A whiteboard at Gardiner Angus Ranch speaks to the source of rancher resilience in tall grass prairie country.

No one wanted to erase a message whiteboard hanging in the front office at the Gardiner Angus Ranch cattle breeding center. At least, not when I was there on a visit in August 2018.

Next to the diagram of the center’s wagon wheel pens, one ranch employee wrote a dire almanac prediction, “Feb. BIG Snow Storm.”

Underneath it, another employee added, “Prediction—There will be survivors.”

Then below both of those, someone else wrote a scripture reference:

“Psalms 66:12, God will bring you through the fire.”

A whiteboard at Gardiner Ranch says Psalms 66:12, God will bring you through the fire.
Thousands of volunteers helped Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas ranches rebuild after the 2017 Starbuck Fire. At Gardiner Angus Ranch they left behind notes of encouragement everywhere.

Facing down threats with stubborn optimism while relying on faith in God—it’s just the way ranchers and farmers across the United States live every day.

And the folks at Gardiner Angus Ranch, along with their neighbors in Clark County, Kansas, near Ashland, fully understand the strength it gives.

On March 6, 2017, the Starbuck Fire cut a vicious path through the tall grass prairie country of the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles and into Kansas. It left behind tragedy—seven people died—and devastation in cattle loss and property destruction.

Officially dubbed the Northwest Complex Fire, it burned almost 2 million acres— 482,000 in Texas; 781,000 in Oklahoma; and 608,000 in Kansas. In Clark County alone, the fire burned more than 500,000 acres. (For perspective, the State of Rhode Island is approximately 776,000 acres.) Miraculously, the town of Ashland survived.

At GAR, brothers Mark, Greg and Garth Gardiner and their families lost 43,000 acres of the 48,000-acre ranch, more than 600 head of cattle, and Mark and wife, Eva’s, home. The fire’s aftermath included handling cattle that survived but had to be euthanized. Alongside fellow ranchers across the region, the Gardiners spent days shooting cows with hooves, udders, eyes and ears burned off, and burying them in mass graves.

Almost before Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas ranchers could scrub the ash from their hands an outpouring of help began arriving in the region from across the United States. I know it’s hard for the people in Clark County to catalogue a generosity that left them utterly speechless.

Western Horseman truck looking through side mirror
Driving across the Gardiner Angus Ranch in Kansas.

Almost immediately, flatbeds and trucks loaded with hay for pasture-less cattle rolled into Ashland. From calf formula to frozen casseroles, donations came from Michigan to Louisiana and Ohio to Oregon. And volunteers came to rebuild miles of fence, 270 miles of it at the Gardiners’ alone.

As recovery and rebuild extended into months, throughout the GAR facility volunteers left behind Post-It notes and scraps of paper stuck to walls and doors written with scripture and words of encouragement. And at least one person wrote on the white board to remind the family where to look for resilience.

I think the folks at Gardiner Angus Ranch aren’t likely to forget.

Gardiner Angus Ranch’s use of wagon-wheel pens and how it betters their horses is in the article “Gates and More,” in the April 2019 issue of Western Horseman.

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