Officials at the Kansas Cowboy Hall of Fame have named the 2020 class of five inductees.
Induction ceremonies scheduled in early November at the Boot Hill Museum in Dodge City were canceled due to coronavirus concerns.
“We will have a virtual event in the future with details forthcoming when details are completed,” said Kathie Bell, museum curator.
“Each year legendary Kansas cowboys, past or present, are honored by induction into the Cowboy Hall of Fame,” Bell explained.
They are selected for their significant contributions to the Western heritage lifestyle and preservation of the cowboy culture. “Each of them personifies the cowboy ideals of integrity, honesty, and self-sufficiency,” Bell said.
New inductees include O.E. “Bud” Alexander, Council Grove, Rancher/Cattleman; Charles “Walter” Couch, Kingsdown, Cowboy Historian; Keith L. Downer, Garden City, Working Cowboy; Faye (Peck) Heath, Junction City, Rodeo Cowgirl; and John E. “Cowboy Jack” Steinmitz, Dodge City, Cowboy Entertainer.
O.E. “Bud” Alexander
“Being a working cowboy has been my life and tradition for future generations to carry on our Flint Hills ranch.”
Orson E. “Bud” Alexander was born December 24, 1890, on the farm purchased by his parents A.G. and Albertine Alexander north of Council Grove, Kansas, in 1897.
Married to Maude Carr in 1917, they had sons Bob, Wayne and Jim, and daughter Mary Elizabeth, deceased during infancy. Maude was a staunch supporter of the family caring for the ranch home.
A Flint Hills grass manager, Bud summer grazed yearling cattle 40 years for the Webster family, San Angelo, Texas; Alfred Drummond, Madill, Oklahoma; and Joel Sanner, Port Arthur, Louisiana.
Riding his ranch horses, Bud looked after about 5,000 cattle annually on native pastures leaving home before light and returning after dark.
Winning roping competitions during his early years, Bud continued looking after cattle well beyond retirement age.
Sons Bob and Wayne were champion cowboys being inducted into the Kansas Cowboy Hall of Fame in the Rancher/Cattleman category in 2014.
Bud Alexander died at the age of 87 on February 8, 1978, and is buried at Council Grove alongside wife Maude who passed in 1992.
Today, Bud’s son Jim, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren keep the cowboy tradition alive while working the six-generation ranch.
Charles “Walter” Couch
“May those who come behind us be good stewards of the land and protectors of its wildlife.”
Charles Walter Couch, named after his two grandfathers, was born to Harry and Alice Padgett Couch on a farm south of Kingsdown, Kansas.
Completing 12 grades in Kingsdown schools, Walter attended Kansas State University lettering in wrestling and graduated with an agriculture degree in 1960.
In the Marine Corps, Walter was a fighter pilot four years and flew in the Reserves another 20 years, becoming a lieutenant colonel. He had a 28-year career with TWA commercial airline named Pilot of the Year in 1987, before retiring in 1992.
Interested in caring for the land and wildlife, Walter developed vineyards at St. Helena, California. Building a cattle operation in the Napa Valley, Walter began competing in team roping events.
Returning to Kansas in 1987, Walter bought the Pyle Ranch joining the family farm. His Couch Ranch was founded including 11,000 acres of crops, grassland and raising Corriente roping cattle.
Concerned about preserving the past, Walter moved an abandoned house to the ranch and restored it personally. He has built his own airplane with a ranch hangar and runway.
During retirement, Walter has been involved preserving Western history and sharing knowledge with friends, schools, and other groups.
Keith L. Downer
“Rein ’em up tight boys.”
In 1933, Burl and Alta May Downer traded a 1929 Chevy truck for a farm in Leach, Oklahoma, where Keith was born in 1935. Grandpa “Dat” Downer came in 1936 and moved the family back to Garden City where Keith graduated from high school in 1953.
Growing up around horses and cattle, Keith got his first cowboy job at the Garden City Sale Barn when he was 15-years-old. Earl Brookover and Jerry Chmelka bought the barn in 1957, starting a lifetime bond between these men, and Keith became a cattle order buyer in 1964.
After a horse accident, Keith was in traction 15 months giving him a permanent “hitch in his giddy up.” Still, he was head cowboy at Brookover Feed Yards 25 years.
Keith trained and rode a steer called “Big George promoting beef and the feedlot in area events although his favorite longtime horse was “Katy.”
Continuing as a cattle buyer, owner, and feeder, Keith was a liver checker for several years at beef packing plants.
After retirement, Keith performed with “Partners of the Prairie” singing cowboy songs and reciting poetry, even entertaining Troops in Germany.
Publishing his poetry “Cowboy Memories,” Keith is small in stature, large in compassion, honesty, and character, with a million friends.
Faye (Peck) Heath
“There is nothing like riding a good horse over new country.”
Faye Louise (Peck) Heath was born on August 13, 1938, to Henry Nelson and Edna (Schweitzer) Peck at the family farm near Hope, Kansas, as the youngest of five children.
Getting her pony “Peanuts” when she was four-years-old, Faye rode him to school through seventh grade.
While Faye was practicing trick riding, a dog spooked her horse and she fell off breaking her arm but not deterring her from wanting to be a cowgirl.
Faye’s first rodeo experience was on her dad’s horse “Paint” at Herington. She didn’t place, but that only encouraged her to start practicing.
After high school, Faye competed successfully in rodeos and became a meat cutter working at Dillons Grocery 25 years.
Ole Yeller was her first “really good” horse although Faye made a number of top horses, one of the best a bay gelding called Waldo.
On July 9, 1965, Faye married Marshall Heath and they became partners in the horse and cattle business.
Among her many awards, Faye was highpoint rider in the Eastern Kansas Horseman’s Association nine years and champion barrel racer at professional and amateur rodeos.
Faye passed away on January 3, 2020, but her kind, gentle, joyful spirit will not be forgotten.
John E. “Cowboy Jack” Steinmitz
“I remember growing up on a farm. My dad and I always made a point of listening to ‘Cowboy Jack’ on the radio,” said friend Tom Stanley.
John E. “Cowboy Jack” Steinmitz was born in Hertha, Kansas, to John and Anna Steinmitz on October 21, 1920.
At 12-years-old, Jack began checking in cattle at the Parsons Livestock Auction after school. In 1945, he went to work at the Kansas City Stockyards.
In 1947, Jack became sales manager at Winter Livestock in Dodge City. Since that day he was known as “Cowboy Jack.” In 42 years there, Jack oversaw marketing of nearly 12 million cattle representing $2.5 billion gross sales.
However, most people knew Jack for his KGNO-AM radio show “Cowboy Jack’s Market News and Views.” After retirement, he wrote “Cowboy Jack Sez” for the High Plains Journal.
Jack was a member of the “Marshal’s Posse” riding in President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural parade in 1961.
An Honorary Dodge City Marshall, Jack advocated having the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Dodge City.
Known for kindness and generosity, Jack was called Santa Claus because he bought coats and shoes for children in need.
John E. Steinmitz died on June 6, 1999, in Dodge City, as memories of “Cowboy Jack” live on.