Remembering The Pioneers

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The Gila County Pioneers Committee flies pretty much under the radar and apparently that’s the way they want it.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t give them a pat on the back and a huge thank you for their selfless contributions to the Rim Country.

The Pioneers are a group of 15 men from all walks of life who are united by two common links — all have family roots in Northern Gila County and also harbor deep respect and admiration for the pioneers who helped make our area a wonderful place to live and raise a family.

Talk to any of the members and it’s obvious all want to pitch in and help retain and build upon our rich, western culture that puts a premium on hard work, rugged individualism, strong values and “can do” attitudes.

The classic pioneers — whose members we have grown to respect during their lifetimes — are those who are in love with solitude, enjoy cowboy poetry and music, look you directly in the eye, tip their hats to the ladies, wear boots and call their horses partners because they are reliable, sure-footed animals that will bring you home safely at the end of the day.

Among the founding members of the committee is Duke Wilbanks, who, upon hearing this editorial was going to be written, had one request.

“Tell them (the pioneers) how much we care for them and love them,” he said.

The admiration the committee members have for the pioneers prompted the founding of the organization several years ago.

In the early days of the committee, members gathered at Roy Haught’s Star Valley home to mull over the best way to reach their mission of honoring the Rim Country’s living pioneers, those more than 70 years of age who have lived in Gila County most of their lives.

Because some members, like Ronnie McDaniel, remember the festive dinner-dances the former Cowbelles hosted for years, the committee decided to try to replicate those with a communitywide event.

It was decided all the profits would be donated to a local, worthwhile cause with links to our frontier culture, and that pioneers would be feted at the dinner-dances.

It’s obvious to anyone who has attended one of the events that committee members have reached their goal of putting on an old-fashioned good time and honoring elders.

The dinner-dances are much like a step back in time, with plenty of Haught’s famous cowboy beef dinner, country-western music to dance to, pioneers telling tales of the West, auctions and raffles.

For one evening a year, the dinners allow townspeople a glimpse of life on the frontier.

And that’s important for our young people, especially in these times when many argue there is a decline in our national character and a move toward an increasingly hedonistic society.

While the dinner-dances are a precious part of our heritage that should never fall by the wayside or be forgotten, they also require hours and hours of work and planning.

For their efforts in bringing together townspeople both young and old for an evening of old-fashioned fun and reminiscing, we owe the members a debt of gratitude, a firm handshake and a hearty “thank you.”

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