Because my roots run deep in Prescott — I was born there, my aunt and uncle were once prominent business owners in the city and my maternal grandparents lived out the final years in the Prescott Pioneer Home — I was sure I would know the families of some of the brave young men who gave their lives fighting the Yarnell Hill Fire.
But as the names were released to the public, I didn’t recognize any of them as being from a family I might have crossed paths with.
That is until July 2 when The Arizona Republic published “Portraits of bravery” providing biographies of the young firefighters.
Among the names was Travis Carter, 31, and the subhead read, “He grew up in the hills he would protect.”
Oh my gosh! I suddenly realized that was Tripp Carter’s son.
Sure enough, the biography read, “Carter was raised in Prescott and Kirkland, just a few miles from the scene of the fire. His dad, Courtland “Tripp” Carter owns ‘Necktie Ranch,’ a cattle ranch that has been around since the late 1800s.”
Tripp and I became good friends during our freshman year at Eastern Arizona College in the early 1960s.
Tripp was at EA to play football, but rodeo was his first love. As friends, he taught me to tie a piggin’ string, rope a bit and often dragged me along to Thatcher veterinarian Max Smith’s roping arena to be his “Gopher” during his calf roping practice sessions. I even accompanied him to some rodeos during the football off-season.
Tripp had all the pedigree needed to be a world champion calf and team roper. His uncle, Chuck Sheppard, was once regarded as “The toughest four-even cowboy around.” He was the 1946 team roping world champion and in 1951 won the calf roping world championship.
Tripp talked about him so often, I sometimes felt as if I knew Chuck Sheppard personally. Tripp’s aunt, Nancy Sheppard, was a trick rider and roper who has been enshrined in the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame.
The family ranch he grew up on in Walnut Grove had a long history of producing expert steer ropers because they branded on the open range. When the Prescott Fourth of July Rodeo was still contested by local working cowboys, Necktie cowboys usually won most of the events.
When I first met Tripp, I good-naturedly teased him about his name asking something like, “What happened, did someone trip when you were born?”
Nope, he answered, his name was Courtland Arden Carter III and since he was a “third” or “triple,” his family nicknamed him “Tripp.”
Tripp’s grandfather had founded the Carter homestead in the late 1800s. He and Tripp’s father gradually expanded it by buying land parcels and picking up Forest Service allotments.
During our year at EA, Tripp and I found ourselves in the midst of mostly “big city” kids from the East Coast and Pennsylvania.
Most were there to play junior college football and hopefully earn scholarships to a four-year university.
Some were there to improve their GPAs so they could go to a major college.
To say Tripp and I stood out like sore thumbs among those Eastern-raised kids would be downplaying it.
I always felt as if we were considered small town hicks, but hey that didn’t bother either of us.
Although the big city kids were fellow students and teammates, we had few things in common.
Maybe that’s one of the reasons Tripp and I became good friends.
After one year at EA, I left for Arizona State University and Tripp stayed on for his sophomore season in Thatcher.
Over the years, we lost touch with one another as we went our separate ways. We did on occasion, however, rekindle our friendship at the Frontier Days rodeo in Prescott. Most often he was entered in the calf roping and team roping events.
As years passed, I heard that Tripp eventually returned to the Necktie to help his family run the ranch.
In Travis’ published biography, his wife Krista is quoted as saying the two met while she was working at a cosmetic counter at Dillard’s department store.
“He just came up and talked to me,” she said. “Everybody said it wasn’t like him because he was incredibly shy.”
The shyness must have been inherited from his father — Tripp was the shyest person I’ve ever known.
During our year at EA, there was a red hot teenage waitress working at the root beer stand in Safford. Tripp was infatuated with her, but not once did he speak openly to her other than ordering a root beer.
He simply sat at the drive-in and threw down root beers, possibly hoping she would notice him.
Looking back on that school year, I realize I never drank so much root beer.
In these tough times, my heart goes out to Tripp and his family. In the coming days, I will try to reconnect with him hoping he remembers our year at EA as fondly as I do.
In light of what occurred on Yarnell Hill, this is obviously a time of tremendous sorrow and grief for Tripp. After all, it’s not natural a father should bury his son. It’s supposed to be the other way around.