When Star Whitt was photographed for Western Horseman’s Women of the West, subtle details in the photo revealed what she values most.
At her camp on the Circle B Ranch outside of Forsyth, Montana, Star Whitt is neatly dressed to be photographed for the August 2019 Women of the West in clean jeans, a light blue Western shirt with floral-print yoke, a navy pinstriped vest, and a straw hat with turquoise hatband and a large feather she found in the pasture protruding from it. She sits on the front porch stairs petting her four dogs while her freckled gray horse, Docs Daiquiri (“Gray”), stands quietly saddled and tied to the trailer.
“Since I work most of the time by myself, my dogs are a lot of help,” she says. “They’re working dogs, but they’re also great companions, and I like having them around. The Wyoming Shag is my traveling buddy and goes everywhere with me. I thought he’d be a fun dog to have around, but I never expected him to be so cowy.”
Simple things like her canine companions, a good horse to ride and family memories are meaningful to Whitt. The photos taken that day showcase her dogs and horse, but what most readers won’t realize is that Whitt carefully coordinated her outfit and accessories to include sentimental pieces from her family.
“My Aunt Bonnie [Whitt] gave me this turquoise ring,” she says, holding up her left hand. “She is the coolest aunt ever. She taught me how to be a strong, independent woman and that I could do anything I wanted to do.
“My dad made the rattlesnake rattle earrings, and he and my grandfather had the biggest influence on me wanting to be a cowboy. The vest belonged to my grandfather, who passed about five years ago. I also have some of his bridles hanging on the wall [inside the house].”
Whitt reveres her grandfather, Slim Whitt, who was born on a farm in Nebraska. His parents passed when he was young, and he jumped on a train from Nebraska heading to Wyoming when he was 14 years old to go cowboy, and he never looked back. He was a respected cowboy in Ten Sleep, Wyoming, and the surrounding areas. When he passed away at 84 years old he was still cowboying and working at a livestock sale barn in Worland, Wyoming.
“He was a cowboy’s cowboy through and through,” Whitt says. “On his headstone we put ‘He was a cowboy.’ ”
Slim also was a cowboy poet and storyteller, and he had published a few books of his work. Whitt keeps those books handy on a bookshelf in her house, but there are some stories not published that she fondly remembers.
“When I was about 15 he talked me into going to Ten Sleep with him to help neighbors move their cattle; it was a 3- to 4-day trail up the mountain,” she recalls. “I loaded up a couple of horses and we had so much fun trailing those cows. He’d get up at 3 in the morning, roll a cigarette and make some coffee and sit and smoke and drink black coffee for three hours until the sun came up.”
During the trip, Slim was driving an old 1976 Ford pickup and towing a small bumper-pull trailer full of horses over the scenic pass along U.S. Highway 14 between Shell and Sheridan, Wyoming, in the Big Horn Mountains. On the way home, he wanted to show his granddaughter Shell Falls.
“We got out and looked at the falls and when we got back in the truck he started telling me stories about trucking down Shell Canyon with big, heavy loads and how he’d always check his brakes before he went down the steep switchbacks,” she says, laughing. “We were about a third of the way down the pass and our brakes went out on the truck because he hadn’t checked them. He was sitting over there cussing and saying, ‘Hold on darlin’.’ I’d look back when we’d go around a corner and the trailer was on two wheels. I don’t know how we made it, but we got to the bottom and we were fine and so were the horses.”
Whitt is living her dream and making her own stories as a cowboy on the Circle B Ranch. Often the only woman on the crew, what she may lack in physical strength she makes up for in grit and try she learned from her family of ranchers.
“It’s tough being a girl in a cowboy’s world,” she says. “But if you try hard and make a hand, you can do it.”
Read more about Whitt in the August 2019 Women of the West.