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portrait of the west
Tom Spencer, Pueblo, Colo.
Photo by Linda Grosskopf. Text by Leesa Kiewel.
“The trouble with Tom Spencer is there aren’t enough men like him. The man upstairs broke the mold when He made Tom.”

Honest, eloquent and a class act are all terms applied to Spencer by his friends and the long list of folks who claim him as their mentor. Born in Kansas, Tom left home at age 16 and was cowboyin’ at Vermejo Park in New Mexico when he and a friend headed towards Galveston, Texas to catch a boat for the Pampas of Argentina. The two were hoping to find their fortunes in the cattle business. They were nearly broke when they hit Amarillo, so they headed for Kansas City figuring they could find work in the “cow capital.” When he landed in Kansas City, Tom had 25 cents in his pocket. Hungry, he found a café near the stockyards and ordered a 5-cent RC Cola and a 15-cent piece of pie. He put his last nickel in the juke box and played Roy Acuff’s “The Great Speckled Bird.”

He found work as a brand inspector in the stockyards and broke horses to be used by commission men. He recalls the time when a three-year-old steer escaped from the yards and made its way towards downtown Kansas City. On one of his favorite horses, Tom caught up with the steer at the doorway of a bar, full of late night patrons. He tossed a loop that fell behind both ears, but Tom says he couldn’t resist giving that old steer just enough slack to push through the swinging doors, sending everyone onto their tables or to the top of the bar. The steer tipped over the jukebox, and being a big old “grasser” left his imprint on the bar’s décor before Tom could pull him out of there. Spencer made the front page of the Kansas City Star the next day.

With an eye on the grandsons he’d like to see grow up in the business, Tom is worried about the future of ranching in the West. “I’m old enough to remember what a healthy, competitive cattle market was like. If ranchers don’t unify themselves and force the packers out of captive supplies and back into the market, we may be the last of a dying breed.”


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last page update: 04.03.05