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Buckaroo Museum, Winnemucca Nevada

Frank Bidart (on George)
Frank Bidart on George
Frank Bidart (1922--)

At nearly ninety-one, Frank Bidart has worn many hats in his long and storied life, but make no mistake, he spent the vast majority of his first 60 years in the saddle as a Great Basin buckaroo and rancher.

Born on the Upper Leonard Creek ranch of northwestern Humboldt County on September 20th, 1922 to Michel Bidart and Francisca Montero Bidart, Frank was the 3rd of eight children. His father Michel had emigrated from the Basque country of Aldudes, France in 1903, and had many adventures herding sheep and working throughout California and northern Nevada. Michel met his bride Francisca Montero in Los Angeles, California, and moved back to Humboldt County to start their life together. Michel along with Francisca’s brother Ramon ran sheep together with Michel’s brother Fermin until 1918, when Fermin was bought out. About 1926, Ramon and Michel bought the Leonard Creek Ranch from Miller & Lux. They also had a jack burro that Otto Danglemeir wanted to use to raise mules. Otto traded those 5 heifers for the jack. That is how the Montero/Bidart cow herd got started.

Frank’s first memories of riding are from a very young age. Most of those very early rides were on sheepherders’ horses. He remembers later horses like Doc, Big Doc and Papoose from his boyhood. He also rode burros that he found out on the range. Doc and Big Doc came from Kings River when it went broke. He loved a high powered horse named Elmer he’d gotten from Roy Stead at Granite Creek. His brother Louie broke the horse for Frank.

His boyhood was spent during the great depression, and while times were hard, he had lots of fun too. He herded buck sheep with cousin Harold Larragueta, and rode a saddle burro that he’d caught in the flat near Leonard Creek. He remembers his dad and uncle shearing sheep and storing the wool for two years, because nobody would buy it during the 30’s. Finally, someone told them to ship it to Boston Woolen Mills. They did, and the freight cost them more than they got for the wool. He also remembers driving two year old steers over 100 miles to Imlay at the Flying M Ranch. They got 2 cents a pound for the steers.

He grew up with Indians from Summit Lake and McDermitt. Many of the guys helped shear sheep with hand shears – no electric clippers back then. Many of the Indians brought their kids and wives with them when they worked for the ranch and they camped along the creek. Frank remembers a story about a flock of white geese that disappeared. Frank and his brothers later found a pile of white feathers; the Indians had eaten the geese. He also noted that they ate jack rabbits and just about anything to feed their families. If the Bidarts and Monteros had it tough during the 30’s, it was clear to Frank that the Indians had it worse. “They didn’t have anything,” he’d often say.

Frank was the first of his brothers to go to high school. The kids had their first eight years of school at Leonard Creek, and Frank felt fortunate to move into town with his Aunt Petra Larragueta to attend Humboldt County High School. He says he was lucky to have Aunt Petra to house and feed him and Uncle Fermin to give him money. One funny story from high school involved taking Spanish – his teacher; Andrew Morby could not speak Spanish and was right out of the University. But with two years of work, Frank and Leonard helped the teacher out by speaking Spanish to him all the time, and by the time they had finished their studies, the teacher could, according to Frank, speak pretty good Spanish.

While Frank was a student at Humboldt County High School, Albert Lowry coached football, basketball and track. Frank was manager for the basketball team, ran track, made lots of friends and had an awful lot of fun. By the time he had finished school in 1941, the family had quite a few more cattle. Once he finished high school, he returned fulltime to Leonard Creek and started his fulltime ranching career. As a ranch hand, he did every kind of work including buckarooing and made $150 per month for many years.

Upper Ranch, Leonard Creek

He rode gathering cows and visiting the sheep camps with Louie and his father. The three branded all the calves one spring. Frank buckarooed every spring, summer and fall. They kept their cows off the desert and didn’t have the BLM telling them when they could go to the mountains and when to come home. In the spring, they branded all the calves and then turned them out. About the middle of May, they would come through the cows again, and brand any late arrivals. Frank tells of one time when he, Louie and Mitch gathered Rodeo flat and got more cows than intended. They branded 200, just the three of them, and had a pretty late night.

Frank used to love going over to help the Johnstone’s at Paiute, Battle Creek and Barlett Creek. That is where he got some good coaching and learned some good buckaroo skills from Bill Hudspeth. He taught young Frank to rope cows and calves. Frank would head the calves and Bill would stand by the fire and heel them in. Hudspeth used a reata, so Frank started using one too. Hudspeth was a tough teacher who would tell young Frank if he was doing something wrong. Frank credits Hudspeth with many good lessons and for giving him the basis of his buckaroo skills. (William Wright Hudspeth (Bill) was inducted into the Buckaroo Hall of Fame in 2001.)

One summer as a young man, Frank kept track of all the calves he branded. Between Quinn River, Alder Creek, Paiute, Parmans at Stanley Camp and Woodward Ranch, they branded over 6000 calves.

Every spring and summer Frank and the rest of the young men would buckaroo above the ranches in the area as the cows all mixed, and there were no fences and allotments at the time. There were also no stock trailers so Frank rode everywhere he had to go. He loved branding and loved calf roping, and his only gripe was having to share the roping with others at the brandings.

The ranch had a buckaroo cabin at Chicken Creek. There were always many buckaroos that cherished riding out of Chicken Creek. Ray Montero was the chief cook and the rest did the buckarooing. Riding, roping and branding was the call of the day.

The family also leased Knott Creek, Cove and Crane Creek at that time, and Frank and his cousin Ray spent many winters with the cattle there. They also leased the Sheldon and ran cattle between there and Leonard Creek. Back in those days, Frank admits to logging far more miles horseback than he ever did in a car. He remembers some VERY cold winters with Ray at Knott Creek, where they would get four feet of snow at the summit. They would feed cattle there from January till the calving was done in April. They would work all day and be in bed by seven. No electricity. For fun, they would play cards. Frank also liked to braid mecates, but preferred nylon rope to leather. Frank rode a Capriola slick fork saddle with bucking rolls that he has to this day.

George Fairchild, Frank Bidart, Louie Bidart and Leonard Bidart

In 1955, his brother Louie went to work at Paiute and Frank took over running the cattle for Leonard Creek. Among his duties were shoeing his own horses, branding, riding and putting up hay.

In 1963, Frank, at age 39, gave up his bachelor ways and married neighbor Jo Woodward. The family bought a ranch in Soda Springs, Idaho, and Frank and Jo moved up there to run the ranch. Albert Montero helped Frank and his new bride with 1400-1600 head of yearlings they pastured at Soda Springs. Frank also had 300 head of mother cows he kept on USFS permits. He had to feed these cattle all winter and used a team and sleigh to do that. The couple had three children, Frank A, Andree and Robert.

During the years at Soda Springs, Frank enjoyed helping neighbors rope and brand. He remembers a day that he roped 90 calves and felt like his arm would fall off. In 1971, the ranch in Soda Springs sold. Frank and family moved to Weiser, Idaho. There, Frank worked at a feedlot and did most of the riding there for bosses Howard and Ed Raney. He also buckarooed for Raneys at Brownlee, Idaho. He shipped from Brownlee to New Meadows where he also kept many of his own yearling cattle.

In 1973, Frank and Jo moved back to Winnemucca where all three of his children attended schools and Frank worked as a mechanic at Bidart Brothers Machinery. He and Louie were always ready to go help any of the ranches with gathering and branding.

He also enjoys hunting and visiting with friends, his wife, children and grandchildren. Earlier this year (2013), he and wife Jo celebrated 50 years of marriage. Frank was honored as 2013 Ranch hand of the Year by the Winnemucca Ranch Hand Rodeo.

Frank Bidart was inducted into the Buckaroo Hall of Fame in August 2013.



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