he was at the CM Ranch. You should ask Twila Blakeman about it.”
I called the former Mayor yesterday, and she welcomed me to drop by for a copy of the film. When Gordon gave it to her, she uploaded it to her laptop, and then gave copies to the Dubois Museum, the CM Ranch and, yesterday, to me.
Called “Deadwood Gold,” the film shot in the 1930s is grainy and funny, impromptu and crowded with extras. Evidently Crow Gordon had inspired everyone staying at the ranch to dress up and pitch in.
It’s a 30-minute shoot-em-up Western that has all the classic features: a stagecoach, a gold find, a villain and a sassy lady, and a posse that leap into the stirrup, always galloping on the run off into the hills or back into the corral.
One of the “stars” is the founder of the CM Ranch, Charlie Moore, who was the son of a local old-timer. He went to the University of Michigan (my alma mater) for law school, hated it, and returned to open a ranch where he could impress young boys from the East with the independence and adventure of the West.
I don’t know precisely how Crow Gordon came to stay at the CM Ranch. Very likely his parents were among those whom Charlie Moore met during his business trips back east to promote his ranch.
In the case of the elder Gordon, he clearly achieved his objective. According to an obituary, Gordon’s passions were horses, ranching, rodeo – and opera. Like Charlie Moore and like so many who live out here (including his son, the new governor) he was obviously a fascinating hybrid of the rugged and the refined.
So often you find interesting little surprises as you learn about these Wyoming people. I’m still learning that lesson myself.
© Lois Wingerson, 2019
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