July 2012 - Cover Story
Women of the American Wild West had to be resourceful. They had to cope with the elements that surrounded them – often times harsh conditions. Some women took to the gun as readily as any man and others made lives for themselves apart from dignified society. But for women who made the trek west with their families, their lot was in raising children, running a household, establishing schools and churches, dealing with isolation and loneliness and occasionally, warding off the enemy.
Things haven’t changed that much over the years. Sylvan Walden’s story began in Red Lodge where she was born. She was raised on a hobby farm in Outlook, Montana. Outlook is a small town in Sheridan County with a population of 47 (according to the 2010 census). Sylvan’s mom was a veterinarian and her dad worked for State Fish and Game.
During Sylvan’s elementary years, the family moved to Circle. Circle is the county seat of McCone County and has a population of around 644. Sylvan graduated from high school in Hinsdale. Hinsdale is located in Valley County with a population of approximately 548. Sylvan grew up being comfortable in small Montana communities and enjoyed the farm and ranch lifestyle. “I loved living in Hinsdale and graduating from Hinsdale High. It was a nice little school in a nice little town. I was pretty shy and it was helpful to know everybody in the school. Our school mascot was the Raider and sports were very important to the community. Local businesses, families and the majority of the community came together to cheer on sporting events. It was a social gathering. It reminds me of line in a song by Miranda Lambert ‘Everybody dies famous in this small small town.’ I can relate to the song - I like being a part of the small small town.”
After graduating from high school, Sylvan attended Montana State University in Bozeman and studied range and animal sciences. During the summers, Sylvan continued to work on local ranches. It was during one of the summer jobs that Sylvan met her future husband. “I met my husband Bob while I was working for a ranch south of Glasgow. It was love at first sight.”
Bob explains, “I had given my two weeks notice to the ranch and planned on going to work on a ranch in Colorado. Things changed as soon as I saw one of the new employees – Sylvan. Right away I knew I had to marry this amazing woman. I just knew she was ‘the one.’ Our first date was an evening stroll down to the pond to see the frogs and turtles. We both love the outdoors.
“The following summer I asked her to marry me during a similar date. We were at this big reservoir at the head of Willow Creek (south of Glasgow) swimming with our puppy. I was the happiest man – she said YES! We will celebrate our 15th anniversary in August. We meet when she was 18 and I was 25.”
The Waldens are raising their daughter Regatta (meaning rope) on their own ranch in Glasgow. Motherhood has been one of Sylvan’s biggest blessings, but also one of her biggest challenges. Sylvan explains, “It was hard to have to stay home. I was used to being out in the middle of the action on the ranch. The idea of not working was hard for me. Each morning I would watch the guys leave and ride off to work without me. I missed the horses and the physical work.
“I was pregnant during the winter. The funny thing is that you are stuck in the house doing important tasks like paying bills and keeping the company on track; however, there is a lot of down time. I became pretty addicted to Facebook. In my grandmother’s day women would go have coffee and visit one another. That wasn’t possible for me. The snow was deep and the neighbors are far away. I remember my college friends (from different states) saying that people in Montana are very friendly, but it is hard to get to know them because of the distance between them. It does get lonely sometimes. People who are used to having good friends close by have a hard time adjusting to this isolated lifestyle. Other times I have to laugh at my small town. The community seems to know every new comer – even if they haven’t met them face-to-face.
“My pregnancy was a time of adjustment for me. I stayed home until my daughter was nine months old and then I was able to return to the action!” With the doctor’s approval, Sylvan and her daughter spent much of their day on horseback. She rode with the baby in front at first and eventually as Regatta grew she was able to use a Piccolo carrier on her back. The Piccolo will hold up to 40 pounds of weight. After that point, Sylvan feels that Regatta will be able to start riding lessons.