Earning a cowboy name

Man spends week in hospital after Sombrero horse drive mishap

It wasn't his first time on a horse, and it won't be his last.

But Ron Knaack said his ride last week certainly will be his most memorable.

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Knaack, who is from Honolulu, Hawaii, was one of 38 people who paid to accompany Sombrero Ranches wranglers on their 60-mile journey to drive 500 horses from Browns Park to Big Gulch. His wife, Nancy, bought him the trip for his 65th birthday, which is May 17.

"I'm an old cowboy at heart," Knaack said.

But during his first ride with the group on Thursday, Knaack's horse came within a few feet of a rattlesnake and threw Knaack off.

"That horse shot out from under me like a bullet," Knaack said. "And I hit hard. You guys' dirt here is like concrete."

The fall left Knaack with a broken hip and a week's stay at The Memorial Hospital.

"Oh, the pain, but I kept a straight face," he said.

Before riding a mile back to camp and then in a vehicle into Craig, Knaack asked ranch hands to get the snake's rattles for him. They did so by beating the snake to death with rope.

"I did get the last laugh -- I have his rattles," Knaack said.

After surgery, Sombrero Ranches part-owner Cody Walker drove Knaack alongside the herd so he could still be a part of the round up. And the wranglers tied Knaack's boots to his horse so a piece of him was still on the drive.

"I was just so impressed," Knaack said.

Plus, Walker's mother, Queeda Mantle Walker, signed a copy of her book, "The Mantle Ranch," for Knaack. She addressed it to "Rattlesnake Ron."

"You gotta have a cowboy name," said Knaack, who answers his hospital phone by his new nickname.

Knaack said attending the drive was well worth the $1,750 it costs, even if for the short time he was there. The horse drive experience took him back to his childhood farm in Iowa and ranches he used to own in California.

"I still want to be a cowboy," Knaack said. "It's a simple way of life."

And this trip reminded him of Western hospitality. As he lay in the hospital, Sombrero Ranches cowboys and cowgirls visited him, joined hands and said a prayer over his bed.

"I was just so moved," Knaack said. "These people at Sombrero Ranches are the greatest people I've ever known. They know how to treat people, and they know how to live."

And despite the pain of his fall and length of stay in the hospital, Knaack said he'd make the trip all over again.

"I enjoyed every single minute of it and wouldn't trade it for anything I've done," Knaack said.

So when Sombrero Ranches extended Knaack an invitation to return next year, he accepted, given that his hip has healed. He said he's not afraid to return to rattlesnake country and plans to keep his ranching spirit alive.

"I ain't scared of anything," Knaack said. "If you don't do what you love to do, you might as well be dead.

"I'm going to live my life every day. I'm not going to waste it."

Michelle Perry can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 213, or mperry@craigdailypress.com.

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