Volume 104, Number 46 - November 15, 2007
brought to you online by Pinedale Online
Hundreds attend memorial service
A heavy cello solo vibrated beneath a sea of hushed conversation at the United Church of Christ on Friday as hundreds shuffled in through the propped wooden door to the memorial of Stanley Gordon Murdock, lifetime Sublette County resident, humble family man and iconic Wyoming cowboy.
Although the church staff spread open partitions to back rooms to accommodate the more than 300 people, the rows of extra chairs quickly filled, and a crowd of mourners snaked along the walls to form a human halo around the seated congregation.
“I’ve never seen so many men in vests and cowboy hats,” one woman murmured. The assortment of dust-shrouded leather enhanced the sense that pureblood Wyoming residents had lost one of their own, and with him a vanguard of tenacious work ethic and quiet determination, ever bolstered by a raw love of the land he depended on.
Known to his friends — and he considered everyone from neighbors to strangers his friends — as simply Stan, the Pinedale rancher died at 69 of respiratory complications on Nov. 3 at the Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center in Idaho Falls. He left behind his wife Madeleine, their son Scott, his sisters Sharon Ballinger and Karen Galey, his brother Thomas and several cousins.
Stan was born on April 30, 1938, and spent his first six years on the Murdock Ranch on the Green River just east of Big Piney. His mother moved Stan and his three siblings to Pinedale after her husband died in 1944 so she could be closer to her family.
Establishing himself as an athlete at an early age, Stan attended the University of Wyoming in Laramie on a track scholarship after graduating from Pinedale High School. “He must have been a great runner, because as the story goes, while at a party in Cheyenne his patience ran out while waiting for his return ride to Laramie, so he just ran home,” said Tom Johnston, who read Stan’s eulogy at the service. Stan did get lost on the way back, Johnston added with a chuckle.
His studies were interrupted by a draft letter, however. Stan served two years in the Army during the Korean War, after which he returned to Wyoming to complete his degree in civil engineering.
Because his Uncle George suffered in his old age, Stan then returned to Pinedale to look after George and help him run his ranch.
Absorbing essential cattleman secrets from his uncle’s experienced wisdom, Stan combined his recent university education with traditional ranching techniques to improve the ranch. After his uncle died, Stan renamed the ranch the Murdock Cattle Company, which would prosper under his steady hand for the rest of his life.
He thrived in his post-service days with the exuberance of a “renegade” cowboy bachelor, Johnston said as he recalled Stan’s uncanny ability to solicit entranced giggles from any members of the opposite sex. But the young rancher relinquished his wild proclivities in 1973 when he married Madeleine, who spent the following years refining the manners that Stan’s mother had attempted to inculcate. The couple produced their son Scott in 1978.
“During our last conversation, Stan told me that Madeleine and Scott had made him a complete man,” Johnston said.
As the years passed, Stan didn’t allow his mind or his ranching methods to stale, ever subscribing to new methodology and equipment, including major meadow renovations and new facilities for animal handling.
Brandishing a limitless knowledge from his constant reading, he shared and nurtured his ideas with the community. He offered a firm grasp of water law minutiae when he served on the New Fork Irrigation District, and mediated conservation interests with advancing development as a founding member of both the Wyoming Stock Grower’s Agricultural Land Trust (WSGALT) and the Green River Valley Land Trust (GRVLT).
“He was a true-blue Wyomingite,” said WSGALT Executive Director Glenn Pauley early this week. “When people think of the West, he was an icon, and obviously a person who had a lot of passion about their land.”
If there was a western analogy out there, Stan knew it, Pauley added, and few conversations with the rancher failed to bring a smile to his listeners’ faces.
Indeed, his conversation defined his personality, Johnston said.
“He had a distinctive, singular vocal pace and tonality that could lull you,” Johnston said. “And before you realized it, he had pulled your leg, big time.”
Yet beneath Stan’s amiable façade dwelled a tough, steadfast determination that surfaced whenever life tested his philosophy of mind over matter, Johnston said.
“One fall, he was moving cattle through Horse Creek in a driving, freezing rainy snowstorm, his slicker and hat slathered with ice — Stan commented that the music of the icicles tinkling on the cows was interesting.” Johnston said. “When he got home, his leather gloves had to be removed from his very cold hands with pliers.”
He carried this same fortitude last May, when a horseback accident left him a quadriplegic. His string of jokes never faltered in the following year and a half, and he held strong to the optimism that had seen him through much of his life.
Stan might have looked to the robust mountain men who tamed the county as role models, as he remained an influential member of the Sublette County Historical Society for 45 years, played Benjamin Bonneville in the annual Rendezvous Pageant for 20 years, and became a pageant director in 1990, said Laurie Hartwig, director of the Museum of the Mountain Man. Stan also served on the Sublette County Museum Board from 1998 to 2002.
“He was a driving force behind the historical society, the museum and the Green River Rendezvous Pageant,” said Hartwig, who often worked with Stan on historical projects. “I just believe that he always loved history, being born in the county. It was a fascinating love for him, and so he pursued it with a passion.”
And he exuded the same passion throughout all facets of his civic involvement, Johnston said, as well as his relationships with friends and family.
“If a man who is happy with himself and gives happiness to others and makes the world a better place simply by being part of it is considered successful — then Stan, or Stanley, or Stanley G. or Stanley Gordon Murdoch can be called the successful gentleman rancher,” Johnston said.
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