The Express UU Bar Ranch

This past week I have been busy traveling and meeting with a variety of folks in New Mexico about Footprints in the Dew. Along the way one place in particular caught my eye.

The hundred and eighty thousand acre spread that includes thousands of additional leased acres is called the Express UU Bar Ranch. The ranch is becoming famous for its cattle operation and for the superior quality of the bulls which are in demand for breeding across the country and beyond. After taking a tour of the place I learned that they offer a number of hunting and fishing packages to the general public including big game hunts for elk, deer, bear and mountain lion along with fishing for northern pike, trout and other fish that inhabit the mountain waters. They also will put together bird hunts for pheasant and quail with personal guides and dogs and arrange for any required hunting or fishing licenses.

The UU Bar offers several options for accommodations either in private cabins that sleep up to 14 or in the newly built Rayado Lodge, named after the nearby river. At the lodge Executive Chef Ralph Knighton prepares three gourmet meals daily which are provided as part of the room package there.

My visit to the ranch was brief but memorable with breathtaking views of the mountains rising in the west and the beautiful open plains full of deer and antelope and occasionally even mountain goats.

Waite Phillips’ 214 square mile Philmont Boy Scout Ranch adjoins the UU Bar on the northwest boundary, this is a place of great inspiration to me personally and I visit often. With the UU Bar as a neighbor more open space and wildlife habitat have been protected for all of us to see and enjoy.

For more information about the UU Bar go to: www.expressuubar.com

The Finishing Touch

The year was 1927 and as Zane Gray walked into the St. James Hotel in Cimarron, New Mexico he was thinking about his next book.  Unlike Gray I am here not to start a book but to finish one.  I am drawing inspiration from writing in the same room where he stayed (number 22) and overlooking the Santa Fe trail as he did, I feel his spirit all around me.

Gray’s novel was called The Fighting Caravans and it was published by Harper & Brothers in 1929. The colorful figures in this story were based on famous Indian fighter and scout Kit Carson and Lucien Maxwell who at the time was the largest private landowner in the western hemisphere. The novel was later turned into one of the first talking motion pictures and starred Gary Cooper.

Gray’s spirit along with that of author Lew Wallace who wrote part of Ben Hur at the hotel have long been said to wander the hallways. As I sit in Room 22 their spirits and the spirits of others who have stayed here have been heavy on my mind. Buffalo Bill, Jesse James, Annie Oakley, Pat Garrett and the Earp brothers were all frequent guests at the St. James. There were also many gunmen who stayed here such as Clay Allison and Bob Ford both of whom killed several men on the premises.

Whenever I take a break from writing I have been reading up on the history of the St. James which I learned was built by Henri Lambert in 1873. Henri had served as President Lincoln’s personal chef in 1864 before heading west, first to Elizabethtown and then to the village of Cimarron.  In Spanish Cimarron means wild or unruly and the walls of the hotel are covered with the stories of the violent men who settled their arguments with bullets here.

Historically there is no other place like this hotel and with Zane Gray’s help Footprints in the Dew, the Chub Anderson story,  is being completed and I can only hope for the same success that The Fighting Caravans had.

Bob Funk

Welcome back.  This week as promised it’s up close with Bob Funk, the founder of Express Personnel Services, the largest privately owned staffing company in America and also the owner of the St. James Hotel and the legendary Express UU Bar Ranch, both of which I mentioned in last week’s column.

Bob was born on May 14, 1940 in Duvall, Washington to Roy and Dorothy Funk, a typical hardworking couple trying to survive in a very difficult economic period in our country’s history which was no cakewalk for most people at that time. Roy was a dairy farmer who milked his small herd of Jersey cows by hand and worked a number of other part time jobs to get by. The Funks were already Christians when Bob attended a tent revival when he was eleven and was saved by the Reverend Billy Graham; it was then that he found his true purpose in life serving others. Christian principles became foremost in his thinking and for many years he believed that he would become a preacher like Reverend Graham. Bob and his older sister were accustomed to hard work, helping their parents on the farm and Bob participated in many school FFA programs. Bob was also very athletic and his abilities in tennis and basketball along with his FFA experience helped pay his way through college.

After graduating from Seattle Pacific College in 1962, Bob attended the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, one of the world’s finest seminary schools. This was his first trip overseas and he completed his studies at the University before returning home and beginning his successful business career.

On December 21, 1982 Bob bought the struggling ACME Temp Company which was just about to go belly up. Bob’s honest and diligent approach to the business turned things around and he opened franchise offices around the country. Today Express Personnel has over 560 offices in four countries which generated 1.9 billion dollars in revenue in 2010 and Bob Funk’s life has become a model of the American dream. He has used his earnings to pursue many other interests including ranching. Funk ranches raise Angus and Limousin cattle and are famous for their bulls. He also has a prize winning stable of Clydesdale horses which travel the U.S. and Canada performing at fairs and rodeos. His lifelong love of athletics led him to purchase two professional sports teams in Oklahoma City, the Oklahoma City Blazers and the Redhawks and he also sponsors professional rodeo and tennis as well as many other sports.

The most difficult part of writing about Bob Funk’s life is trying to describe his philanthropic efforts. This down to earth person has received awards and distinctions far too numerous to include here and he is reluctant to talk very much about his good works. His interest in one of my favorite places, Philmont Boy Scout Ranch in New Mexico, was instrumental in keeping hiking trails open there when Bob bought the adjoining 160,000 acre UU Bar Ranch to protect them. I have also discovered that he is the second largest supporter of OSU, just after T. Boone Pickens.

Bob is equally generous with his time and he has worked hard to promote the Oklahoma City area and the entire State of Oklahoma. He is a past President of the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce and is a past President and current Board member of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. He is also Chairman of the Kansas City branch of the Federal Reserve Bank. Helping his fellow man and his community with both time and money has been his goal in life since the day he walked down that aisle to be received by Billy Graham. He has also used his company as a tool to help others and at a recent ceremony where he was named “Entrepreneur of the Year” he humbly announced “I’m not sure I’m that successful. You’re only as successful as the last person you helped.” His philosophy is that you can live 40 days without food, 4 days without water, 4 minutes without air but you can not live 4 seconds without hope. That’s Bob Funk, rancher, businessman, preacher and philanthropist.

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Looking for the Truth

For the past five years I have been on a journey that started quite simply.

On Wednesday July 5, 2006 I was at the Chautauqua County, Kansas courthouse hoping to get an interview with Damon Tucker “Chub” Anderson. Anderson had been on the run for 17 years after skipping bond for a drug bust and he had been on the Kansas Most Wanted List the entire time. He had finally been captured in Montana on June 2nd and was transferred back to Kansas to face the original charges.

Bill Kurtis from America’s Most Wanted was also in the courtroom with his film crew as were retired Osage County Sheriff George Wyman and Osage County Sheriff Department Investigator Dwight Barnard. There was also a handful of newspaper reporters and a crowd of roughly 75 onlookers some of whom were Chub’s friends and some who merely wanted to get a look at the famous fugitive. I was in the courtroom when he pled guilty to those charges and what followed was the meeting that  began our friendship.

Anderson had been angered by remarks Kurtis had made to him in a closed door meeting and after I was introduced to him in a hallway outside the courtroom he asked if I would like to meet with him again. Of course I wanted to but where would be the question. Earlier in the day he had been sentenced to 1-5 years in prison and it would be a challenge to find out which prison he would sent to. In addition I would have to be approved by the warden of that prison in order to go inside the walls.

As it turned out Anderson’s new “home” was the historic Lansing State Penitentiary and before long he began sending me letters about his life there. Our correspondence lasted about a month until I cleared all the background checks required to visit him. For the rest of his stay at Lansing I saw Chub every weekend conducting the first in a long series of one on one interviews.

Truman Capote had done the same thing in his quest to get the true story from Richard Hickcock and Perry Smith which he recounted in In Cold Blood and I have followed somewhat in his footsteps.

This may sound unusual but after five years I am about to write the final chapter of Footprints in the Dew under the influence of another famous writer, Zane Gray. Gray, who died in 1939, was the author of more than 90 books. 110 films were made from his writings and Dick Powell’s weekly TV series Zane Gray Theater was also based on his books.  Dead now for over 70 years, I am sure many of you may be asking the same question: How does Zane Gray help finish Footprints in the Dew?

Next week I’ll bring you the answer.

Rubyane Burkhart Interview

Ranch foreman Mike Burkhart was hired by Dale Kuhrt in 1969 as more staff were hired on at Cross Bell to keep up with E.C.’s ambitious plans for the ranch. Dick Whetsell, the President of the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association called Burkhart a “true cowboy”. Burkhart’s only ambition in life was to be a cowboy, spending his life around horses and cattle, studying how the grasses lay and how many cattle you could put in each pasture. Burkhart understood how cattle think and he could anticipate their actions, enabling him and his crew to work huge herds of animals quickly and safely.

Mike had married a true country girl named Rubyane Adcock whose parents Helen and Elwood were from the southern part of the county. Her father’s family had been ranchers for several generations after migrating to Oklahoma  in 1906 when the state was still Indian territory. Her mother’s family had also been ranching in the state since 1906. Ranching was the only way of life Rubyane had ever known. She and her nine brothers and sisters had worked right alongside their parents, working cattle and hauling hay from an early age.

Mike’s days started at five in the morning and he was usually on horseback in one pasture or another by six. He and the early rising E.C. usually caught up with each other by sunrise and Mike would give E.C. a rundown on the cattle and how different horses were coming along.

Mike passed away in 2008.  In this interview  his widow Rubyane speaks at length about the activities at the ranch on the day of the murder and in particular, the tension between Chub and E.C.