Faith, Family and Horses

South Dakota's Hunt family has built thriving horse operations based on these old-fashioned values. The Hunts have ranched and raised horses on the rolling grasslands and along the rugged cedar brakes of the Cheyenne River Reservation near Faith, Dupree and Eagle Butte, South Dakota, since the 1940s. Today, this family – Geno and Effie, the family's patriarch and matriarch, and sons Jeff and Jim, plus their wives and children – has grown and formed separate operations, plus hosts two highly successful production sales. Still, the Hunts continue to foster a special kinship with each other, their horses and the land.

In his 2004 sale catalog, Jim and his wife, Joni, wrote, "To become a good horseman, you have to be dependent upon a good horse. You take care of him, and he'll take care of you…our family's way of life for [more than] five generations."

The Hunt-Lopez Legacy

The Hunts have a truly historical horse operation that traces to more than 100 years ago, when horsepower was the only mode of transportation, and a good mount was just as important on the ranch as a tractor and four-wheel-drive pickup are today.

Geno's maternal grandfather, Ford Annis, was a wagon-boss on a Texas outfit, and his father, Jack Hunt, was a top hand on the Laurel Leaf outfit in Devils Tower, Wyoming. Jack eventually settled in Dupree Creek, South Dakota, to raise his family.

Geno, who grew up in agriculture during the Great Depression, says horses played a critical role in everyday life. "We did everything with horses," he recalls. "We rode 4 1/2 miles each way to school."As is common in closely knit, country families, Geno learned to love what he lived.

At the time, draft-horse crosses, called chunks, ruled the horse market for utilitarian reasons. South Dakota also was home to numerous breeders of Remount horses for the military, many of which worked their way into ranch-horse breeding programs. "A lot of the horses were Morgans," Geno reflects. "They were tough and liked to buck."

Effie also came from a rich ranching background that originated in the mid-1800s in southern Colorado. There Effie's grandfather, Elfido Lopez, a pioneer of Spanish descent, grew up and worked for such outfits as the Prairie Land and Cattle Company and the Bar 4 Ranch. In 1911, Lopez and his wife, Rebecca, homesteaded 160 acres near what's now Las Animas, Colorado, and raised eight children.

The couple's fifth son, Albert, was a savvy horseman and went to work for Warren Shoemaker, the New Mexico breeder of Quarter Horse foundation sire Nick Shoemaker, the sire of Skipper W. Then Albert served as wagon-boss for Diamond A Cattle Company, a nationally known outfit with holdings in Colorado, New Mexico and South Dakota, operating between 1885 and 1939.

In 1923, Albert headed north to South Dakota with the Diamond-A herd, where "he was intrigued by the belly-deep, hardy grass and American Indians," Geno says. He met and married South Dakota horsewoman Luvisa Pelter of Hermosa. For many years, he continued to work for the Diamond A, which controlled substantial land leases on the Cheyenne River Reservation. In the 1930s, Albert obtained his own lease on the reservation to raise cattle and horses.

In those days, horse herds consisted of wild range horses or Indian mounts. But Albert had a keen eye for horseflesh and built his breeding program from only the best stock he could find. His selection criteria included a long stride to cover the vast range; large, sturdy feet for soundness; a short back for strength and balance; and prominent withers to hold a saddle in place.

By the 1940s, Albert had a solid band of approximately 100 broodmares, which were among the first South Dakota horses registered with the newly formed American Quarter Horse Association. One of his first stallions was a Paint Horse named McArther. AQHA also has record of him registering a stallion of unknown descent named Montana Playboy with the National Quarter Horse Breeders Association, prior to AQHA's formation in 1940.

A young Casey Tibbs, before his rodeo fame, worked with the Lopez family and helped break the ranch colts. On June 10, 1943, Tibbs and Lopez held their first horse sale in Fort Pierre, South Dakota, where they sold 25 palominos and buckskins, 20 fillies, 60 to 75 broke saddle horses and a carload of farm chunks.

Read the complete story in the September issue of Western Horseman.