GEORGE T. BONNER
From 'Fanning the Embers', published 1971, Range Rider Reps, Miles City, Montana
The old YT ranch near Olive, Mont., does not look much different than it did on Dec. 18, 1898, when I was born. My mother died when I was nine months old and I was raised by the William F. Suepke family who lived near Stacey, Mont., and had five children of their own. I didn't get a chance to attend any school until I was nine years old, then went to both the South and North Stacey schools. I was trying to draw things before I could read or write and my first drawings were of chickens, geese, turkeys, ducks, cats and dogs. Finally, I started trying to draw horses and they are still my favorite subjects. When I was 11 or 12 1 had a cartoon strip going around the North Stacey school called the Adventures of Johnny Krout. Most of my teachers would burn up all Krout cartoons. They said I was wasting my time. We had to grow up fast on the ranches. You took a man's place usually from the time you were 12 to 14 years old. I think the group of young rodeo riders and all who follow the rodeo game are fine. The Range Riders and all other Cowboy and Frontier organizations of today are lucky we have them around as they are the ones who are keeping the Old West and its Frontier life alive. I'm sure they will keep the Range Riders Inc. going bigger and better than ever, after all of us old timers have passed on. I sold my first pen and ink drawing of a bronc rider on a tough FE bucking bronc to the Miles City American newspaper for the front page of its roundup edition in 1919. At the time the paper came out I was working with the roundup wagon and didn't get to see a copy of the paper until about September, when I saw a copy a friend saved for me. It took me less than two hours to do this drawing and I got $20. All my cowboy friends told me if I could make money like that drawing pictures, I'd be a fool to keep on being a cowboy and eating dust on long and tiresome trail herds. That fall I helped take a trail herd of beef to Miles and then went on with the cattle train to Chicago to start going to art school. My foster mother got sick with flu that winter out at the ranch and died a few days after I returned home in May. At the Miles City Stockgrowers Convention in 1920 1 rode horseback 60 miles to get to see and talk about 15 minutes to the great and famous Charles M. Russell. He gave me some good pointers to follow in my work; he was that type of person. Russell said that anyone in the U.S. whoever became famous was by accident. I think he was referring to his poor cow picture, "The Last of 5000." Once you met him and talked with him you would never forget him. I sold my small bunch of cattle and horses in the fall of 1920 and started to attend art school in Denver, Colo., until a Montana bank went under and closed its doors and I lost money in it. This ended the art training and I didn't get started in the art field to make a living until 1930. I was married then and Mary and I had a small son and daughter. We had been living in Seattle, Wash., about four years when the depression hit the whole country and there just was no work to be had. I took out my drawings and art work and started free lancing. So, where the depression worked against most people, it really worked in my favor, as it kicked me into the type of work I should have been in for years. We had pretty slim pickings for over a year, mostly because some people wouldn't pay up for the art work I did for them. Then, through a small printing place I made the contact which finally developed into my first staff artist job for a large paper converting company in Salem, Ore. I stayed on this job for 11 years and as they put out a large variety of work all printed in color, I gained a lot of experience that was to come in handy on other work and staff jobs later on. With the exception of about 31/2 years during World War II when I went back to doing field survey work I stayed in the art fields for over 30 years. I was also Advanced Instructor in Commercial Art and taught color work and advanced designing at Oregon Technical Institute 1948-1950. I was asked to draw a new, revamped State Seal and this is now the official seal for the State of Oregon. On this I worked directly with Mark Hatfield who was then Governor of Oregon. I also made a wagon train painting that was used on a magazine cover and went to 50 states and 17 foreign countries. Later I sold a lot of photo prints from this painting before donating it to the Oregon Wagon Train group who actually made the trip by covered wagons from Independence, Mo., to Independence, Ore., in 1959. 1 am now a charter member of this Wagon Train Group at Independence. I was an illustrator and designer; I never professed to be an artist. This word artist has been kicked around and used and misused in so many ways in the past 25 or 30 years that it has become meaningless in most ways, and this reminds me of something that happened at an art gallery I was calling on a few years ago. There were four or five women at this gallery. They were drinking tea and were arty to the nth degree. They were discussing some artist character who was dead over a 100 years over in Europe. They were talking about his blue period, yellow and brown periods while they sipped tea and smoked cigarettes. They asked me if I was an artist and if I, too, had gone through these various moods and periods in my career. There was an old colored man there, I think he was a janitor, and he was dusting off statues, but taking in the big art discussion too. I told them the only period I could remember was my lean wolf period. They wanted to know about this lean wolf period as they had never heard of anything like this before. I told them that some customers were rather slow in paying for pictures and art work, and this lean wolf was often less than 20 feet from my door. To this one of them said, "Humph!" So they all got up and flounced out of the place with their noses high in the air. I guess I loused up their arty discussion and I never did drink the cup of pink tea they offered. The old colored man almost died laughing and said it was the best one on this arty crowd he had ever heard. Over the years the newspapers have been pretty good to me beginning with the Miles City American, later the Star, and other Montana papers, also, Oregon, Idaho and other Western newspapers and magazines. I have been on both radio and television with my art work and pictures. Five years ago I retired from the drawing board and the commercial art field, but I do all types of western paintings and pictures now for a hobby as well as for sale. I'll soon have a grandson 19 years old coming home from serving over a year with the Army overseas. In transportation and other things science has made enormous strides going from the horse and buggy and covered wagon days to men now traveling in outer space. All this in 70 years or less, but spiritually and morally from what I read in the papers and see on TV seems like the human race is going backwards in lots of ways. I have enjoyed being a member of the Range Riders but my old time friends are getting scarce and its going to be up to the younger members to carry on the work of keeping the spirit of the Old West and New alive and I'm sure they have what it takes to make the Range Riders Incorporated bigger and better as time goes on.