Ole Glory rippled at half mast.
Overlooking the ranch headquarters in the valley below with beautiful blue Lake Wabaunsee adding to the scenic view, the cowboy mansion in the greening Flint Hills was that of Bob Widau whose funeral we had just attended.
Failing health prohibited the lifelong cowboy from living in his beloved ‘Hills for a while, but his heart always remained there. Quite appropriate that the home’s present occupants paid Bob Widau the deserving respect.
“There are lots of hats here,” one observer commented.
The Eskridge church was overflowing with friends and family, most closely tied to the cowboy and ranching way, as the life which touched so many was accurately memorialized by clerical and his beloveds.
“He was a gentleman if there ever was one,” a cowboy reflected.
“A true gentleman cowboy,” another clarified.
Robert Lee Widau, 89, passed away on April 17, 2011.
Once a cowboy, always a cowboy.
Raised in an Osage County, Kan., farm family, Bob Widau insisted, “Cowboy blood flowed through my veins. I never cared for farming. I wanted to be a cowboy. My nickname as a kid was Rope.”
Surely his biggest joy was when his son Tim Widau echoed: “I never wanted toys when I was a kid. All I wanted to do was rope. I’ve always been a cowboy. It’s in my blood.”
From the rodeo arena to Flint Hills grazing, the father-son team encompassed the entire realm of cowboy life. They operated about 12,000 acres at their picturesque Lakeside (LS) Ranch west of Eskridge, Kan.
“Tim runs it now. He’s the one in charge. I just help out when and where I can,” emphasized Bob, just days before his 88th birthday.
A grass and forage program, lightweight cattle are purchased year-round, with more than 1,800 head typically accumulating during the winter.
Bob recognized, “Tim also manages the Wagstaff Ranch. I looked after it for many years, before I turned it over to Tim.
“I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to work for Bob Wagstaff,” Bob continued. “It really helped our own ranch progress.”
During his early years, Bob worked for Jim Thompson at Wakarusa. “Mr. Thompson was a cowboy, too, and one of my first heroes. I’ve had several heroes, and they’ve all been a cowboy, at heart,” Bob contended.
On his first venture to Wabaunsee County, Bob insisted, “I fell in love with these Flint Hills. I knew in my heart this was where I wanted to be a cowboy.”
After serving in World War II, including a tour in the Pacific, Bob and his wife, Betty, settled on some of her family’s land in 1946 where the ranch continues.
Tim has resided in the same home nearly all of his entire life. He and his wife, Shelly, enlarged the home after the birth of daughters, Madison and Mackenzie.
In 1991, Bob built his home just a quarter of a mile to the north in a pasture overlooking the headquarters.
Bob competed successfully in rodeo bareback bronc and bull riding, before settling into calf roping and bull dogging. He trained and merchandized of horses.
“We’d have roping practices Saturday nights in Eskridge, and we started a Labor Day Rodeo that continues today,” Bob recalled. This will be the 59th year.
“I found out I really wasn’t as talented in rodeo as I thought,” Bob humbly offered, although the competitors he beat don’t agree with that.
After Tim and Tammy, his twin sister, were born, Bob became more involved in “making a living. I was fortunate to get pastures for custom grazing cattle.
“I had about 10,000 acres of leased pastures from Topeka to Emporia to Burdick,” he calculated. “I’ve rented some of the same land more than 50 years.”
Personal cow herds were also owned, with purebred Shorthorn, then Hereford, as well as commercial cows, over the years.
Betty was stricken by rheumatic arthritis. “She was really strong and pleasant despite her suffering,” Bob credited. “It really set us all back when she passed away in 1976 at only 51.”
Again crediting the importance of Wagstaff, Bob claimed, “It was a perfect match. He was a Harvard law graduate, and I was a high school drop-out, but we both had a love for horses, cattle and land and fit well together. Bob (Wagstaff) never said a harsh word to me, and frequently complimented my work.
“As he (Wagstaff) expanded his acreage, my job just got better. Mr. Wagstaff accumulated nearly 5,000 acres in Kansas, and that much in Wyoming, and I looked after it,” Bob continued.
Wyoming holdings were dispersed, but Kansas ranchland was retained following Bob Wagstaff’s death. Bob Widau continued as manager, before turning it over to Tim.
After Tammy moved to Topeka to start her family, now with three grown children, Bob and Tim became LS Ranch partners.
Tim followed in his dad’s bootsteps riding bareback broncs, calf roping and steer wrestling, with team roping becoming his main event.
“My dream was always for Tim and I to team rope together, and we have, but it got so he was telling me what I was doing wrong. That didn’t always set the best,” Bob admitted. “I definitely never was the roper he is.”
A four-wheeler generally replaced a horse for Bob in recent years, but he never retired, despite having had broken bones and undergoing corrective and replacement surgeries.
“Sometimes I feel tired. It’s hard to shut down, yet time brings change,” Bob contended. “Turning it over to Tim has made him into a man. He has always been here.”
Tim’s daughters have horses, like to ride, and rodeo competition is forecast in their future.
Cowboy blood is continuing to flow.