Women of the West - Iris Day

The rural community of Faith, South Dakota, has benefitted from having all-around hand Iris Day as a resident, and she feels blessed to be part of it.

Interview by KATE BRADLEY-BYARS • Photograph by DARRELL DODDS

IrisDay

A RANCHER’S WIFE, mother of six, school bus driver, roper and horse trainer, Iris Day still resides on the same South Dakota ranch she grew up on with her parents. Every soul in her community has a kind word to describe this gum-chewing horsewoman.

Day’s husband, Bud, was a South Dakota rodeo legend. Though he passed in 2007, his presence is still felt in their hometown of Faith, where a life-sized statue of him, crafted by local artist John Lopez, stands beside the main road. As Day says, “He was strong and tough and all that, but he was real kind, and that’s what I liked most.”

Many of Day’s friends and neighbors would use the same description for her.

MY PARENTS LIVED HERE [near Faith], but the drought of 1930 and lack of feed for livestock moved them east. My dad, grandpa and oldest brother trailed horses from here to Gregory [South Dakota] in the fall of 1936. My oldest brother was 11 years old then. I was born in Gregory in 1937, and we moved back here in 1943.

I WALKED TO SCHOOL every day. I was lucky in that we only had three to five kids in the one-room schoolhouse. I went to the same building from first grade through eighth grade, but they moved it three times. The first time, they moved it with horses on big skids across the creek.

MY GRANDDAUGHTER ASKED ME why didn’t I ride a horse to school. I only rode a horse once in a while because it wasn’t that far and we didn’t have a barn at school. It would have been too cold to leave them out in the wintertime.

WE ALWAYS HAD MILK COWS and a few horses. My chore in the summertime was to go gather the milk cows at night. We didn’t have many fences, you know, and my dad and brother would be haying. That was fun getting to ride the horse.

MY FIRST HORSE was a Paint colt. I broke him, but I don’t think I did a very good job!

Read "Ranch Work for Colts"

BUD AND I MET at a high school dance in Faith. He was a real kind person. We leased a ranch down the creek about 20 miles, but after my parents died we bought their ranch in Thunder Butte Creek.

WE HAD SIX CHILDREN and did everything together as a family. Those were the good years, when our kids were growing up on the ranch. They rode miles with us. We had some really good kid ponies, and my boys would be sucking their thumb asleep riding on the pony. A lot of people wouldn’t put their kid on a pony, but we rode so many miles on them that they were good.

MY SON AND HIS FAMILY and I ranch here now. The horses are what I love the best, but since it is just us, we don’t have a lot of time for the horses. For several years we trained horses here, but we are too busy haying and calving and feeding in the wintertime now.

IT IS EITHER WINTER or you are getting ready for winter. Our indoor arena made a good place for everyone to come and practice for their rodeos. We built the barn in ’79, and started having jackpot ropings and barrel races. Some nights I s’pose it was pretty cold, but we always had fun.

ONE NIGHT WE HAD 50 TEAMS or better roping, and it was probably 30-below. We were roping along and kaboom! The lights went out about 11 o’clock that night. The transformer had gone out. We have a good power company, and in a little over an hour they had it going again. It was so cold and we had so many horses in there, it got to be like a fog, so I could barely see the barrier. Everybody stayed because they had money in the pot!

Watch "Scoring Your Rope Horse"

WE WERE RAISING HORSES and had three horse sales at the ranch in the 1980s. We were breeding for cow horses—a using horse, really, and one with a good disposition. The market went bad in the ’80s and we dispersed our mares at the sale barn in Faith. We trailed them into town more than 20 miles and across the river.

THERE ARE GETTING FEWER and fewer young people that are able to stay [on the ranch], and it is hard to make a living. But, you have to figure out how to do something else. I drove the school bus for 31 years. That was the best part of my day!

THIS LITTLE NEIGHBOR BOY was riding the bus and he was in kindergarten. He said one day, ‘Iris, I suppose you won’t be driving the bus much longer.’ I asked him why, and he said he guessed I’d be going to Heaven real soon. I proved him wrong, ha! He’s in high school now. It was never a dull moment.

PEOPLE ASK ME, ‘When are you going to retire?’ We say ranchers don’t retire: they just tire. My family and friends really bless me. I live 35 miles from town, but if I go, the first thing you know there is someone to visit with. What’s that worth? More than you know.

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