Still on the family homestead

Walter Sprague, Arts and Culture Reporter
Photo by Walter Sprague/NLJ
Chris Russel “Russ” Christensen, inducted into the Wyoming Cowboy Hall of Fame,says he values family, land, and livestock, and places a great deal of weight on being a man of integrity whose word is his bond.

Chris Russell "Russ" Christensen, a resident of the homestead he was born on in 1930, was inducted into the Wyoming Cowboy Hall of Fame in 2021. Except for the years he served as a medic in the army during the Korean War, he has lived his whole life on the homestead his father acquired in 1910.


"The house I was born in is still there, about 150 feet from where I live now," Russ said. "In fact, the iron bedstead I was born in is still in that house."


Growing up as far out of town as he did, along the Cheyenne River, he rode his horse to school. Russ said that the schoolhouse changed locations often, sometimes every year. Some years he rode 3 or 4 miles to get there. But then, the following year, it might be within walking distance.


"I remember walking through snow, sometimes, along tracks in snow piled up higher than I was," he remembered. "It seems odd to know that kids today will ride the bus just a few blocks to school now." 


Russ met his wife, Ruth, while serving in the U.S. Army. A native of New Jersey, she came out west, where she and Russ raised three sons, Mike, Tom, and Bill. Russ raised cattle, sheep and Appaloosa horses for years. He still runs a cow-calf operation, according to


"Since we lived so far out of town," Russ said, "You had to learn how to make do with what you had. You couldn't just go to town and fix something.

His son Bill said that this was something Russ passed on. Often with seven children in tow in a stock truck or on horseback, he taught his kids, nephews, and nieces the value of hard work and ingenuity. But he passed on much more.


"Dad has probably forgotten more about cows, sheep and horses," Bill said, "than most people will ever know."


Bill says this "make do with what you got" attitude has helped Russ stay on the farmstead for his 93 years. But he also stated that there is more to this cowboy than that.


"Keep your nose clean," Bill said of other values taught by Russ. "Keep your word and don't lie. Those are the matters he passes on to anyone he is around. He also (is) a very loyal man."


Rhonda (Sedgwick) Stearns, whose family has been friends with the Christensens for three generations, corroborates that information.


"Integrity has always been the way of life for the Christensen family," Stearns said, "When Russ looks you in the eye, you know you have his word. And his word would always be kept. Instead of all these papers, you must sign in quadruplicate," she said somewhat sarcastically. "Russ would give you a handshake, and you knew it was a done deal."


Russ' family helped the Sedgwick family move into the area in the early 1900s. Rhonda’s dad, who was a little boy at the time, told her that it was 30 below zero, and the Christensens picked up her family in Edgemont, South Dakota. They brought them out to just north of Mule Creek Junction by wagon.


"That's how the whole family was," Stearns said, "You know they would always help you out when they could. And if they said they would do something, it got done."


She said Russ was no different.


To this day, his word is his bond.

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