Proffits, Hamilton to be inducted into Wyoming Cowboy Hall of Fame

Claudia and Don Proffit, inductees into the Wyoming Cowboy Hall of Fame’s class of 2020, rode side-by-side for 56 years. (COURTESY PHOTO/Jill Adams Photography)

EVANSTON — Uinta County ranchers Don and Claudia Proffit and Bertha Hamilton Landers are 2020 inductees into the Wyoming Cowboy Hall of Fame (WCHF). A total of 41 inductees from 10 regions and 19 counties were selected for this year’s class. The induction ceremony will be at the Little America of Cheyenne, Sept. 19-20, during the annual Wyoming Cowboy and Cowgirl Legacy Week.

“For years, Don was part of the committee to nominate persons for the WCHF and he insisted the honor be reserved for the old-timers who had passed, Claudia Proffit said. “A neighbor recently stated that Don (who had recently passed) would fit right in with these old-timers now and be very comfortable there.”

Claudia said Don had a specific list of criteria he would use when judging nominees for the WCHF, which included: they must be a “carrier of the craft” as he called it; a mentor to others; invested in the welfare and improvement of what is under their care; skilled; open to better ways; and a true horseback person. As judged by the committee, Don and Claudia both have lived up to his criteria.

Established in 2013, the WCHF was formed exclusively for historical, cultural, literary and educational purposes. WCHF’s chief goal is “to preserve, promote, perpetuate, publish and document Wyoming’s working cowboy and ranching history through researching, profiling and honoring individuals who broke the first trails and introduced that culture to this state.  WCHF plans to collect, display and preserve the stories, and photos of such individuals and anything else that will honor and highlight their contributions to our history.”

Since childhood, Don Proffit wanted to be a cowboy. He had an affinity for horses and the ranching life. When he was five years old his father gave him a colt and thus began his love for horses. As a youth he and his brother hired on with ranchers to help with haying and lambing season. They were often paid with orphan lambs and on one trip home they carried themselves and 20 lambs on their horses.

Claudia grew up on one of the earliest settled ranches in Bridger Valley. She grew up in a home where they were the last to get electricity, took baths in water heated on the wood-burning stove and rode horses from a very young age and helped with the haying. As a young woman, she enjoyed time as rodeo royalty and represented Wyoming as Miss Pony Express.   

Don and Claudia met at the University of Wyoming, where he earned a degree in agriculture and a teaching certificate to teach vocational agriculture. Claudia graduated with a degree in nursing. They started their married life living on the Duck Valley Indian Reservation in Owyhee, Nevada, where Don taught vocational agriculture and was the FFA advisor.

Don often told the story of how he was practicing roping in his yard one day and a man from the Shoshone  tribe stopped by to watch him. Finally, the man commented to Don, “You rope like s---. Come to my house. I’ll teach you to rope.” The story goes that Don did take the man up on the lessons and he also learned a gentle way of horsemanship and working cattle from the man.

Don taught himself to make his own tack, saddles and other equipment. When he came back to Wyoming, he shared his knowledge with neighbors and friends. After working for Deseret Land and Livestock and the Broken Circle Cattle Company, he and Claudia finally established their own ranching business with the Hight Proffit ranch as base.

Don and Claudia were saddle partners for 56 years. Both embraced the adventurous ranching life even though it can sometimes be brutal and dangerous. Together, they built their own home, on the ranch where they herded cattle, branded, assisted with calving, dragged mired-down cows out of mud, took feed out to cattle no matter the weather and, all the while, raised one son and five daughters.

Bertha Hamilton Landers was born on Christmas Eve in 1904 and died Oct. 29, 1993. Bertha was the second daughter of C.B. and Roda Hamilton. She was born in a two-room cabin on the Hill Ranch, which her father had purchased from mountain man Amos Hill. Bertha grew up helping her father on the ranch while her older sister helped their mother in the home. Bertha took care of the cattle and sheep and as it was noted by one of her friends who thought she could match Bertha’s horse-riding ability, but she could never match Bertha’s roping skill.

Bertha married Dave Landers in 1931. Landers had four children he was raising alone and one of his girls was Claudia Proffit’s mother. Bertha’s brother would later marry Claudia’s mother making Bertha both Claudia’s aunt and step-grandmother. 

Bertha Hamilton Landers (called Bert) taught school, raised Lander’s children and one of their own, assisted with all of the ranching duties and managed to find time to write articles for the “Stockman’s Journal.” When her husband died after only five years of marriage, she continued to run the ranch. When Hamilton’s father died in 1961, he left her an additional parcel of land that she continued to ranch alone, even though in her later years she was losing her sight. 

Hamilton was typically seen in town wearing an old cowboy hat, scarf, vest and leather gauntlets. When Bert was asked why she wore the gauntlets, she responded, “They keep my cuffs clean,” according to a nomination essay written by Richard Hamilton, Bertha’s nephew.

Don and Claudia Proffit and Bertha (Bert) Hamilton Landers have each exemplified the working cowboy and cowgirl criteria for the nomination to the Wyoming Cowboy Hall of Fame. Their legacy is evident through the voices and lives of their children and others they have influenced.

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