The Sad Case of Hi Bernard

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that my mom’s people settled in an area called Brown’s Park née Hole for a bit during the turn of the 19th century.  My ancestors were cattlemen, ranchers, and ranch wives (probably the hardiest lot of the bunch) before eventually moving to town sometime in the early 1900s.  I am trying to discover my roots and find out more about those ancestors so I have read a few books about Brown’s Park in the hopes I will run across an ancestor’s name or two.  My findings have been slim but that doesn’t mean I haven’t found other interesting stories in a colorful place with a bit of interesting history.  One that caught my attention is the sad case of Hi Bernard.

In a very wordy book titled “Where the Old West Stayed Young” by John Rolfe Burroughs a whole chapter is devoted to Hiram Bernard (or Barnard by other sources but I will use Burroughs’ spelling).  Now, this book is not for the faint of heart.  It is 363 pages of small print in a 8.5 x 10 inch book.  It has a lot of information in it.  I have met other Brown’s Park students who have the book but I have not met one that has actually finished reading the book.   Not to toot my own horn but I finished it.  It took me the whole summer of 2018 but I accomplished it.  Do I remember what I read?  Uh, bits and pieces.  One story I remember is Hi Bernard’s.

Let me sum up Hi’s life.  He was a very good cattleman.  Other cowboys trusted his opinion and judgement.  His professional life culminated in becoming a foreman for Ora Haley of the Two Bar ranch.  How good was Hi Bernard?  It was estimated he made Ora Haley a million dollars in the eight years he worked for him.  Money he could have made for himself if he had been so inclined.  But that just wasn’t his style.  He was content with his station in life and didn’t aspire for personal ownership.

Here’s a couple of things to know about Ora Haley to make this story more poignant.  Ora was what you would call a cattle baron.  The only thing small about his outfit was the name Two Bar.  In short, he was a big time producer.

Also, about this time there were the smaller outfits trying to coexist with the big producers.  It’s a well-known fact that small ranchers rarely lived peaceably with the big boys.  In short, big outfits, such as the Two Bar, overran the land making it difficult for the small outfits to eke out a living.   In return, the small outfits helped themselves to the bigger outfits’ cattle.  As businessmen, cattle rustling did not sit well with the large outfits.  It all came down to the all mighty dollar.  The big outfits enjoyed being rich and didn’t take too kindly to any unapproved donations.

To curtail the rustling, the big outfits joined together and hired someone to come in and clean things up a bit.  They hired a hired gun by the name of Tom Horn formerly of the Pinkerton Detective Agency. Tom indeed came to Brown’s Park in disguise and infiltrated the smaller outfits’ organization.  He discovered who he needed to target first.

Tom Horn was a civilized assassin and sent a word of warning to the leader of the small outfit rebellion.  The letter, of course, was ignored.  So Tom Horn did what he was hired to do.  He killed two men during his stint for the cattle barons of Brown’s Park.  The first man he shot was Matt Rash.  At the time of his untimely death in 1900, Matt was engaged to Ann Bassett, Queen of the Cattle Rustlers.  After Matt’s murder Queen Ann swore she would take down Ora Haley.

This is where we circle back to Hi Bernard.  Being a small outfit there was no way Queen Ann could do any damage to a grand outfit such as Two Bar.  But she swore she would get revenge on Ora Haley.

Four years later, she married the best foreman Ora Haley ever had when she wed Hi Bernard who was 20 years her senior.  The day of their wedding Hi lost his job.  As you can imagine, it wasn’t a happy union and ended in divorce seven tumultuous years later.  Afterward, Hi drifted around the country aimlessly before returning to Northwestern Colorado.  The aging Texan never really regained his footing.

He died at the age of 67 in 1924.  His burial plot was provided for by a friend named Charley Sparks.  Charley bought the plot and set it aside for old time cowpokes without a family to oversee the details.

As if the overview of Hi’s life isn’t enough to tug on the heart strings, his final resting place should put the final touch on this story.  Because his plot was purchased by a friend he has no tombstone.  Only a silver cemetery name plate marked as “Hiram Barnard.”  Now, I have visited many gravesites in my life.  I have an ancestor that is buried in the Brown’s Park desert, a lone grave that was lost until recently.  There is no doubt her grave is a lone grave with only deer, antelope, moose, and cattle to visit.  But the loneliest grave I have visited is that of Hi Bernard’s.  You see, his grave is in the middle of a town’s cemetery with only a silver name plate to mark his resting place.  No flowers are left for him.  No one remembers or honors his dash.  His death fits with his life.

That is the sad case of Hi Bernard.


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