Back When They Bucked with Pat Litton
Written by: Siri Stevens< Back to Articles
Pat Litton was born in Lincoln, Nebraska. Her dad was an ex-farmer that worked for the state and had a garbage route. “He later went into construction with his dump trucks and helped build airports during the war,” explained the 88-year-old from Gillette, Wyo. “We traveled all over. I went to 17 high schools. I got to know a lot of people and do a lot of things.” She had one brother and one sister – they both passed from cancer.
She went to college at Black Hills Teachers College for two summers and became a teacher. “I started teaching at 17, right out of high school. Teachers were hard to find. I taught in the Inya Cara school on the HK Divide, above Moorcroft.” She had 10 students in all 8 grades, including one that was the same age as she was. “I can remember when I went out to teach – it was quite a walk up the hill to school and I never went to town because I didn’t drive.” The opportunity developed her love for teaching and kids. “We had a great time together, we could use our imaginations.”
She has gone to the WNFR every year since 1974, when it was still in Oklahoma City. “I would go down with the high school association and secretary the rules committee meetings.”
She met her husband, Bob Isenberger, at the corner drug store in Gillette where she was working. “He worked for the Moore family, and came in and there was a glow around his head,” she remembers. “It just hit me like a ton of bricks.” He was at a dance she was at and they danced. “The school I taught was a skip and jump from the ranch he was working on and we started going together.” They were married within four months. The couple settled at Nine Mile Ranch and lived in that sheep wagon that first year. She and her husband lambed 3,000 ewes and Pat loved it. “The guys couldn’t get me out of the lambing pen.” Bob rode saddle broncs and bareback horses and competed in bull riding. “They used to say about him that none of the neighbors’ calves were safe – he was either riding or roping them.” The couple took a summer off and rodeoed. Pat had every intention to start barrel racing and team roping. “I would get so nervous that my feet would shake out of the stirrups, but I was pretty fleet footed and I entered the cow milking race because I could run. I was an ok ranch horse back rider, but not a rodeo horse back rider. I love horses and love to ride.”
After the summer, Bob took a ranching job and Pat continued to time local rodeos. Mike was born in 1954 and, Lee, was born in 1956. Mike was killed in a trucking accident on his 20th birthday, August 2, 1974. “Lee and I had just taken off to secretary a steer roping in Thermopolis.” She had checked into her hotel room and got the phone call.
Pat got involved through Bob with the Wyoming High School Rodeo Association; he was serving on the Board. Pat was recording times and word got out. Bob was roping calves and team roping and they spent every weekend rodeoing; the boys started with the high school rodeo. Pat ended up getting involved with the Fair Board in Gillette and ended up timing through that as well. Both boys were involved in 4H and Pat was a 50 year 4H leader. “I just liked working with kids. They are the most honest individuals.”
The couple also produced the Little Cowpokes rodeo at their house, an event for kids age four through junior high. “We did that for 13 years, and quit doing that after Bob was killed.” Bob went to Douglas to get a part for a water pump in January of 1974. He waited for the bus to come in with the part and he was 12 miles out of Douglas and in a white out. He was off the road and over corrected and rolled the pickup and was killed. “The boys were terrified; they were both in high school. If it hadn’t been for rodeo, I don’t know how I would have survived. There was always something I had to do – it was my salvation. I have a love affair with rodeo and the people involved with it.”
Pat became the National Director for Wyoming High School rodeo in 1975 and was instrumental in developing the point system. “Before the point system, you had to win the state finals in order to get to the Nationals. Some kids didn’t do good at the Finals and so couldn’t make it to Nationals. Scott Redington and I worked on it – the system was set up so that it was consistent too. When I think about how many hours it took us to put it together. There had been others that had tried to come up with something, but we had to come up with something that was consistent and fair to every state. That was the hardest thing. We made the presentation to the National Board.”
Pat met Gene Litton, who was serving as the secretary/treasurer for the National High School Rodeo Association. “I wouldn’t let myself get serious about him,” she remembers, but the couple ended up getting married on February 15, 1980 and had 30 years together before he passed away.
“We were responsible for the first computerized rodeo,” said Pat. “Gene was secretary treasurer for the National High School and we had started computerizing, and he came to Wyoming to visit us when we had our state finals because of the good reports on our team. We built the National High School office at our ranch in 1980,” she said.
Pat was the first member of the National High School Rodeo Association Foundation – her number is #1. “The Foundation gives scholarships every year and our goal was to have every senior that applies for a scholarship gets one and I think they did that last year.”
She has moved to a retirement home in Gillette. “I hope that I have accomplished everything that God wanted me to accomplish and that in some small way have touched a lot of lives. I guess I had so much help throughout my life from so many people and I hope that I never said anything that was harmful about anybody. All that I’ve wanted in my life was respect – and being liked.” The Governor dedicated one day a year as Pat Litton Day. “I think about all the things I was able to do and am glad to have been able to do it.”
Pat claims her biggest accomplishment is being a wife and mother. “I hope I’ve been a good role model to all the kids that I worked with and that I have instilled some spark in the lives of the youth of America.”