The Legacy of Henry McKinley

Susie Morgan - October 1, 2014

The Old West was woven into the fabric of Henry’s Life

Something I noticed with the passing of my own parents was that if one lives to a nice old age, there are few people attend the memorial service.  As we age, I think the circle of friends shrinks.  This was not the case with Henry McKinley.  His circle of friends continued to grow throughout his life.   When he passed on August 12th, at 85 years of age, he left behind quite a legacy.

His memorial service last weekend brought close to 300 people from all walks of life and ages; ranch hands, professional cowboys, kids and young adults he had counseled and set straight, neighbors, businessmen, and famous artists.  Although I did not live close by, and knew Henry probably less than almost anyone there in terms of time spent with him, every word spoken about Henry rang true.  Everyone knew the same Henry.

Henry befriended anyone and everyone.  I met Henry out riding an arroyo one day.  The sand was getting deep and the arroyo narrow.  Off to the left was a cow trail leading up and out, so I took it.  I walked right into Henry’s back yard where he was feeding.  He looked up and said “Hi, that’s a nice horse you are riding”.  That was the beginning of my friendship with Henry.

Henry had had many careers including a stint in the military in Korea, farrier and working for BLM, but ended doing what he had learned as a child; cattle ranching.  Henry ran cattle on Rancho Viejo, where his cows remain today.  He was admired by other cowboys for his uncanny ability to rope, and Henry had plenty of trophy buckles to show for it.

The Old West was woven in to the fabric of Henry’s life.  His dad was ranch foreman at Ghost Ranch, so that was Henry’s playground as a youth.  Arthur Pack saw to it that Henry got a good education and moral foundation for an exemplary life.  Many years later, he would marry Arthur Packs daughter, Peg, who survives him.

Henry became close to the deaf community when his young son contracted measles and lost his hearing.  That would eventually lead Henry to help form the Deaf Rodeo Association.   I recall riding into his barn one day to see him overseeing a young man doing some welding.  The young man was deaf.  They say Henry never learned to sign, but he had no trouble communicating. 

I knew Henry through horses with a goal of learning cows.  When I expressed an interest in learning how to move and sort cows, without hesitation Henry said he would teach me.  The number of people he has taught remains unknown – but it’s a big number.  It seemed logical; my husband and I own horses that were used on cattle ranches.  How hard could it be? It was a day of frustration and failure.  We finally located and brought in 3 cows.  Truth be told, we found a dirt road and we followed the cows in.  Henry knew this:  We had no idea where we were; his cows saved us from having to be rescued.  Still, Henry would call from time to time to go ride fence or check the herd with him.

Around the Carl Hawkins Chuck Wagon following the service, people shared their remembrances of Henry.  His last horse, OK, served Henry as the rider-less horse during the service.  OK then stood quietly in the barn breezeway for people to stroke and say goodbye.

It seems to me that Henry’s legacy were the gifts of friendship and teaching; a man whose sphere of influence continued to expand throughout his life.  An admirable legacy.

Photos courtesy of Bill Manns