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At Home on a Horse: Rose Johnson

Rose Johnson.

By Dianna Troyer

Rose Johnson Devoted Herself to Raising Cattle and Community Volunteerism.

Wherever she was on a horse, Rose Johnson felt at home in the valleys and mountains around Salmon and Challis in central Idaho.

“I never lacked for a riding job,” said the 87-year-old Challis resident, a retired rancher and longtime community volunteer. “I taught kids to ride, worked in hunting camps, and rode for the Morgan Creek Cattle Association, too.”

Horses were never all work, though. For entertainment, Johnson became a competitive barrel racer and trick rider. She could jump to the ground and back on a galloping horse.

In 2000, she became the first woman inducted into the Eastern Idaho Horseman’s Hall of Fame. In 2002, the Idaho 4H Hall of Fame inducted her for helping to establish a local 4H horse program, high school rodeo teams, and helping with the Custer County Fair.

Johnson said her priorities were always her family, community, and local history.
“There was nothing better than working the land and raising our kids,” she said of Sheri, Jody, and Bud. “I spent nine years on the school board in Challis and was president of the American Legion Auxiliary there, too.”

Growing up in the Pahsimeroi Valley, she worked on the family ranch, where her father, Ben Hamilton, raised cattle, provided rough stock for rodeos, trained horses, and harvested hay with a derrick and horse-drawn team.

Johnson said her family never went anywhere. “Growing up, all there was to do was to ride horses and herd cattle – and that was fine by me. Sometimes at school, I’d get in trouble for wearing trousers instead of a dress and reading too many Louis L’Amour books, but I just ignored the comments.”

Curious about her ancestry, she researched a pioneer cemetery in the Pahsimeroi Valley. “My grandfather Roscoe came from Nova Scotia in 1896 and was a founding rancher in the Pahsimeroi. He married my grandmother from the Jensen family. I spent several years with my nephews restoring the Pahsimeroi Cemetery and researching graves that had been lost to time.”

She and her husband, Lynn, raised Hereford and Black Angus cattle, sheep, and horses on their ranch about five miles east of Challis on Hot Springs Road. He was raised on a ranch in Baker, about 20 miles (32.19 km) from the Pahsimeroi. After Lynn passed away, she finally moved into a house in town in 2017. The ranch was sold and is still in production.

“Mom has always done what she wanted—to raise cows and be at peace in nature,” said her daughter, Sheri Hughes, of Challis. “She found God in the mountains.”

Hughes said an unforgettable incident sums up her mother. During a sudden flood, the unmistakable buzz of rattlesnakes was heard while her mom was dragging new irrigation sprinklers to higher ground to prevent them from being swept away.

She shouted to Sheri and Bud to not move. While holding toddler Jody, she took part of a pipe and began beating the snakes whenever she heard one rattle.

“I was 7 at the time,” Hughes said. “Bud was 5 and Jody 3. I’ll never forget Mom beating those snakes with Jody on her hip.”

The only time Johnson moved away from the valley was when she enrolled in Idaho State University. She studied classical piano but then decided to follow a practical career path and earned an associate’s degree to become an executive secretary. She left her mark at ISU, winning gun marksmanship contests and working with Bob Schild to start the ISU rodeo team.

To celebrate holidays or her birthday on September 25, Johnson said she always ate steak – “always a T-bone for me and not from our cattle. That was our income.” ISI

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