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Raymond “Ballard” Merrick
Raymond “Ballard” Merrick
Raymond “Ballard” Merrick (1924-1992)

“Ballard” Merrick arrived in McDermitt, Nevada at The Disaster Peak Ranch from Trinidad, Colorado in 1939 at the age of 15 with his parents and younger brother. His dad raised Thoroughbred horses for Army ‘remount’ or cavalry horses.

His buckarooing career would take him throughout Nevada and part of California, literally covering the entire Great Basin area. His relocation from Colorado to Nevada or Nevada to California appeared to be with ease even though he always referred to Californians as ‘prune pickers’, ‘til he became one. There was a serious drought in Colorado when they left so he was thrilled to leave and find a new home in Nevada at Disaster Peak with his mother’s side of the family. They were there for one or two years before they relocated to their own ranch in the Pine Valley of Eureka County.

By 1947 he alternated working at their ranch in Pine, and ‘repping’ for all of the valley ranches and buckarooing at E.L. Cord’s Home Ranch (Ed Chapin) in Elko & White Pine Counties. Ballard met Elsie McKnight at The Commercial Hotel and courted her at county dances throughout Elko County in places like Jiggs, Tuscarora, and Taylor Canyon. They married in Elko February 1, 1949.

Ballard was an excellent bronc rider and won the All-Around Buckle at the Lee Rodeo while buckarooing at the IL Ranch, TS Ranch and Squaw Creek (Dee Salisbury) in Elko County. He rodeoed extensively in the NCA and other amateur rodeos. The event he participated in was most was saddle bronc riding, but also rode some bareback, team roping and calf roping. He was also a pick-up man on his famed ‘Cowboy’, a Morgan-TS Ranch raised horse. During the rodeo days he won 2 Saddle Bronc buckles, 1 Bareback buckle, 1 Calf Roping buckle, and 2 All Around revolving trophy in Lamoille, 1 time Calf Roping revolving trophy – Ruby Valley, 1st place on a TS horse (Dealer) - Ruby Valley Horse Show.

In 1960 Ballard and his family was at the Buffalo Ranch (Chief Ellison) and he buckarooed at the Home Ranch (Lyle Ellison & Clarence Jackson) in Humboldt County. Orovada was home for awhile; the girls went to school there and Elsie worked at the Orovada Mercantile. 1962 found the Merricks at the Flying M Ranch (Bill & Art Abel) in Pershing County but the ranch sold, but school was just too far away anyway so they moved to town for the girls. He buckaroo’d at various outfits sometimes while working as a Winnemucca police officer on his days off or before & after work.

Whether he was teaching 4-H Horsemanship to 9 year olds or running mustangs with LeRoy Horn, or driving a team of horses pulling a wagon in the 1964 Centennial Celebration with Bobby Tallman riding shotgun he gave it his all, and was very proud during and afterwards. He was gifted with talent, and he seemed to know it, so when he entered a rodeo he expected to win, if he applied for a job he expected to get it, but if he didn’t he would quickly move to the next one, and not look back. When he had a job to do like gathering cattle or turning them out, he wouldn’t quit too soon; he'd work into the night from daylight if needed. He worked hard, and played hard too sometimes mixing the two. His mission in life seemed to be having a good time; he loved to laugh, and make others laugh too with his true to life stories, as he was not one to tell jokes. Socializing with his vast number of friends and acquaintances throughout Nevada could occupy large amounts of his time. People would know him wherever he went, even when he didn’t think he knew them.

He tried other types of work a few times, but he never got very far from a horse or a cow or both; the fact is he was a buckaroo first, then whatever else he may have had to do to survive. As a father he had many memorable times for his girls, teaching them constantly all that he himself knew. His favorite saying was, ‘there is no such word as can’t, no’, he’d say, ‘can’t is not in the dictionary’. He taught 4-H horsemanship under the direction of Kirk Day to his girls and a few others in Orovada. At the first meeting he was stressing how important it is to keep your saddle snug so it doesn’t end up under a horse’s belly instead of on top of it. One of the members, Mike Jackson, had ridden to the meeting, so when he went to the barn after the meeting ended he found his horse standing there with the saddle under his belly.

He was cowboss at the Bear Ranch owned by the Simplot Corporations and during his five-year stay there enjoyed his association with Baxter Black, who was their Veterinarian.

He was game for anything, he would have likely tried everything at least once according to his daughter Laura Hummel. On a fall day he was out bird hunting with Earl Allred and their children, and going down the dirty, dusty road from Bath Tub Springs, over Sand Pass, to the Miller and Lux well in Earl’s pickup truck. The men were in the front, the children in the bed of the truck when they came upon a buckskin mustang mare and her brown yearling colt running down the narrow road in front of them, and would not stop or pull out to the side, so Ballard exited the front seat via the passenger side window, and ended up in the bed of the truck with the children without saying a word about what he was planning; Earl didn’t slow down either. He passed the colt pulling up along side of him while Ballard leaped from the bed onto his neck, ultimately bull dogging him down. The two of them tied him down; the mare ran off, and the bird hunting ended because they needed to attend to their captive. He ended up in the corral at the well overnight, then onto Winnemucca to the rodeo grounds, where Raley’s is now. All did not end well because the colt failed to thrive in spite of the gallant effort to sustain him with milk, medicine, therapy, feed, and whatever else Ballard could think of, including whiskey, but he failed to save him, much to his dismay.

He needed to purchase a horse for his girls, so he contacted his good friend, Marvin Myers; then went to Unionville, and came back with two, one for himself and one for the Circle Bar Ranch. The one he kept was a cute little 3 year old, brown pinto mustang, Marvin said was out of the bell mare; he named him Chismista due to the lightning stripe down his side. The other was a tall thoroughbred type horse he named Ivan, one day all buckaroos rode out from the ranch when there appeared to be a commotion. When they told the others what had happened they just said, “Ballard’s horse bucked with him”, someone else said, “Did he ride him”? The answer must have been yes because no one else missed a step or looked back. He did, in fact, get bucked off Chismista while working cows at Pete Pedrolli’s ranch just east of Winnemucca. This particular time may have been one of the only times he ever came down, and it may have been because he was wearing a full body cast as a result of a recent back surgery. When he hit the ground he looked a bit like ‘Humpty Dumpty wearing bibbed overalls’.

Teasing his friends was great fun even when they didn’t agree perhaps he thought it was funnier if they didn’t. At a Wells amateur rodeo when the chute gate opened and Jack Peters began his Saddle Bronc ride much to everyone’s surprise including Jack, Ballard was on behind. He really enjoyed competing at these small town shows, and when he wasn’t competing in Saddle Bronc Riding, Bareback Riding, Calf Roping or Team Roping he was picking up bucking horses on ‘Cowboy’, a Morgan horse he had purchased from the TS, who appeared to love it as well as he did. He entered the Bull Riding once or twice, but one Lamoille rodeo he had to draw out because he had caught his thumb in his dallies during the Team Roping, and had to have it sewed back on.

He spent a lot of time in the northern part of the state, but he seemed to like the Gerlach area best. The terrain is so rocky there, but he didn’t appear to be too bothered by the rocks. Les Iveson loves to tell about the Appaloosa horse that Ballard refused to ride under any circumstances stating ‘I’ll walk or do anything, but ride that horse again'. Les eventually rode the horse, and discovered why as he was also leading him down the rocky hill. When this story was relayed Ron, Ballard's son-in-law, remembered well the short cut they took one time to get back to the Fisk Ranch before dark. It was almost straight up and down; something like you might see in a Lonesome Dove movie, and you surely wanted to be mounted on a sane horse. When Ron got down leading his horse also he vows to this day he wouldn't go back, but Ballard rode these areas for many years without complaint.

He buckaroo'd with Mervin Carter, Bill Davis, Claude Bryson, Marvin Myers, Jerry Merrick, Walter Collier, Everett Jones, Bill Stewart, Ray Hunt, Dee Salisbury, Ed Chapin, Stub Stanford, Raymond Gabica, Bill McKnight, Ron Hummel, Jiggs Goodwin, Twister Heller, Bryan Morris, Clark Morris, Les Iveson, Dudley Hiibel, Harold Chapin, Hank Harrer, Earl Allred, Winn Hendricks, Martin Bidauretta, and Hank Angus, to name a few. Some of them have made it to the Buckaroo Hall of Fame, some will in time. He was honored to have worked at the IL, Rhinehart, Squaw Creek, Hackwood, TS, Cord, Spade, Cockrell, Circle Bar, Home (Elko & Humboldt), Buffalo, Paiute Meadows, Soldier Meadows, Bear Ranches, and 'repped' at many other great ranches in the Great Basin. It is our belief that he has found an arena in the sky without pain and continues to inspire and motivate those he has left behind with these wonderful memories.

In 1983 he retired with disabilities. True to his buckaroo lifestyle, he still enjoyed buckarooing whenever needed and buckarooing with Bill (his nephew) was a bright spot in the twilight of his career. Whenever there was any cow-work or horse training to be done for his daughter & son-in-law he was there and ready.

A plaque hangs on the wall in the bar room of Hummel’s 7R ranch house that he and Elsie made from a slice of pine bearing this phrase, ‘If you have something important to tell me, please start at the end’.

He said in his later years, “If I would have known I was going to live so damned long, I would have taken a lot better care of myself.” His pain was becoming unbearable from chronic back pain, both knees severely damaged, liver damage, emphysema, and a heart condition combined with the devastating news that Hank Angus had passed away July 4th from a heart attack at the McDermitt Rodeo. His life ended on July 7th in 1992 at the age of 68; he made it known for over twenty years to everyone who knew him ‘I hope I will have my faculties about me to load the gun one last time.’

Raymond “Ballard” Merrick was inducted into the Buckaroo Hall of Fame in September 2010.

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