This is the tenth installment of the 2013 edition of My Farm Roots, Harvest Public Media’s series chronicling Americans’ connection to the land. Click here to explore more My Farm Roots stories and to share your own.
I met Nate Pike working on a story back in 2012. When I dropped back by his ranch 30 miles south of Dodge City, Kan., this summer, he took me on a bumpy pickup ride to see a spring called St. Jacob’s Well and we got to talking about the former owner of some of his ranchland.
Pike has been out on his ranch for a while and he told me the former owner started ranching in western Kansas before 1900.
“He was a fine old gentleman and one of the toughest old men I ever knew,” Pike told me, his gravelly voice carrying over the pickup truck’s rambles.
Now, Nate Pike is tough. He’s 80-years-old, broke his back as a younger man and had several heart attacks since, but he still helps out on the ranch. So what made this Mr. Bill Knoll, the former landowner, so tough?
He could ride all day long, Pike said, and never in a lope or a walk – always at a trot. He wore soft-soled lace-up shoes, not sturdy cowboy boots.
“He told everybody his old foot looked like an eagle’s claw, hanging over them stirrups and he’d ride that way all day,” Pike said. And “he could go longer without a drink of water than anyone I’ve ever seen in my life.”
Sounds like a tough guy. But Pike wasn’t done. When Pike’s dad eventually bought the older man’s calves, little Nate Pike went out riding with the tough old Knoll. Knoll’s horse stepped in a hole and fell on him.
“I jumped off and was going to help him off and that made him kind of mad,” Pike said. “And he said ‘I can get up myself.’”
Several hours later, after Pike and Knoll had spent hours working with calves, Knoll said he finally had the feeling back in his foot.
“Now I call that tough,” Pike said, chuckling.