A look at filmmaker Shirley Morris’s next documentary.
- Written by Henry Cabot Beck
- Published April 26, 2011
Even though the dollar is not what it used to be, a few bargains can still be had.
For example, a paltry $16 million will purchase a breathtaking spread—nearly 25,000 acres—found less than an hour northeast of Cheyenne, Wyoming. The realtor assures me it’s still on the market, and the property contains everything one might require to operate a very sizable working ranch: pasture, water, 10 homes, a “classic old” barn, lodge, bunkhouse, cookhouse and a recreation area. That’s for starters.
What the prospectus doesn’t list is the remarkable history of the Y-6 Ranch, the family who lived there and the man who built it, Charles Burton Irwin. C.B. Irwin’s story is a story of the West—of trains and the men who robbed them, of rodeos, Indians and a trio of prize-winning cowgirls who grew up there. You got horseracing and horse trading and hustling.
The history of the property is one of high aspirations, showmanship and tragedy. Like Shirley Morris, a filmmaker who’s planning a documentary on the Irwin family, says, “Every letter, every turned page, is another whole movie.”
“The story about the Irwins is the biggest story to come down the pike since How the West Was Won,” says Morris, whose most recent project was Oh, You Cowgirl! A True Story About America’s Unsung Heroes (find it at TheCowgirlMovie.com). In part, the film tells the enigmatic story of the girls who all acted the role of one of America’s most beloved rodeo stars, Prairie Rose. C.B. Irwin played a major role in that bit of show business as well.
The story of Irwin, who weighed over 500 pounds when he died in a car accident (a tire blew because of his weight), is either one of legendary achievement or colossal chicanery. Actually, where Irwin is concerned, the two are indistinguishable.
“C.B. (as most people called Irwin, except Will Rogers, who called him Charley) was born on August 14, 1875, and weighed 14 pounds. He was the son of a Missouri blacksmith and was a blacksmith as well,” Morris tells us.
“Irwin and his wife, Etta, left Missouri for Colorado, where they did well until a fire wiped them out. They pulled up stakes and headed north to Wyoming.
“C.B. had a dream—he was determined to be a land baron, and it was because he was C.B. Irwin that he was able to make it all happen. He was not going to accept anything less.
“He started working for the L-5 Ranch as a hand, saving his money and negotiating smaller parcels of land. He went to work for Sen. Francis Warren on his spread, and it was during that time that he met Gen. Pershing (who married Warren’s daughter). They all became very, ...
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