Friday, August 28, 2015

Gilbert Asbill Remembers the Cowboy Life

Gilbert Asbill of Sallisaw, retired teacher and school administrator, remembers what it was like as a young cowboy in Sequoyah County back in the day when cattle ranching was dominate.

Asbill, who will celebrate his 82nd birthday on Sept. 18, worked cattle on his father's ranch in the 1940s in the Northview area in northern Sequoyah County.

He recalled recently, "Dad had about 150 head. It was a way of life. I never got paid anything. It was a pleasure. I didn't associate it with work." Asbill said he's been working cattle and bailing hay ever since he was age 14.

Asbill was taken back to those days of free range after the recent Sallisaw rodeo. He recalled that northern Sequoyah County, north of the railroad which intersects the county from east to west, was all open range, where cattle and horses both ran free. That required that all those stock raisers had their own brands.

Asbill remembers the Garvin Ranch near Akins, and their 101 brand. "Most people don't know it, but Highway 101 was named after that ranch," he recalled.

Benjamin Frank Garvin and his sons had between 200 and 300 head of cattle. "They were the biggest cattle owners that used the land," Asbill recalls. 

According to a genealogy web site, Asbill is correct. The Garvins, including son Benjamin Franklin "Tuff" Garvin Jr. whom Asbill remembers, were among the biggest cattle producers in the Indian Territory and had more than 1,200 head of cattle at one time. They ranged from the Boston Mountains of Arkansas west to the Illinois River, north as far as Greasy and Stilwell and south to the bottom lands of the Arkanas River.

Asbill remembers taking his family's cattle and other herds to the northern sections of the county, then rounding them up to bring them home to winter. "We wintered our cattle at the house," he recalled. 

Asbill laughed, "Oh yeah. There was always a bunch of boys that worked the calves back then."

But young cowboys eventually grow up, and Asbill left the area in 1951 to join the U.S. Army. He returned in 1953.

"I fooled around until 1954," Asbill recalls. That's when he decided college would be the best choice. He graduated from Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, and finished his master's degree in math at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. He taught and was a principal at Sallisaw's junior high and middle schools.

But during those years in education, Asbill did not forget his cowboy upbringing, and joined the Sequoyah County Roundup Club with some of its earliest members. Asbill recalls his friends were Orman and Ima Taylor, Bob Cotton, Joe Rigsby, Punk Rigsby, Immanuel Drake, and Bill Cassidy, who, along with Asbill, are just two of the few original club members still living.

Asbill said the club often held calf openings at night for members, in which he happily participated, along with Dwight Graham, Gary Folks and Jerry Asbill. He never competed as a rodeo cowboy, but helped with the club's rodeo, which grew immensely over the years. 

"We've seen a lot of improvements over those years," Asbill recalled about the rodeo and the rodeo grounds. "We considered it a community service. We built the arena, the chutes and the bleachers. Bob Cotton did the welding."

As time past roundup club members grew old and left the scene.

"The original members kept dying off," Asbill recalled. "Orman Taylor, Bill Cassidy and I were the only ones left."

The late Orman Taylor died June 15 this year at the age of 92.

Asbill recalled how the popular Sallisaw rodeo eventually became a project of the Sallisaw Lion's Club. He said, "Bill Cassidy came to me and said we're the only ones left. What should we do? We decided to give the rodeo to  the Lions Club and we donated our money, $10,000 to the Lions Club."

But Asbill hasn't given up all his cowboy ways. He still wears a western shirt and jeans, and old, repaired cowboy boots. He still enjoys the rodeo and his sharp mind remembers the cowboy life, although he doesn't think it's out of the ordinary.

He concluded, "I'm kind of a jack of all trades and a master of none."

Sally Maxwell, Senior News Director

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