Craig Woodson

A Man of Vision and Determination

Craig and Martha Woodson

It was the fall of 1992. My wife Donna and I sat in our living room with Craig and Martha and visited about the Ruby Valley, our common hopes and dreams and the Woodson’s newly acquired ranch property just down the road. It was obvious in that brief meeting that though we had common goals our strategies for realizing those goals were different. As we visited that day, I was a multi- generational, Ruby Valley rancher, currently managing the property that had been in our family for more than eighty years. Craig was a recently retired newspaper publisher and the new owner of a historic ranch in the valley. Though he had closed the deal, he had yet to take possession.

Our conversation that day was about the present and the short term future. I was looking for an opportunity to expand our family ranching operations. I had hopes of leasing Craig’s ranch to raise more hay and graze more cattle. More important to Craig and Martha however, was finding someone with an independent perspective to represent their interest in their absence. I recall vividly the moment that Craig explained to me that it was not possible for me to consider his best interest if my cattle were grazing his pastures, my machinery was on his property and my employee was living in his ranch house. Somewhat naively and quite arrogantly, I couldn’t grasp that his “best interest” and mine could be all that different. In a subsequent meeting, Craig explained to me his purpose for the purchase of the ranch; he and Martha loved the outdoors and Montana in particular. They had chosen the ranch as an early retirement project that they would enjoy as they fished, enhanced the wildlife features and protected the property’s agricultural heritage. Craig’s intention was to leave the property better than he found it. He speculated then, that in ten years or so he would sell the ranch and return to Texas in full retirement.

Headin’ home

Things happen in our lives that change our perspective. A new experience, good or bad, a moment of inspiration or tragedy can open our eyes or bring defeat. Paul F. Starrs, author of, “Let the Cowboy Ride” explains that there is “…that reciprocal relationship of people changing the land as it, in its turn, changes them”. That connection to the earth, its demands, its forgiveness, its seasons, somehow gets into the blood of the people who work it and they develop a passion either for or against it. We all know people who cannot be torn away from the land. “They will die with their boots on”.   And we know those who could not get away from it fast enough. As soon as they were out of high school or had the opportunity, they enlisted in the army, or went off to college or did anything to get out of the web that bound them to that cursed existence. You rarely find someone with close ties to the land that is vague about their feelings for it.

With each passing year, Craig’s roots grew deeper in the fertile soils of his beloved Woodson Ranch. He was determined to see his project through. He had made great strides, yet as the tenth anniversary approached, his connection to the place he had worried and labored to change had “in its turn, changed him.” It was at that time that he founded the Ruby Habitat Foundation to carry on his work.

As Craig mentored and inspired me, a number of things changed, but his passion, vision and determination remained steadfast. It was my good fortune to have met him.

Les Gilman

Ruby Habitat Foundation, Executive Director