In 1988 I watched as the grizzled ex-Marine Wilford Brimley approached the microphone at the One-Shot Antelope Hunt in Lander. He was one of the shooters that year and had entertained everyone with …
In 1988 I watched as the grizzled ex-Marine Wilford Brimley approached the microphone at the One-Shot Antelope Hunt in Lander. He was one of the shooters that year and had entertained everyone with his jokes and stories. We all thought he would make us laugh.
Without much fanfare, the movie veteran stepped up to the front of the audience.
The crowd readied itself for some sage advice or wicked humor. The actor of such hits as Cocoon. The Thing, The China Syndrome, and Absence of Malice had been entertaining people for three days and expectations were high for some more western humor.
But not this time. Brimley, who is a real ex-rancher, had talked sincerely throughout his weekend in Wyoming of his earlier lives as serving as a ranch hand and blacksmith in Utah and being an unsuccessful sheep rancher in Idaho. He had known hardship and he appreciated the good life he was enjoying now as an actor. He had been emotionally affected by his experience in the towering Wind River Mountains and the vast Red Desert.
It prompted him to recite some words, which moved the audience immensely.
Brimley recited four lesser-known verses of the song Home On The Range as a poem. Those verses were as follows:
“How often at night when the heavens are bright with the light from the glittering stars, have I stood there amazed and asked as I gazed if their glory exceeds that of ours.
“Oh, I love these wildflowers in this dear land of ours, the curlew I love to hear scream, and I love the white rocks and the antelope flocks that graze on the mountaintops green.
“Oh, give me a land where the bright diamond sand flows leisurely down to the stream, where a graceful white swan goes gliding along like a maid in a heavenly dream.
“Then I would not exchange my home on the range, where the deer and the antelope play; where seldom is heard a discouraging word and the skies are not cloudy all day.”
He recited those verses with such love and intensity, nobody who witnessed it would soon forget it. You could hear a pin drop in the big room.
Brimley, 85, died this past weekend in St. George, Utah. He had lived in Greybull for years.
The curmudgeonly actor seemed to always play roles older than himself. “I played fathers to guys 25 years older than me,” he once exclaimed.
In 2009, Brimley founded the nonprofit organization Hands Across the Saddle (HATS) in the Big Horn Basin. It has helped many impoverished families over the past decade.
Although not a native son, Brimley personified the Wyoming way of life. He made us proud.
(Bill Sniffin has published six books. His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find more stories by Sniffin by going to CowboyStateDaily.com. Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com.)