Tanya Hanson says: Our Teton wagon train adventure last month was perfect from start to finish, and much of the wonder came from wagonmaster Jeff Warburton, a real-life cowboy, a hard-working host, and a true gentleman. I couldn’t wait to invite him to Wildflower Junction to meet you all. Please make him welcome. I’ll draw one name from this weekend’s commenters for a pdf. copy of my city-slicker wagon train novella, Hearts Crossing Ranch.
Jeff, tell us about yourself.
I was raised on a large family owned cattle ranch in northwestern Utah. We ran cattle in Utah and Nevada on purpose and sometimes in Idaho when the wrong gate was left open. We spent the spring and fall working cattle, summer raising hay to feed the cattle and winter feeding the hay to the cattle.
The town we lived close to was small. It had a post office, a school, a church and a little gas station. There were about 100 residents in or around this town counting my family. It was 2 to 2 ½ hours to a town where there were grocery, clothing, hardware stores, etcThe school was a two room schoolhouse taught by a husband/wife team. Most of the time I was there, there were about 36 kids from kindergarten to tenth grade. After tenth grade, we had to move away from home to finish the last two years of high school.
After high school, I went to Utah State University in Logan, Utah, where I obtained a Bachelor’s and a Master’s Degree. While at USU, I taught in the horsemanship classes for 7 years and spent 5 summers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming working on the outfit we now own. That was where I met my wife, Cindy.
After college, I went to work with my wife’s family in the saddle making business. The business was called Sawtooth Saddle Company. I spent 3 years learning to build saddles but then realized my skill lay in business management and sales not saddle making. I traveled all over the West and Midwest selling saddles and promoting our products.
In 1997, we had the opportunity to buy Teton Wagon Train and Horse Adventure, part of the outfit we worked on in Jackson Hole, Wyoming while we were in school. We teamed up with my brother, Chris, and his wife, Audra, to make it all work. In 2007, we bought the Bar T 5 Covered Wagon Cookout. In 2008, we were awarded the contract for the National Elk Refuge Sleigh Rides.
Cindy and I have 5 kids: Michael, 19, Jessica, 16, Jordan, 14, Brenden, 11, and Treven, 9. They all work in all aspects of the business as well but their first love is the wagon train. They are all very outdoor and horse oriented.
What did you want to be when you were a little boy?
I always wanted to be a cowboy.
How old were you when you rode a horse for the first time?
I don’t know for sure. Some of my first memories are riding with my Grandpa and with him leading the horse. He died when I was two.
How do you and your crew learn everybody’s names so fast? I mean, it took y’all about ten minutes. And you have roughly 300 guests a year in a ten-week summer!
I am glad that we looked that smooth when we were learning everyone’s names, but I am,
Other than Peggy, the 81-year old “moose killer” on our trip, who is another amazing city-slicker that you recall from your years of wagon train adventures? (All right, readers. No animals were harmed on our trip.)
There are so many I could mention. Of course, there were you & Tim and Roberta & Tim. You guys are pretty amazing. We have been so very blessed by the association we have had with folks who come on this trip.
We have a lady that has been on our trip for 36 consecutive years. She is such a sweet lady. She is now afraid that this year was her last trip. It won’t be the same without her.
We had a gentleman and his wife that came 6 or 7 years. The practical jokes he has played on our crew and us, on and off the wagon train, are the stuff of legend. They have become close friends of ours and he has even been on the trip as a crew member. He has also provided many high quality pictures for articles on our trip.
Jeff, we’re a bunch of romance readers and writers here in Wildflower Junction. So I gotta ask: was it love at first sight for you and Cindy?
I saw Cindy for the first time in June of 1988. It was her first year and my second working in Jackson Hole (on the outfit we now own). Cindy got there that summer before I did. Just after I got there with another employee, we were checking in with the boss and his wife. As we were taking to them, I saw Cindy walking by. I thought I was discretely watching her go by and no one would notice my interest. I thought, “Wow! This is going to be an interesting summer!”
When I turned back to the boss, he was pointing his finger at me and he had a very stern look on his face. He said, “Jeff, you leave her alone. She is barely eighteen years old and I told her folks I would protect her from cowboys like you.” Then he laughed and laughed.
I was 24 years old at the time and when I heard she was 18 years old. I decided that she was too young for me. For the next couple of weeks, I liked what I saw when I was around her but I kept telling myself that she was too young for me. I even took her roommate out on a date.
I then left for the wagon train and stayed on the mountain for 2 weeks. When I got back, I was supposed to have another date with her roommate. In the interim, her roommate had decided to exclusively date one of the other hands.
Cindy was very patient with me. She didn’t push me at all. She was just around me being herself. From this point on, I was in Jackson for four days and in the Tetons on the wagon train for ten days. The four days I was around her, I would start thinking that maybe she wasn’t too young for me after all. Then, when I was away from her, I would talk myself out of the whole thing.
At that time, our outfit participated in the rodeo in the wild horse race with many of the other outfitters in Jackson Hole. I was on the team of three when I was not on the wagon train. I got kicked by the wild horse we were trying to saddle during the event and ended up with a broken ankle. I had to have surgery to pin the bones back in place in my ankle and couldn’t go back on the wagon train and ended up working in the office for the rest of the season.
Cindy was very attentive and helpful. She was there when I got back to my hospital room after surgery. (That was when she met my parents. They were impressed with how she helped take care of me.) After I got out of the hospital, I couldn’t bend it far enough to change the bandages by myself, so she helped. It wasn’t long before we were officially a couple.
I’ve told her for years that if I hadn’t been so bull headed about the whole age thing, I wouldn’t have had to break my ankle.
What’d you guys do for your first date?
I don’t know what to consider our first date. The night I broke my ankle, she went with me to the rodeo and was with me behind the chutes. If I remember right, we had talked about going for ice cream with the rest of the crew after the rodeo, but I went to the hospital instead.
What’s your “happily-ever-after” with her going to be like, in your golden years?
“Happily-ever-after” for me is to continue doing what we are doing now.
What kinds of things do you like to read?
I read lots of Louis L’Amour books. I think I have read them all but I continue to read them over and over. I like to read histories and mysteries as well.
What’s your favorite activity with that lovely family of yours?
What’s your favorite of the chuck wagon recipes the chuck cooks make for the wagon-riders?
I like all of it (except the green beans). My favorites, though, are the baked beans, the barbequed chicken and the biscuits and gravy.
What’s life like the rest of the year, after the wagon train summers are over?
We have the Bar T 5 Covered Wagon Cookout that starts the middle of May and runs until the end of September. We have shows six nights a week. My brother, Chris, his wife, Audra, their kids and Cindy work there all the time. The rest of my family works there when we are not on the wagon train.
The first part of October is when we tear down and clean up the Bar T 5. The rest of October, November and the first part of December we take care of our horses and fences, prepare for winter and get ready for the National Elk Refuge Sleigh Rides. The sleigh rides start in the middle of December and run every day except for Christmas Day until the first Saturday in April.
In April, we tear down and clean up the sleigh rides and get ready for the Bar T 5 to start again. Our crew starts showing up for the summer around May 1. It takes us about two weeks to get the Bar T 5 set up. Then it is time to start the wagon train all over again.
Tell us about the elk refuge adventures.
The National Elk Refuge borders the town of Jackson here in Jackson Hole. . Last year we had approximately 7500 head of elk wintering on the Refuge. We take visitors for an hour long ride out on the Refuge among the elk in sleighs drawn by a team of draft horses. It is awe inspiring to be out with the large numbers of elk that are there with the beautiful Tetons and Gros Ventre Mountains as backdrops. Other animals such as eagles, hawks, swans, coyotes, ducks, geese and sometimes wolves are also on the Refuge.
Looks like an ancestor helped rescue the ill-fated Donnor Party. Who is your favorite historical Western figure?
My favorite historical Western figure is probably the trail driving cowboy. The boys that brought the herds out of Texas to the railroad.
If you could have dinner with three Western legends who would they be? What would you like to ask them?
Chief Washakie – Chief of the Shoshoni – I would like to ask him what it was like before all the settlers showed up.
John Slaughter – 17 year old Trail Boss and cowboy – I would like to ask him about the trail driving days.
I think you did a bit of everything during our trip, even teaching me how to rope a steer. What is your favorite task? What is the least?
My favorite task is getting the new guests off the bus on Monday. My least favorite task is having to load the guests on the bus on Thursday.
What three cowboy ethics fit you best?
I think the three that fit me the best are: Take pride in your work, Ride for the brand and Remember that some things aren’t for sale.
You’re right, Jeff. Those fit you best. Thanks so much for spending the weekend with us here in Wildflower Junction. And don’t be a stranger, ya hear?