Kenneth Muller, The Real Cowboy

Kenny Muller was and is my hero.

He was a cowboy.

Kenny Muller was a cowboy’s cowboy. Don’t know if I’ve ever really made it to be a real cowboy, but Muller was a real cowboy. That’s what he wanted to be and Muller was a cowboy.

Perhaps calling one by his last name might seem a bit disrespectful to some. When the name Muller is said, most people first think of Kenny Muller, the cowboy, entirely with respect and admiration. Oh yeah, some even Kenny himself and especially Donna, called the cowboy, Kenneth Muller. Whatever, Kenny Muller will always be remembered and appreciated as a cowboy.

It’s most humbling and heartfelt appreciated to be asked to remember and honor Kenny for all he did for me and for so many.

Sharp as a tack was the way our good friend Mr. Morrison described Kenny Muller. He was readily known for his perfectly shaped silver belly hat, neat fitting shirt, tight Levis. Unlike most farmers, Kenny’s pickup dashboard was cleared off, not filled with clutter.

It must have been about 1958; me a grocery store carryout boy, wannabe cowboy. Mom made me take swimming lessons; the pool in those days was over by where the football field is now. I’d walk from the grocery store to the swimming pool wearing thongs. Oh how embarrassing now, a wannabe cowboy wearing thongs. Kenny Muller would pass me every morning with his pickup and horse going to work cattle someplace. My heart would skip a beat. Best of all, Kenny always smiled and waved, just completely made my day. A real cowboy with a horse waved at me, the grocery store carryout boy, wannabe cowboy.

Kenny wouldn’t like for me so say this because he was a fit cowboy. But he did have a tiny paunch at one time. So I’d puff my belly out to be like the real cowboy Kenny Muller; true story.

Fred and Nora Muller, Kenny’s folks, and Waldo and Mildred Schoof, Donna’s folks, were good grocery store customers. I’d see them every Saturday when farmers did their shopping. Kenny’s sister pretty Freda Brockelman was also a grocery customer so I’d see her several times every week. Of course, Kenny’s sister-in-law and husband Janis and Frank Holm always visited when they’d come to town. I might be wrong but I think Suzanne told me Kenny dated Janis some but Donna won out to be his wife. Elva and Junior Blanton and their children, Kenny and Donna’s nephews and nieces, have all been good friends through the years.

All a wannabe cowboy ever wanted was a horse and finally the 11-year-old grocery store carryout boy got a horse. Dad bought the grade spotted mare, Spot, from the Radford Chase sale down at Maples Corner on the Dunlap Road. The mare was raised by another prominent horseman, race horse owner, cattleman, laundromat owner Bob Taylor.

Anyway now with his own horse, the wannabe cowboy thought he was a cowboy like Kenny Muller. Just remembering makes me grin with pride and happiness. Of course when anybody has a mare, it isn’t long until they decide the mare must raise a colt.

Kenny Muller owned Peppy Creek with Richard Reed. The popular, heavy muscled, chunky, shiny golden buckskin Peppy Creek was standing for public service at Kenny and Donna’s place. Then they lived down the Dunlap Road over the creek west of FJ Revere’s home. Of course we didn’t have a trailer, or any means to haul a horse. So I had to ride my mare Spot out to Kenny’s and left her there for mating to Peppy Creek.

Sure enough, 11 months, 11 days, 11 hours, 11 minutes, 11 seconds later Spot gave birth to a bay filly. The grade foal was named Missy Creek; after her grandma Miss Peppy Tone, a daughter of the renowned Peppy, and of course Kenny’s Peppy Creek by Beaver Creek by King. Actually Spot had two more foals out of Peppy Creek, although he’d been sold to Glen Skeen and Marlin Brown. Later I even stood a black stallion called Dennis Good by Peppy Creek. Today we still have a handful of Peppy Creek granddaughters raising foals every year so Kenny Muller’s Peppy Creek stallion remains part of our horse operation.

Although I wasn’t in 4-H during grade school, I made my folks let me go watch the county fair horse show. It was a major competition between Kenny and Donna’s horses and Ted and Evelyn Wilkerson’s horses in the open show. Actually Kenny Muller and Ted Wilkerson were the initiative behind setting up the county fair horse classes. They remain quite similar today with the same age and gender divisions. I don’t remember Kenny ever being the horse superintendent; that was Larry and Gary Scott for many years. However Kenny and Ted Wilkerson built quite elaborate horse stalling facilities next to the cattle barn.

It was a personal dream to show horses at the county fair. When Spot had her second foal, a spotted filly, Buchman’s Queen, Dad rigged a two-wheeled trailer with floorboard stock racks. He hauled Spot, Missy Creek and Queen so I could show them at the county fair. I was happy just to be there with horses beside the real cowboys good friends Kenny Muller and Ted Wilkerson. Of course my entries didn’t get a ribbon, but Kenny won at least three championship rosettes that day. Grinning broadly, Kenny tossed the ribbons to Donna with summer dress on seated in her lawn chair watching and smiling.

After Kenny and Donna sold their share of Peppy Creek, they bought a sorrel stallion named Rambeleo, of Leo breeding. They took him to the county fair to show against Peppy Creek. It was raining cats and dogs that Thursday afternoon. Richard Reed showed Peppy Creek and Kenny proudly led out his new stallion Rambeleo. I can’t remember who it was, but the judge knew he was in trouble however he placed the class. Finally the judge used Peppy Creek over Rambeleo and Kenny wasn’t smiling. But Ted Wilkerson had a smirk on his face and Richard Reed was chomping his cigarette with a grin.

There weren’t hardly any horse trailers in those days, and Kenny had one of the first in the county. I’m not sure what brand it was, Linville maybe. I know it was built in Chickasha, Oklahoma, where all trailers were made back then. Donna had “Kenneth and Donna Muller, Council Grove, Kansas,” painted on the sides of the blue two-horse tandem trailer. Kenny and Donna showed their Muller Quarter Horses successfully throughout the Midwest collecting many awards. They showed several foals out of Peppy Creek at the registered Quarter Horse show in Strong City. One class winning colt was listed in results as namesake for his sire Peppy Creek.

Kenny and Donna had several of their horses in training with Dean Smith. There was at least one highpoint winner in the Kansas Quarter Horse Association. Kenny rode that trophy saddle for many years working cattle in the Flint Hills. To help pay for some of Dean Smith’s training bill, Kenny often baled Dean’s hay. Kenny was baling hay one spring when I talked to him about breeding my sorrel mare Nellie Belle to Rambeleo. Kenny wasn’t as enthused about breeding horses at that time, but a bit grudgingly agreed to mate Nellie to Rambeleo.

Sure enough almost a year later, Nellie had a sorrel horse colt named Ramblin’ Cowboy’s Belle, RCB for short. I showed RCB at the county fair in 1971. Charlie White, then the Riley County agent who’d been bucked off earlier and was on crutches, used that colt for first place. Peon Frankie Buchman’s horse beat the Kenny Muller and Ted Wilkerson entries. It was the first blue ribbon horse I’d ever owned. I was dating Margaret Mary and we still have a picture of her that day holding RCB.

The story goes as heard through the grapevine Kenny traded Rambeleo off a few years later for a couple of cows. Kenny wasn’t as interested in breeding horses then but Suzanne and Richard always showed the champion horses at the county fair. Kenny made sure of that.

I don’t know how many years, but several times Suzanne showed champion 4-H horses at the Kansas State Fair in Hutchinson including one bay gelding with a fistula. Suzanne had at least two great performance horses; a beautiful palomino and a roan, I tried to buy one time. A very sad day for Kenny was when that great Palomino mare’s halter caught in the fence and choked her. Kenny cried hard and tears would come to his eyes years later remembering that bad day.

Humility and sentimentality are two personality traits not prominent enough anymore. Certainly Kenny Muller even with his many successes was most humble and as sentimental as anybody I’ve known.

“Always too busy” to attend church in his younger days, Kenny was very devout most apparent in his care for family, livestock and land. Admitting he’d made his share of mistakes in life, Kenny was deliberant to never miss church attendance for many years now.

Although they weren’t raising as many colts and showing very much, Richard continued to show well fit yearlings. Following the Kenny Muller tradition, Richard collected lots of county fair halter horse championships.

While Suzanne showed more Morris County 4-H champion horses than anybody, county 4-H project championships are based on record books. In 1968, Frankie Buchman was the county 4-H horse project champion despite never having owned anything above a red ribbon horse. Kenny Muller just shook his head in disbelief: “Really.”

Muller sold a number of good horses through the years and a black gelding called Warpaint was purchased by Craig Ridenour. Craig showed Warpaint successfully in 4-H, and other shows, and also rode Warpaint every Saturday at the Council Grove Sale Barn.

Early to rise makes a man, for sure a cowboy, healthy, wealthy and wise. Kenny Muller wasn’t so much concerned about the financial status but was always an early riser as there was work to be done. He was definitely one of the wisest people I’ve had the privilege to call a friend.

Hogs used to be known as mortgage lifters, and it’s a bit hard to comprehend for a cowboy to be in the hog business. But Kenny Muller was in the hog business big time. I don’t really know how large the operation was or the extent of breeding and feeding hogs. Still every morning, Monday through Saturday Kenny was at Western Grain to get a load of hog feed. Don’t know about Sunday, maybe the hogs had to fast.

The native stone barn at Kenny and Donna’s ranch had feeder pigs in stalls next to ranch horses and yearling horses being fit to show. Kenny and Richard showed the champion entry at the Kansas Feeder Pig Show several years. Odd as it might seem, when Dale Ladd was the county agent he assigned me to be the 4-H county swine leader. Why it wasn’t Kenny Muller, I’ll never know. When I went to the feeder pig show in Hutchinson to do a story, the second Kenny Muller saw me, he asked: “Where are the 4-H swine project members?” I hadn’t even thought about bringing them. Obviously Frankie Buchman wasn’t a very good 4-H swine project leader.

But Kenny was a leader of many endeavors. Muller served as president of the Morris and Lyon County Swine Association and barbecued pork chops for their annual meeting at Emporia. Kenny presided over the meeting where WIBW farm director Rich Hull was the featured speaker. I remember Kenny’s introduction: “Every morning when you ‘turn the radio on,’ you hear Rich Hull, here’s Rich Hull in person.”

Kenny served as swine superintendent at the county fair several decades and anybody who showed hogs must smile remembering Kenny calling for the next class of “Durocs” in his high pitched excited shrilled voice. Muller was also a regular buyer at the county fair premium sale and a generous donor to the Morris County 4-H Foundation.

Kenny and Richard had a top purebred Chester White breeding hog operation and sold boars and gilts throughout the Midwest. They had a show pig sale at McPherson with other breeders with lots of their pigs winning major show championships. Exhibiting a number of champion hogs and around the area personally, Richard was the state 4-H swine project winner one year, making Kenny rightfully quite proud.

4-H was always very close to Kenny’s heart after growing up as a 4-H member. He was a 4-H leader in many areas from horses to hogs to leadership. As a community leader for the Four Mile 4-H Club, a service project for the club was the park developed and maintained south on Highway 177 near Four Mie Creek across west from the road heading to Eric Auchard’s and what was Waldo Schoof’s place. I think about the Four Mile 4-H Club Park every time I drive by there.

The Morris County Youth Rodeo Association was started by Kenny Muller with Elaine Deschner, Ted Wilkerson, Patty Larson and Dean Smith. Kenny was president of the association a number of years and served as announcer for the annual August Youth Rodeo for a long time.

When ranch rodeos were first introduced in Texas, Kenny thought a ranch rodeo should be conducted at Council Grove. Kenny ramrodded the Youth Rodeo Association to host the very first ranch rodeo in Kansas. It continues to this day being the longest continuing annual ranch rodeo in the country. Especially important to Kenny was that the Muller Ranch with him, Richard, Jack Gieswein and Lee Hart as members won the Morris County Ranch Rodeo one year. He always wore that championship buckle proudly. Kenny was honored upon his retirement from the Morris County Youth Rodeo Association Board of Directors. A year ago a special recognition was made at the Morris County Fall Ranch Rodeo honoring Kenny Muller as well as Jack Gieswein. Yes, Kenny and Jack both had tears in their eyes.

Lee Hart will readily credit Muller for the opportunity to get started following his dream to also come a cowboy, a very successful one, and now a world renowned horse trainer.

Kenny looked after cattle in pastures throughout the Flint Hills and continued to help doctoring and rounding up cattle until it was just impossible to get on his horse. When cows and calves go to grass in the spring, calves must be processed and usually there’s a Knife Man. Andy Olson, prominent Four Mile rancher, let me help roundup one day and of course Andy was the Knife Man. But when Andy had to check on another task, Kenny stepped in to do the Knife Man duties. Many farm people can castrate pigs, calves, and lambs but they usually hire a veterinarian to castrate their colts; Kenny Muller and Johnny Williams could castrate colts too.

Although he wasn’t active in the Santa Fe Trail Riders, Muller did come to a few of the every other Thursday night practice ropings. In those days, most everybody tied on hard and fast instead of dallying like is the norm today. Kenny was a deadeye heading steers, but he wasn’t tied on. Rather Kenny dallied his lariat around his saddle horn and had the tail of the rope under the right skirt of his saddle, as I remember. I think I’ve heard that Kenny was successful in rodeo calf roping before my time and I know he was proud that Richard won some youth calf roping events.

Muller was demanded as a judge at fairs and shows throughout the area, not only horse shows but every other livestock species. We’d set together at county fair judges training every year at K-State. Kenny judged our horses at a number of shows and the toughest one was when Jennie was showing her Two Eyed Jack gelding against Tad Larson. I never saw anybody take so long to judge one class of horses. Muller was just too scared of what Patty Larson might do if he used Jennie’s horse so Tad Larson’s horse was the class winner. Another time, when Muller was judging horses at the Tri County Fair in Herington, he used Tyson’s Mr. Jaguar gelding over Jennie’s Jackie Bee gelding, because TJ was “too modern.” Four days later Greg Gardner from Ashland used the Jackie Bee gelding as the Morris County Fair champion because the Mr. Jaguar gelding was “lame.” Muller just shook his head in disbelief.

When Kenny judged the Wabaunsee County Fair at Alma, Jennie, just three or four years old then, showed her Shetland pony Trigger. Muller had her come back to demonstrate her showmanship ability for the 4-H horse project members.

Kenny and county agent Brian Murphy were the judging contest officials at the first of 30 field days at our ranch. Kenny bought a horse at our annual sale and brought it back two years later with Connie Wilkerson riding and was named the champion horse. Always wearing a four-in-hand-tie like he did when judging, Kenny served as the ring steward for the horse futurity and judging classes at the field day for a long time.

We also had an opportunity to train at least one horse for Kenny a two-year-old sorrel barely broke to lead. Being the cowboy he was, Kenny helped load that horse into the high barn stall, and got severe rope burns on his hands but he didn’t even cringe. Keith Mahaney bought the gelding from Kenny I think but uncertain and don’t know if it ever made a using horse or not.

It was a sad day for Kenny Muller when he was forced to use a four-wheeler to check cattle instead of his horse. People around town would comment: “I can’t believe Muller has a four wheeler, where’s his horse?”

While cowboy was his chosen profession, Kenny Muller was forced to be a farmer too and all of the mechanical demands of that. Muller was one of the first cow-calf operators to use Simmental bulls, often bought from my old college classmate Joe Mertz’ River Creek Farms. Suzanne showed more than one county fair champion steer.

Kenny and Richard developed a fence construction business and built many miles of fence before Kenny’s retirement. Knowing the value of quality horse equipment, Kenny also had a leather shop making ranch horse tack.

Always an entrepreneur, Kenny and Richard also established a profitable fireworks business which Richard and his wife Tammy have continued successfully each year at Fourth of July time.

He didn’t like it much, but finally Kenny was forced off the ranch to live in town with his wife Eleanor, but he kept in touch with the cowboy life as much as he could. Kenny was a morning coffee shop regular catching up on what was going on in the Flint Hills while those around town always warned other others to watch out for Muller’s green flatbed pickup. His driving wasn’t the safest. Of course Eleanor gave him heck for watching all of the cowboy shows on TV, especially Gunsmoke every noon. It wasn’t Matt on the buckskin Muller liked as much as Kitty I’m sure.

It was stressful for Kenny and Donna caring for their son Todd but their love and diligence never ceased and his passing caused them even greater heartbreak.

Kenny was always especially pleased about the many achievements of Suzanne and Richard and their children. He was very proud that Richard would carry on the family ranching operations.

Stories can go on and on about The Real Cowboy, a true hero for past present and future generations. The world needs more like Kenny Muller. He was a great cowboy and a greater man.