The Thaler & Evans Families
Fox Creek Land & Livestock Company was established 100 years and five generations ago. First generation and founder was immigrant and homesteader Joe Matje. Joe Matje was born in St. Hubert, Hungary, on May 17, 1883. He studied three and a half years to be a shoemaker in Hungary, but that wasn’t the life for him! In 1903, 20-year-old Joe came to the United States with $1.10 in his pocket. On the dock a kid sold him a banana for five cents. The kid ran off with his change. So Joe started his adventures in America with only one dollar.
He went first to Chicago where he worked on the railroad, in packing plants, on farms, and at a summer resort. After six years, he had saved up seven hundred dollars and moved to Cheyenne in 1909. For the next seven years he worked as a cobbler at Fort Russell. He started his own business at 17th Street and Carey Avenue in Cheyenne. When the Cavalry was sent to the Mexican border to guard against Poncho Villa’s raids, the cobbler business dwindled. So in 1916, Joe took out a 320-acre homestead in Goshen County seventeen miles south of Torrington. By this time his savings had grown to $10,000. He registered his brand in 1917 as Lazy M reversed J. He didn’t know much about farming or ranching at that time. He relied on others’ judgment when purchasing cattle. If they would bid $20, he figured he could afford another 50 cents. In 1938, he purchased what is today the main ranch 10 miles west of LaGrange, WY. In 1950, he incorporated the ranch as Fox Creek Land & Livestock Co. He became a member of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association and the American National Livestock Association. In 1960, Joe established Joe Matje Incorporated. He raised commercial Hereford cattle, as well as 464 acres of wheat. Joe had managed to convert that original one-dollar into a 28,000-acre ranch and become one of the most influential ranchers in Goshen County. Joe often said, “I’m not hard to work for, but I’m hard to loaf for.” His success and work ethic were well known throughout the state.
Joe never married or had children of his own. But he liked kids, and over his lifetime he gave generously to St. Joseph Children’s home in Torrington, WY. Joe was one of the founding fathers of South Goshen Conservation District and served on that board for thirteen years. Working with the conservation district and the soil conservation service was a real turning point for his ranch.
Stories about Joe are heard often. He would go to town and buy a new Cadillac only to take it out to the pasture and put a sick or cold calf in the backseat saying, “Well, they paid for it.” He went from the horse and buggy days to automobiles and tractors. He never was a very good driver and ended up getting in multiple accidents including hitting a train or two.
He also helped many young farmers and ranchers get started in the ranching business. One particular story relates that he drove into a young man’s yard and told him the neighboring ranch was being auctioned that day. The man said, “I know, but I can’t afford it.” Joe said, “Come on. Let’s go find out.” Joe proceeded to bid on the ranch for the young man. When Joe thought that others were bidding him up, he stopped the auction and said, “This is what I will pay. If you want a check that is good, call me. This is all I’m paying.” Joe received a call later saying his bid was accepted. He gave the ranch to the young man. That family is ranching in Goshen County today.
Joe partnered often with neighbors to purchase ranches and then after selling them, Joe’s percentage would be donated to St. Joseph Children’s home. Joe was proud to be an American and didn’t mind paying taxes. He lived the American dream. Joe Matje passed away in 1972 at age 89.
In 1948, as the second generation, Bud and Marion Thaler started managing the Fox Creek Ranch. Aloysius “Bud” Thaler was born in Newell, South Dakota, where his family ranched. He was in the Navy stationed in Florida, but never saw action. After the Navy he moved to South Haven, Michigan, where he met Marion Steinbach, Joe Matje’s great niece. Marion was a secretary for a Chicago lawyer before marrying Bud. Bud and Marion and their two sons, Wayne (three years) and Dennis (two months), moved from South Heaven, Michigan, to join Joe Matje on the ranch. Bud was very innovative and always thought of ways to improve the land. In 1973, Bud and Marion obtained the U Bench brand from a neighbor, Clyde Stewart.
Bud, like Joe, gave generously to everyone. He was an extremely hard worker and worked all day pitching hay or whatever needed done, even serving as president of the LaGrange Fire District. He was known for being uncommonly strong and a great athlete, enjoying sports in his rare free time. Bud had a great positive attitude and is remembered as one of the best guys around. He would come into a basketball huddle when they were 20 points down with two minutes left and say, “Ok, guys, we got them right where we want them… we can still win this.” Bud was a good steer roper, but when the boys got older he bought a boat so they could be together as a family enjoying boating and water skiing. Bud always took great pride in the ranch and loved to give tours to visitors.
Marion was well known as a good cook and baker. She would cook for the employees who often lived with them and also for any visitors who came by. Bud and Marion were very community-oriented and enjoyed planning and participating in cards, holiday parties, and dinners. In 1989, they purchased a retirement home in Arizona, where they spent a few months each year for some rest and relaxation.
Third generation Wayne and Dennis Thaler grew up in the Bear Creek community. Wayne left the ranch after college and went into banking. Wayne has four daughters and lives in Grand Junction, CO. Dennis went to grades 1-5 at the Bear Creek Country School and then attended grades 6-12 at LaGrange. He graduated in 1964 and attended diesel mechanic school in Denver for one year. He was in the Air National Guard in Cheyenne for eight years. He loved the Guard as it was like a vacation for him from ranch work. Dennis shares his ancestors’ good heart, helping out neighbors and the community often. Dennis married Sandy Kinniburgh in November of 1974 in Saratoga, Wyoming. Sandy met Dennis through a college friend at the Hawk Springs Reservoir while water skiing in keeping with the Thaler’s favorite pastime. Sandy was born and raised in Rawlins in 1951, growing up with limited experience in the country life. Graduating from the University of Wyoming with a teaching degree, she taught in Hanna, Wyoming, for one year before marrying Dennis and moving to the ranch in LaGrange. Sandy quickly fit in, applying her talents and business sense to helping on the ranch. She also served as a substitute teacher in Goshen County. In 1980, Sandy and Dennis were blessed with their one and only child, daughter Brandy.
Dennis started working full time on the ranch in 1965. In 1967, they expanded their herd genetics by purchasing their first Charolais bull, becoming one of the first herds in the area to start cross breeding with Charolais. In 1975, Bud suffered a stroke, but the words “Can’t Do” were never in his vocabulary so with determination and strength, he regained his ability to walk and talk. At that point Dennis started taking the reins, but he and his dad made a great team. If one of them thought of an idea, the other worked twice as hard to make it happen.
In the 1960’s the ranch changed its goal from buying more land to improving the existing land. Bud and Joe started putting in stock water pipelines and stock tanks and began developing springs. They focused on better grazing utilization and more reliable water supply. They leveled land, and removed old houses, garbage dumps, old trees, and ditches to wisely use every drop of irrigation water, maximizing all the natural resources. Some of the pipelines that Joe and Bud put in were within ½ mile to ¼ mile of wheat ground that Dennis converted back to grass and divided up into smaller pastures to form management intensive grazing. This allows increased numbers, better utilization and improved grass health and preserves the native range until later in July. Because of the foresight of Joe and Bud, these improvements were accomplished with minimal expense. Pastures that originally could sustain a herd for two weeks can now keep the same size herd for two months. Dennis was one of the first in the county to implement rotational grazing under pivots.
Dennis and Sandy established Thaler Land & Livestock Company in 1988. Bud passed away in November 1989 at the age of 69. Marion continued to live on and be part of the ranch until 2004. Marion passed away in 2005 at the age of 85.
Teamwork is the key! Natural Resource Conservation Services, Local Conservation Districts, Goshen County Weed & Pest, CO-OP’s, Wyoming Game and Fish, Wyoming Department of Agriculture, University of Wyoming Cooperative Extension, and Wyoming Stock Growers have all helped make the ranch a success. For 30 years, Dennis was actively involved in the conservation district, serving on the same board Joe helped found. Dennis’ motto has always been, “There’s no end to what can be done when we all work together.”
In 2005, the ranch was awarded the Wyoming Stock Growers Environmental Stewardship award, followed in 2006 by the National Environmental Stewardship Award from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. In 2016, Dennis was inducted into the Wyoming Agriculture Hall of Fame.
Dennis’s daughter, Brandy and son-in-law Kevin Evans, are carrying on the ranch. Brandy graduated from Southeast High School in Yoder in 1999. She played volleyball at Eastern Wyoming College and went on to Crookston, MN, where she played volleyball and graduated with a computer programming degree in 2003. She married Kevin Evans in 2004. Kevin was born in 1975 and lived in Elizabeth, Colorado. He went to Sterling, Colorado, for college in Ag Business before moving to Bear Creek. His family had purchased the ranch bordering the Thaler’s. This location enabled Kevin to pursue his dream of raising cattle. Elizabeth, Colorado was becoming like a big city, not conducive to raising cattle. At the time, Kevin, never dreamed he would one day marry the “neighbor girl,” but today Kevin and Brandy are happily married. They have two sons, Hadley and Hudson, starting the ranch’s 5th generation.
In 2014, Kevin and Brandy started raising their own registered Charolais bulls. Kevin is highly skilled in animal health, nutrition, and genetics, making him a great fit to continue improving the ranch cattle program. Kevin and Brandy have implemented windrow grazing and controlled grazing using high tensile electric fence. They continue to improve the grass and herd health, while cutting back on operating expenses.
Today the ranch consists of more than 20,000 acres of deeded land, including 3,000 acres of improved pasture consisting of wheatgrass and alfalfa mix, 445 acres of irrigated pasture under pivots, and 560 acres of hay ground under gated pipe or flood irrigated. The ranch leases 5000 acres from the State of Wyoming and 40 acres from the BLM. They also lease two other ranches on an animal unit per month basis.
Thaler Land and Livestock Company is located in Goshen County in the southeast corner of Wyoming. The elevation is 4,800 feet and the average rainfall is 12-13 inches. There are two streams that run through the ranch. Fox Creek meanders through most of the ranch and Bear Creek runs on the lower end with additional pivot, gated pipe and flood irrigation throughout. The terrain includes rolling hills with some bluffs, canyons and flatlands mixed in. Grasses include western wheatgrass, blue grama, needle and thread, dryland sedge, buffalo grass, and prairie sandreed.
The ranch’s resource management goal is to maintain the health and vigor of plant communities on irrigated, dryland and native range, which will maintain the resource base and support a long-term operation. By maintaining good health and vigor of all plant communities involved, erosion will be held to a minimum. The only farming that will be done is through crop rotation to maintain permanently introduced species for grazing and haying. With the improvement of their natural resources and proper management of their cowherd, through better genetics and vaccination programs, the Thalers and Evans will continue to ship beef around the world for generations to come.
“Value your family and your neighbors. Pull together. Work hard and never give up. Find ways to improve what you have.” These are the lessons handed down from the Fox Creek Land & Livestock ancestors. This foundation inspired and guided their family through the first four generations. Building on these principles, Dennis and Sandy Thaler and Brandy and Kevin Evans work to ensure that Fox Creek’s ranching legacy will continue for another 100 years.
FEATURE DATE: 2015
In memory of Sandy Thaler