LANCE CREEK – Hamburgers, family and rodeo – not necessarily in that order – were all things that Patrick Miller, known by friends and family as just Pat, loved.
Pat Miller was a cowboy in every sense of the word and it is the legacy he left behind that prompted the committee to nominate and award him an induction into the Wyoming Cowboy Hall of Fame.
Pat grew up in Niobrara County, attending school in Lance Creek and Lusk. His childhood reads like a western novel.
Raised on a ranch out at Lance Creek with his six brothers and sisters, Pat was the baby of the family. He was a little spoiled being so much younger than some of his older siblings and developed a taste for hamburgers at an early age.
Pat was his father’s sidekick, known to accompany his dad into the bar. He was just a tiny kid, maybe 3 or 4 when he went in with his dad one day, sat down at the bar and said, “Gimme a drink” and when he was denied his beverage of choice he threw a handful of coins.
Even at a young age Pat knew what he wanted.
When Pat would come into Lusk with his dad, he would be given a quarter to go buy hamburgers at one of the local diners. Story goes that he was eating a burger one day when some friends asked where he got it and if he would give them one. Pat didn’t have another quarter but did have a couple pennies. He ordered another burger and when his order was up he grabbed the burger, dropped the pennies on the counter and high-tailed it out of the diner.
This amounts to pretty much his one and only brush with committing a crime. He was caught and had to make it right. After that, Pat was given a charge account for hamburgers, though after treating what seemed like half the town to burgers, he had some limits put on that as well. Whenever Pat was asked what he wanted to eat he would tell his wife, “You don’t need to make me anything but a hamburger and if you don’t feel like cooking an egg sandwich will do.”
Rodeo was in his blood. His father, A.R. Miller, owned a rodeo string and Pat was always game to ride just about anything. There is even some old video footage of Pat racing his pony, Lucky, around when the pony was only half broke. Pat always had a colt he was working on starting and his event of choice in rodeo was saddle bronc riding. Rodeo would prove to be the key to opening many doors.
After graduating from Lusk High School in 1961, Pat worked many jobs – house mover, day worker, and in the oil field. In 1964 he married Beverly Grant and they moved several times. After his job loading munitions trains in Igloo, S.D., at the Army depot, Pat and Bev moved to Glenrock, where Bev had gotten a teaching position.
At that time, there was no age limit for college athletes, so Pat decided to go to college. He was awarded a rodeo scholarship and attended first Casper College and then the University of Wyoming. Rodeo paid for his bachelor’s degree in Animal Science, which he obtained in 1971. He always said the best thing he ever got out of rodeo was an education. He was the first person in his family to graduate with a college degree and Pat’s value of education was part of the legacy he passed on to his children and grandchildren.
By this time, Pat was a family man. His daughter Tiffany had joined the family while Pat worked at the meat lab on campus and Bev was a secretary in one of the college buildings. Tiffany used to run back and forth between the two locations, the University campus was her kingdom and she attended kindergarten in Laramie. A good friend of Pat’s used to work at the ice cream parlor and they would have ice-cream and steak nights.
Following Pat’s graduation, he and Bev decided to move back to the family ranch at Lance Creek, purchasing it from his mother. In 1972 Pat put his house moving skills to work and moved a house onto the ranch for Bev on the V-5 Hilltop road, which is where Bev still lives though it has been remodeled over the years. That was also the year that Pat started his oilfield business, Miller Enterprises, Inc. Pat traveled all over the state as a driller for many years and his time in the oilfield would prove to create another legacy, one that his children run today.
Miller’s sons, Justen and Jason joined the family after they moved to Lance Creek. Bev was teaching in the Lance Creek school and the family was scratching out a living between the ranch and Pat’s oilfield business. This was the early 70’s, before four-wheel vehicles were readily available and in the winter time Bev and Tiffany would stay in “town” at the teacher’s house at Lance Creek and when they had to come home, they would ride a horse double towards the house. Pat would come bouncing through the drifts in a two-wheel drive truck to meet up with them and take Bev and Tiffany would ride the rest of the way to the house. In 1978 the family bought their first four-wheel drive truck.
Pat always had a team, and often more than one. They would feed with the team. The boys remember riding out to where the feed wagon and hay stacks were, leading the team. They would hitch the team up and pitch hay out to the cows and then finish up just in time to eat hot lunch at the Lance Creek school house where Kay Olsen and Esther Moore were known to make some of the best food in the county. Pat preferred percheron and half-bloods and bred his own teams.
In addition to running angus and angus cross, Pat also ran sheep. He had participated in both livestock and wool judging in college and at one point was running about 300 Rambouillet sheep on their place.
Some families play cards, others are fishing families, the Miller family did rodeos. It was really not a question of if you would rodeo, more what your event was going to be. The kids rode everything from horses and ponies to sheep and dogs. All three of the kids attended college on rodeo scholarships and five of Pat’s grandkids competed as well. The “Millers from Lance Creek” were known as a rodeo dynasty and Pat loved watching his kids and grandkids compete. He and Bev rarely missed an event and he taught his family that working hard meant something. When it came time to go to college his son Justen wasn’t too keen on the idea but education was important to Pat and he made sure all three of his kids obtained their bachelor’s degree.
Pat’s love of history was shown through his participation in the Legend of Rawhide pageant and later, when he established the Lance Creek Museum. Pat was a kid in a wagon in the very first pageant and later, when the pageant was revived in the 80’s he played the Indian Chief. The boys and Tiffany were braves and Bev was in the Indian Village.
After a friend moved out of the house at the oil field yard, Pat turned it into a museum. He loved antiques, history and museums and combined that love into another kind of legacy. Working to organize and assemble all of the Lance Creek pictures, memorabilia, oil field and horse-drawn tools and more, Pat opened the Lance Creek museum in 2007. As the years went by he added a homesteader house and an oilfield supervisor house to the outdoor exhibits, once again drawing on his skills as a house mover.He was always looking for more antiques. He would accompany John Thurston, his son-in-law when John was out gathering scrap and John jokes that Pat would take home more stuff than John would haul in for scrap pay.
Family meant everything to Pat and this was obvious by his commitment to being a 4-H leader. He was a sheep project leader and even tested the waters doing pig projects. They didn’t really know what they were doing and the pigs were so wild they had to be roped to load them in the trailer to take them to county fair. When the grandkids came along, Pat couldn’t ever tell them no. If Pat was in charge of the little ones for the day Bev would come home to find the furniture rearranged to “corral the kids” because Pat just couldn’t bring himself to discipline them They had swings out back of the house for the kids to play on and at one point the set was broken. His grand-daughter Jordan said with an air of authority, “Grandad, either you fix that swing or build me a playground.” The swings were fixed that day. He loved when the kids would join him doing ranch chores. When Blake was just a little kid he was very concerned about Grandad not wearing his seat belt out fencing. Pat tried to explain that the seatbelt was broken (it was hooked behind the seat so that it wouldn’t ding everytime Pat didn’t put it on). When Pat got out to fix some fence Blake climbed over all the junk piled up in the back seat and “fixed” the belt for him. When Pat got back in the truck he was reassured the seat belt had been fixed and he could wear it now.
Community and service were also at the core of who Pat was. He was a master mason and one degree from Shriner, another legacy that his sons have continued. At gatherings he was always the first to arrive and the last to leave, he loved visiting with people and could make friends anywhere. He always seemed to know someone whether they were at county fair or on one of the many trips they took to other states like Texas and Nevada. When he installed the soda machine at the oil yard his grandson Ace was two and Ace was awfully excited to see that truck completely full of cans of soda. Pat kept the pop machine full as a community service and only charged 50 cents a soda. When his son Jason was sponsored in rodeo by Mountain Dew the company wanted to install a new machine but since it would have to be refilled with bottles Pat declined, he wanted to keep the machine full of cheap, cold pops for the community and those sodas are still only 50 cents.
Pat was always an early riser and loved Fox News. He would watch it so early in the day that by breakfast he would have to watch it again just to make sure that there hadn’t been any updates. If the phone rang at 4 am you could guarantee it was one of Pat’s friends ready to talk. Pat also embraced technology and had a bag phone, then a flip cell phone and even a smart phone. His first smart phone was a Blackberry and those little tiny buttons were just about his undoing since they weren’t really made for large, working-man’s hands.
Over the years Pat shared his family, love of ranching and rodeo with many he met. He was always bringing someone home to dinner. He had a true spirit of western hospitality and Bev never cooked for fewer than 10 people. If someone came over and Bev wasn’t around Pat would make them an egg sandwich. He would hire anyone who needed a job, even when he didn’t have the money himself, and if nothing else would give them a place to sleep and a hot meal. As Bev said, “That’s just the Wyoming way, that’s what we do.”
Pat was never seen without his iconic black hat and his kids and grandkids also wear black cowboy hats. Pat embodied the cowboy code and way of life without ever talking about it. He created a legacy of hard work, education, community and family by doing more than saying. He worked hard until his unexpected passing in 2017 but he would be proud of the way that his family has continued those legacies. Today they can be seen in his kids who continue to ranch and run Miller Enterprises. They keep the museum open by appointment for any who wants to tour it. His grandkids have attended college and are civic and business leaders in their own communities and to this day, if anyone needs a hot meal they know they can get one at the Miller place even if it’s “only a hamburger or an egg sandwich.