“A cowboy and a competitor best describe Darwin Bailey.”
Those words were eulogized as his ashes were scattered over a Flint Hills pasture not far from where he was raised and lived his life at Matfield Green.
The comment was often repeated when acquaintances reflected on the cowboy who made a positive impact with everybody he knew.
Darwin Bailey, 66, died July 26, at a Topeka hospital after suffering an incapacitating stroke causing a car accident near his home.
“He was a cowboy who spent most of his life working with cattle and horses. Darwin was a competitor. He gave everything 110 percent,” emphasized eulogist Tim Miser, Cottonwood Falls.
“I knew Darwin all of my life. We were in horse shows together as kids, competed in amateur rodeos, gathered cattle for many years and were on the same ranch rodeo team,” Miser added.
Softball was a favorite pastime for Bailey, who continued playing, when teammates and competitors were half his age. He was instrumental in development of the Bailey Ball Field at Matfield Green, and one of his memorials is to the Chase County Recreation Commission.
Tough is another word reflective of Bailey. “He was as tough a guy as I have known, and he never complained even when he was hurting,” recognized Miser, while quoting instances on the ball field and in the rodeo arena when pain was obvious, but Bailey kept going.
“He’d give everything he had. Darwin never slouched,” Miser said.
Generally recognized as a saddle bronc rider, Bailey was also a top bull rider, according to Miser. “Darwin could ride a rank bull. He was hard to get on the ground.”.
When cowboy polo matches started between Matfield Green and Cassoday, Bailey was one of the first cowboys to grab a broom to hit the volleyball around the pasture from the back of his horse Luke.
Always mounted on a top horse, Bailey sold the chestnut gelding Luke a couple of years ago. His bay mare called Teka was an earlier mount that garnered respect from other cowboys for her speed and ability.
Wear and tear took its toll on Bailey’s knees, and when he wasn’t physically able to compete, support was directed to the younger generation.
“Darwin drove a school bus for several years and was a big booster for the teams. He really enjoyed that and was always right in the middle of it,” Miser noted.
Cards were another pastime for Bailey. “He’d go to the casinos to play blackjack, and his competitiveness showed through there, too,” Miser related.
Bailey’s daughter Cheryl Bailey credited, “Dad taught me everything I know about horses and cattle work. I was helping with cattle on horseback when I was six-years-old and grew up gathering pastures.
“One thing that really sticks out in my memory is learning to rope. I spent hours and days with Dad coaching me as I practiced roping that five-gallon bucket,” she added.
“His name was Darwin Bailey, but he was perhaps better known as Puncher, Raz, Captn D or Pa,” Cheryl said at the memorial service.
“Some of you knew him as the cowboy, the softball player, the carpenter, the blackjack player or as Pa. I knew him as Dad.
“Dad lived his life to the fullest whether it was jumping off a feed truck onto steers with his brother Wayne, playing softball and diving into bases head first, hanging out telling stories with a Coors Light in hand or roping steers in the Flint Hills.”
Admitting that her dad wasn’t slack in his encouragement, Cheryl said, “It might have seemed rough, but that’s the way he was. Dad wanted me to do things the right way in order to be the best. I learned so much from him.”
That support showed through when Cheryl competed as a member of a successful women’s ranch rodeo team. “Dad never missed going to a rodeo and always encouraged and advised me.
“He was proud of me. I know that, and I am proud of him,” Cheryl evaluated.
His grandson, JD Sheetz, was a delight. “JD went everywhere with his grandpa before he started to school. He had first-hand experience of taking care of cattle.
“Dad enjoyed deer hunting. He and JD had been sighting their rifles and were planning to go hunting this fall.
“That’s really hard on JD and me, because they were anticipating doing more hunting, since Dad got his knees replaced,” Cheryl said.
Bailey’s widow, Joan, lives in the couple’s home at Matfield Green.
“I really didn’t know anything about the ranch life, but that didn’t bother Darwin. He was always patient in explaining things to me that he’d been doing all of his life,” Joan credited.
“Darwin loved the Flint Hills and helped me appreciate its beauty with the cattle grazing. He was really good to me and turned my life around.”
“I didn’t do much with the cattle, but I did help drive trucks a few times. That seemed to please Darwin, and it made me feel like at least I could do something,” she added.
Married to Bailey for eight years, Joan said, “Darwin was one of the kindest people I’ve ever known. He was very considerate of me, my children and grandchildren.”
Stepsons are Rick Baldwin of Emporia and Randy Baldwin of Topeka. Other grandchildren are Alex and Sidney Baldwin.
“Dad really loved doing things with JD, Alex and Sidney,” daughter Cheryl inserted.
Relating consequences of his death, Joan explained, “From being a cowboy all of his life, Darwin was really bowlegged. His knees became so bad, that he couldn’t get around, and surgery was necessary.”
Then, it was determined that Bailey had a heart condition, with stints needed to improve blood flow.
After one knee replacement, and Bailey was preparing for the other knee surgery, doctors determined a tear in his heart was un-repairable.
That heart condition, which may have occurred during a horse wreck in 1998, was thought to be the cause of his fatal stroke, despite the second knee surgery and recovery being successful.
“Darwin enjoyed life and lived it to the fullest, but he missed being able to ride and work cattle, even though we did lots of good things in the last year,” Joan said.
While he’d done some carpenter work during his life, Darwin was most recently a jailer at the Chase County Detention Center in Cottonwood Falls.
“Wherever Dad (Derward) went, Darwin and I were there on horseback together helping with cattle. Mom (Opal Bailey, who still lives in Strong City) would sometimes drive the truck, so we didn’t generally need any other help to get the ranch work done,” brother Wayne Bailey of Hamilton recalled.
“We rodoed together, fixed fence, burned pastures, looked after cattle, everything we did, was together,” Wayne continued. “If one of us got in a scrap, the other was there to help get him out of it.”
Wayne Bailey was in the Army, and Darwin served in the U.S. Air Force, in the Philippines, during the Viet Nam War .
“When we got out, we each had our own pastures to look after, but we’d still always help each other,” Wayne noted.
In addition to doing day work for many ranchers, Darwin was an employee at the famed Rogler Ranch nearby for a time.
A rodeo at Colony where Darwin drew a Rumford Rodeo Company bull called Bar 22 is especially memorable to Wayne.
“That was one tough bull, but Darwin got him covered and had it won hands down until the judge said he’d slapped the bull. I don’t think he did, but that was still one of best bull rides I’ve ever seen,” Wayne credited.
Arlene Bailey, who was Darwin’s wife for 20 years, emphasized, “We always remained friends. That made it easier for Cheryl and our grandson JD. We didn’t talk much, but I always knew Darwin was there if I ever needed anything.
“I had a horse when we got married, but most of what I know about horses and working with cattle I learned from Darwin,” Arlene credited.
Darwin’s first job was as postmaster at Matfield Green at age 19, becoming the youngest postmaster in the country. “He always had a sense of pride for that,” Arlene said.
Whenever a task needed done, Darwin was the one to call.
“He was in charge of the chute help at the Flint Hills Rodeo in Strong City for many years,” Arlene said. “There were lots of compliments for the way he handled that job. He took special satisfaction in helping make sure the rodeo went smooth.”
Another memorial for Darwin is to the Flint Hills Rodeo Association.
“In my opinion, Darwin was an all right guy. One couldn’t ask for anybody any better,” Miser concluded.