YODER – Goshen County’s own “Cowboy Evangelist” will join the esteemed ranks of the Wyoming Cowboy Hall of Fame during an official induction ceremony at the Casper Events Center on Sept. 22.
While Gary Walker of Yoder has long called this area his home, his rodeo and Christian callings have led him across the U.S. – and even into other countries.
Walker was born and raised on a farm/ranch near Bayard, Neb., where his father was one of the last men in that area to use horses for haying. Walker helped raise cattle and break horses in the operation.
“During the ’49 blizzard, his dad was sick and his older two brothers were serving in the military, he was nine years old and responsible for keeping the cattle safe and cared for,” Walker’s daughter, Adeline, wrote in his WCHF nomination letter. “When there was a break in the storm, he saddled their black horse, Spades, and made his way across the ranch to open the gates on a hay yard for the cows to get in to feed. As soon as he got there, the blizzard blew in again and he couldn’t find his way back. He did what his dad had always told him, and gave his horse his head and old Spades brought him through the corral gate home. He determined that he was always going to have good horses he could trust.
“Gary also knew early he wanted to be a bronc rider, and he and his little brother, Owen made it to National High School Rodeo Finals in Lewistown, Mont. the summer of 1959,” Adeline continued. “Gary qualified in all three rough stock events.”
In addition to his success in the rodeo, 1959 was also a big year for Walker’s personal life, as he married Vonda Dee. The pair celebrated 60 years together earlier this spring.
“When I met him, I knew he was the right one because he had a rust-colored hat, and I had a rust-colored hat, and he liked horses – I wasn’t going to marry anyone that didn’t like horses,” Vonda Dee said. Years after they were married, while reminiscing, the pair realized they originally met at a rodeo when they were 10 years old.
Following their wedding, the couple worked on several ranches in the Nebraska Sandhills and owned land three miles from Walker’s home ranch.
“Everything that he has done since we’ve been married, we’ve done together,” Vonda Dee said, including breaking colts, training barrel horses, feeding cattle, cooking meals on the ranch, playing instruments at evangelistic meetings, working in the hay fields, and more. “Like they say, behind every good man is a good woman.”
It was while the pair, with young daughters Mary Evelyn (who was tragically killed in a car accident) and Adeline, lived on their own ranch in 1969 that Walker felt compelled to move to Wyoming and attend the Frontier School of the Bible in LaGrange.
One of Walker’s favorite books was “Green Grass of Wyoming” by Mary O’Hara, and he dreamed of living in the Cowboy State. Eventually, his dreams also included becoming an evangelist.
“His first employment was for Babe Green, on the Reverse G Cross Ranch east of LaGrange,” Adeline wrote. “Babe was breeding and raising the ‘Tippy’ and ‘Wimpy’ line of some of the finest Registered Quarter Horses. Since Gary had grown up ranching and breaking colts, riding for Babe was an easy fit. In efforts to save on finances, Gary rose early each morning to ride one of the colts the seven miles into LaGrange. He would stall the colt at the stockyards by the railroad while he attended his morning classes at Frontier School of the Bible. When classes were finished at noon, he’d pack his books and Bible in his saddlebags and ride the colt back to Babe’s place, where he’d ride and train several more horses each afternoon. Gary enjoyed riding for Babe, working cows and various ranch work. So began a lifelong friendship for the two.”
After his graduation from Bible School, Walker spent some time out of state doing church planting and camping ministries. The family chose to keep LaGrange as their home base, and Walker became an evangelist, while continuing to break horses and work on ranches.
“Over their years, near LaGrange, he worked for various ranchers doing day work, calving, feeding, branding and even a little coyote hunting horseback to help them keep predators down,” Adeline said. “He spent several winters working for the Broken Box Ranch for Frank, Archie and Ernie Johnson and checking cows for the Petsch Ranch. Once again, he didn’t bother driving to work, but rode a horse to their place to help them feed, brand, gather cows and any other ranch work they needed him for.
“In 1975, after seeing young cowboys and cowgirls trying to get started in rodeo, Gary and Vonda Dee started Rodeo Bible Camp Mission to help teens learn how to rodeo and to share Jesus with them,” Adeline continued. “One year, the LaGrange High School Rodeo Committee asked if he could provide the rough stock for that year’s rodeo. And so birthed the beginning of Walker Rodeo Company. Summers were spent putting on Rodeo Bible Camps for teens during the week and stock contracting for various associations on weekends. Many people commented on Gary’s keen ability to choose good horses. The rest of the year Gary still traveled as a Cowboy Evangelist and did various cowboying work for local ranchers.”
The Rodeo Camp continues to this day and celebrated its 42nd year in May.
As the Walker Rodeo Company developed for amateur strings and high school strings, Walker selected tougher horses, Adeline added. Two of these horses won the North American Rodeo Commission finals in Denver, Colo.
“But through those years in the winter, he would be an evangelist and has been in all the states preaching from California to Ohio,” Vonda Dee said. “Then he was flown to Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and has spoke in Canada, Mexico, and Ireland.”
The Walkers sold the Rodeo Company to focus on evangelizing, and leased the Rock Eagle Ranch and purchased the Doty Ranch in Goshen Hole to become sheep producers. Before long, they returned to their equestrian roots (and LaGrange) and traded sheep for raising quarter horses from the Babe Green lines, as well as doing ranch work.
“The spring of 1996, they sold their little place in LaGrange and bought a larger place near Yoder where they had more room for breeding and raising quarter horses from their stud Try Tippy Leo of the ‘Tippy’ line from Babe Green’s beginnings,” Adeline said. “The fall of 1997, the little country church in Lance Creek asked him to come and be their pastor. They took their horses and moved, but continued breeding, raising and training quarter horses, some of which were sold to become National Cow Reining finalists. While in Lance Creek, Gary spent much of his time helping out ranchers in Niobrara County … as soon as their two granddaughters, Jenielle and Daycia, were ‘housebroke’ (as he considered out of diapers) he put them horseback, and he was the ‘baby sitter.’ If he had a job working for a rancher to move cows, he took them along, teaching them most of what they know now in learning how to care for their horse/livestock, ride well and learning how to put a handle on a horse.”
A severe horse accident in 1984, as well as earning his golden gloves for boxing in high school, along with other incidents, caused Walker to develop memory issues. He officially retired as pastor at Lance Creek in 2013, and the couple returned to their home in Yoder.
“They reside there now, still raising a few colts, with their granddaughters and enjoying watching them college rodeo and in their rodeo queen responsibilities,” Adeline said. “He has provided many a good horse to them and continues to advise them in how to improve their horsemanship abilities. They now help him with feeding and doctoring, and love sitting by the fire in the winter listening to him reminisce (about) his cowboying days.
“He tells many stories of his time spent in the saddle, nights spent out capturing wild horses, all the good bucking horses and bulls he had, and of his childhood, being lost horseback in the ‘49 blizzard,” she continued. “He gives God all the glory in his life and if you show up to visit, he’ll put the coffee pot on and tell you a story or two of his 50 years spent cowboying in Wyoming, his home.”