Real-deal cowboy artist with ties to Routt and Moffat wins award posthumously
Steamboat Springs — A Renaissance cowboy from Vernal, Utah, who roamed ranches from Canada to California with a few Routt County stops tossed in, was recognized Saturday as America celebrated the National Day of the Cowboy, a decade-long tradition.
Among the local ranches Earl Bascom worked on were the White Bear Ranch near the confluence of the Little Snake and Yampa rivers in Moffat County and the Reeves Ranch near Hayden.
Bascom was born in June 1906 in a log cabin on his family ranch near Vernal. His son, John Bascom, said this month that his father’s family moved to Canada in 1914. He quit school while still in the third grade to punch cattle.
“My father said he had only one year of schooling when he didn’t start class late (in the semester) and leave early to do ranch work,” John Bascom said.
His father was given the 2014 Cowboy Keeper Award for all of the things he did to preserve and call out the pioneer and cowboy culture of America, said John, who lives on the Bascom Ranch in Vernal.
Bascom overcame his on-again, off-again education to become a highly collected Western artist as well as a legendary rodeo cowboy whose designs for early bucking chutes and the one-handed bareback bronc saddle changed the sport forever.
“He was related to (the great Western painters) Charlie Russell and Frederic Remington, both, and he told his parents at an early age that he was interested in art. They said, ‘Let’s give you a correspondence course from Chicago.’ Of course, he had to do his artwork by the light of a coal lamp.”
Although he never finished high school, Bascom was inspired by the story of the great Native American athlete Jim Thorpe, his son said. Thorpe had to summon the courage to go to college, which became a springboard for his illustrious career.
When Bascom made a chance acquaintance with a graduate of Brigham Young University who encouraged him, he applied, was accepted and took every art class he could at BYU.
But cowboying was in his blood. After a stint on White Bear Ranch, Bascom rode into Routt County, where he worked down on the river bottom at the Reeves Ranch, likely in 1930 and 1931, John Bascom said.
Dan Davidson, director of the Museum of Northwest Colorado in Craig, happens to be a grandson of the Reeves. He confirmed that Bascom worked for Ralph Reeves on the family ranch situated on the Williams Fork upstream from Hamilton.
Bascom pursued his work in sculpture and became the first cowboy to be honored as a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in London, England, according to his son. His bronzes ranged from portraits of mares and foals to high-flying bucking horse action with the cowboys astride them in extreme postures. But he’d also pause to make straightforward bronzes of saddles, or maybe a pair of cowboy boots.
Earl Bascom was among the last cowboys to trail large herds of cattle and horses across the unfenced range. There is a detailed account of his life and times on Wikipedia.