Donald K. “Don” Bandy
October 6, 1920 – December 3, 2016
Don knew how to work. When he was 17 years old, he dug 90 post holes in one day with manual posthole diggers. His brother had a grey horse he couldn’t get along with because when he roped off him he would take off so he wanted Don to ride him. Don was riding west of the place in Garden County and started some 2 year old heifers to the barn. He saw a heifer that needed doctoring so he roped her, braced himself and it jerked the horse down with Don under him. When they got untangled and got up, the grey horse never ran off again—he would stand and hold the critter.
Don’s father, Jess Bandy, later leased another ranch on the Dismal River south of Thedford, Nebraska. They needed the extra land for grazing so in the fall of 1934, they made the first cattle drive from the Garden County ranch to the Dismal River ranch. The cattle were driven by horseback across country from the ranch in Garden County to the Dismal River ranch, a distance of about 100 miles through the hills, and they were driven back to the Garden County ranch in the fall. They drove about 1800 head of cattle and made the two trips a year from 1934 through 1937. The trip took about 18 days. Frank Cotton drove the chuck wagon and cooked the “beans and biscuits”. When he was just 14 years old, Don was put in charge of the remuda, consisting of 25 to 30 head of horses. He would get up in the night and use his horse, Steamboat, to round up the other horses and get them ready for the day. Don said the nights were “darker than the inside of a cow”! One night he rode a littler close to a fence and cut his leg and his britches.
Don was in his first “rodeo” when he was 13 years old. He rode two-year old steers and made 50 cents apiece. He worked the rodeo circuit in Nebraska, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas and Kansas during the 1940’s, before and after his military service. At an amateur rodeo in Snyder, Texas a bull hit him in the side of the head, and a horse bucked him off in Ratton, New Mexico.
The TURTLE COWBOYS ASSOCIATION was founded in 1936. Don joined in 1941 at Burwell, Nebraska. The Turtles were so-named for their slowness in organizing a group to represent them in their dealings with the rodeo promoters. The Turtle Cowboys Association later changed their name to the Rodeo Cowboys Association (RCA) from 1946 until 1975, and then became the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) as they are now known. Don was one of few surviving members of the Turtles Organization. Someone stole his billfold containing his membership card but he still had Turtles pin which he wore on his belt, and his PRCA cards from 1946 to 1954.
Don started his military career on August 1, 1942 when he was sworn in at Ft. Warren at Cheyenne, Wyoming. He completed his basic training there, and was sent to Ft. Logan in Denver, Colorado. He was stationed in Hawaii for 9 months and was later transferred to Ft. Robinson at Crawford, Nebraska which was a major training facility for the Fort for 20,000 dogs and 22,000 head of horses and mules. They butchered an average of 4 horses per day to feed the dogs which were trained as guard dogs, rescue dogs, and attack dogs. He was assigned as an office boy when a runaway team took off and killed the driver. They gave him an old jack mule on the water wagon that balked when he tried to make him go in to fill the tank. Don had worked mules at home and he “persuaded” the mule to go where he wanted him to. The officers watched him and decided he could handle any team they gave him so he was assigned to drive a team of horses and/or pack mules hauling dog food and feces. He was also at Camp Beal in Marysville, California and Seattle, Washington. He developed ear problems and was discharged at Camp Logan on January 31, 1946.
Don returned from the Army to the ranch on the Dismal River from 1946 to 1949, then went back to the ranch in Garden County until 1955. He started rodeoing again after he got out of the Army and broke his ankle the first year. The ankle bone was broken and shoved down to the bottom of his foot. Don went to a rodeo in Alliance, NE in 1946 with the cast on his leg. Someone said it didn’t look like he would be taking home any money that day, so he rode a bull with his leg in a cast and split first place with another cowboy. Dick, his brother, brought his crutches out to the arena so he could walk back to the chutes. The last bull he rode was in 1950. He won the saddle bronc riding in 1951, and rode his last saddle bronc in 1955 in Hyannis, Nebraska and got 3rd place. He had many broken bones in his life. He broke his wrist three times in one year and 5 days. The first time he was dogging a steer in Lexington, he missed the steer and broke it. The second time, he was judging at Smith Center, Kansas, and the third time he broke it when he was riding bulls in Arnold, Nebraska. When the Doc fixed it for him, he had a splint on it but Don kept taking it off when it was in his way so when he went back to get it checked Doc said he might as well leave it off. He had both ears torn off – one was when he was dogging a steer and one when a saddle bronc thru him into a board fence.
In December 1980, he had three different operations in 10 days – one on the tendons in his right hand, one to repair a hernia, and a prostrate operation. On October 7, 2003 he fell in the hallway of his trailer in Wyoming and broke his right hip. When they found him the next day, they took him to Rapid City, SD for surgery. On November 7, 2013 he fell getting out the passenger side of his pickup and broke his left hip. When asked why he rode bulls, Don said, “I was too scared to steal and too lazy to work!!” NOT TRUE – he worked hard all his life and had a way with horses. He had a lot of good ones and can still remember most of their names.
In June 1955, his parents Jesse and May Bandy bought a ranch east of Biddle, Montana. Don and his nephew sorted the cows at the Dismal River ranch, and took 200 of them and 8 bulls to the ranch in Montana. Don managed the ranch and also bought some more land nearby. They lived and ranched there until ill health forced Jess and May to retire. Don bought a mobile home, and moved them to a ranch owned by his brother-in-law near Newcastle, Wyoming in November 1966. Don lived with them and cared for them by himself (nearly 20 years) until their deaths, Jess in 1973 and May in 1980. The Montana ranch was sold in 1990.
Don continued to live and work at the Wyoming ranch. In 1986, he and his nephew Bobby Cotton bought a ranch 12 miles east of Stapleton, Nebraska. He moved a trailer house onto the property and spent time working there and at the Gordon ranch in Wyoming. He enjoyed helping with cattle, feeding, brandings, haying and helping neighbors with they needed it.
He also enjoyed attending rodeos, being in the chute, participating in the calcuttas, and backing the young cowboys. He always kept track of the rodeo news, the standings, and the up-and coming young cowboys.
Don was a lifetime member of the VFW and the American Legion.
He would rather be on the back of a horse in the Sandhills chasing a renegade cow or looking for a lost calf than any other place on earth. He was an excellent judge of horseflesh and could break and rid many horses others could not. He has spent his life in the Sandhills working and promoting the cowboy way of life.
Don Bandy was a Cowboy – personified by his beliefs and the way he lived his life: A man’s word is his bond; you pay your own way; you pay for what you buy; God is real and your destiny is pre-determined; no child should be abused or mistreated; say what you mean and mean what you say. He couldn’t talk about his Mother without getting tears in his eyes.