Bob Disney is rolling a cigarette in his primitive cowboy cabin deep in the Gros Ventre Mountains. He pinches tobacco from a cowhide pouch and forms a creamy white cigarette that contrasts with his roughly lined face and the dusty surroundings of the cabin.
Except for a plastic convenience store cup, the scene is reminiscent of a movie set for a Western. A bottle of Canadian Lord Calvert blended whiskey stands next to several decks of cards, which look right at home next to his .357 Colt revolver that serves as a "last resort in case of bear attack."The man with the cigarette is a real cowboy spending his days doing what real cowboys do - looking after cattle.
On this particular cool evening, Disney is glad he took a job as a glorified baby sitter for the 600 cows that are grazing nearby. The isolation feels good, and the only sound that breaks the pure silence of the mountains is a coyote howling in the distance.
Although many might consider his life a lonely existence, Disney claims that he rarely misses civilization.
"I'm not alone, really," he said. "I've got my dogs, my horses, God and Mother Nature. If I miss people all I've got to do is go to the Cowboy Bar (in Jackson) for a couple of hours and I've had my fill of noise and humans."
But there is one thing that Disney admits he misses in the mountains.
"I want to put an ad in the newspaper," he said. "Needed: one female, girl, ladyfriend . . . healthy. Must be willing to live under primitive conditions."
The physical challenges of the job extend past the time spent in a saddle.
Without refrigeration, Disney must eat mostly stews of bacon, the only meat that keeps, potatoes, onions and canned vegetables. He eats only once a day, and a pot of stew will feed him for three days.
Unless he feels like bathing in a 40-degree stream, he must heat a tub of water on the campfire to take a bath.
Still he would not trade places or jobs with anyone, even though the average pay for herders is only about $800 a month.
"Thank God for people like the Lucases that give people like me a job like this," he said, referring to the Phil Lucas family of Spring Gulch. "When you've got only yourself to satisfy, it's not too hard."