Rod Miller: The Constant Force of Change in the Cowboy State

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Hey, Wyoming residents! Ever wondered what a columnist born into a ranching family since 1867 has to say about change and identity in Wyoming? We unravel some informative insights of columnist Rod Miller. Listen to his perspectives on Wyoming’s identity and the ongoing changes that are reshaping the state. Stay tuned to hear his thoughts about Wyoming’s past, present, and future. You won’t want to miss his journey through Wyoming’s history and its evolving identity. Are you ready to embrace the winds of change in Wyoming?

My special guest is Rod Miller 

Rod Miller, a prominent columnist for the Cowboy State Daily, is a native Wyomingite with a deep-rooted connection to the state’s history and culture. Growing up on a cattle ranch in northern Carbon County, Rod’s family heritage in Wyoming spans back to 1867, giving him a unique and authentic insight into the state’s identity and the changes it has undergone. With a keen understanding of Wyoming’s past and present, Rod’s perspectives on change and identity in the state offer a genuine exploration of the topic. His personal experiences and knowledge provide an engaging and thought-provoking angle that resonates with those seeking to understand Wyoming’s evolving identity.

 Explore Wyoming’s Evolving Economic Profile

 Discussing Wyoming’s economic future, Rod Miller highlights the critical role of the marketplace and the invested risk capital in shaping the state’s economic profile. Emphasizing that changes will be driven by market forces rather than the initiative of Wyoming’s residents, he underpins the importance of an adaptive response. The nuances of the resulting economic diversification in the state form a complex discussion dividing local opinions on change in Wyoming.

 

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00:00:00

Welcome to winds of change. I am your host, Emy DiGrappa, brought to you by Wyoming humanities, where we explore the people, places, identity and change in Wyoming. We are exploring change and identity in Wyoming with columnist Rod Miller. Rod was born into a ranching family that has been in Wyoming since 1867. He is a well-known columnist for the cowboy State Daily.

00:00:28

Born and raised on a cattle ranch in northern carbon County, Rod considers himself a genuine Wyoming knight. He touts his family’s 150-year history in the state as part of his thorough connection to Wyoming and its people more than a century and a half ago, when Wyoming was a wild and ranging territory, home to native people, immigrants and settlers, and even fewer laws. And now, guess what? We still are a small population of only 600,000 people. As we talk about change in identity in Wyoming, here is a quote from Rod Miller.

00:01:12

And he says, and I’m going to tell you that regardless of what your notion of Wyoming identity is today, or regardless of what my notion of Wyoming identity is today, that will change. It will not be the same in 20, 5100 years. So if we’re talking Wyoming identity, snapshot this point in time, as we go forward into this new year of 2024, we can still imagine life in the middle of nowhere. Life in Wyoming, my focus of gratitude for wide open spaces, beautiful night skies, and small towns. Yet we are untouched.

00:01:55

Martin Luther King said it best. It really boils down to this, that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

00:02:18

Listen to Rod’s perspective and embrace yours, mine, and everyone’s perspective on our Wyoming identity and even our world identity. I hope you respond with what it means to be a Wyoming knight and embrace another’s perspective in the global world we live in, connected by technology. No matter where you live, in a world of 8.1 billion people, it does seem hard to believe the theory of six degrees of separation, or even five. But in Wyoming, we are two or three degrees of separation. Thanks for listening.

00:02:58

Welcome, Rod. Thank you. Thank you, Emy. It’s a pleasure to be here. Well, I’m so glad you took the time to talk to me because I love reading your columns, and you had written one recently about change and change in Wyoming, and I wanted to talk to you about that because that’s the name of this podcast called Winds of Change.

00:03:20

Okay? And I know you said some really interesting and really good things that I want people to hear. So talk to me about change in Wyoming. To tell you the truth, I can’t recall verbatim that column, but if I was smart, I quoted Machiavelli and said that change is a constant and it’s the steady state we live in. And Wyoming has been changing since day one and will continue to change long after we’re gone.

00:03:49

And there’s just nothing we can do about it. Change is part of our DNA. It’s part of human DNA. It’s part of nature, and we can’t escape that fact just by living in Wyoming.

00:04:05

Okay, well, that is really a good thing to hear you say, because I think that there is confusion over this idea that Wyoming doesn’t want to change. Wyoming wants to stay the same, and we don’t accept change. Do you think that’s true? Yes, of course. And that’s true for all humanity.

00:04:26

Emmy, no human likes change. We settle into, like, a little comfortable place in our lives, and we don’t want that to change. But at the same time, it’s going to change whether we like it or not. Wyoming is a conservative state. And to me, the definition of conservative is not someone who is not opposed to change.

00:04:50

It’s not trying to resist change but accepts change incrementally as long as it’s not disruptive. That, to me, is the essence of conservatism. And I’m a conservative. I don’t like a change. Jesus Christ.

00:05:06

I mean, if I could have stayed 25 years old and not changed into what I am now, I would have gladly done, because everybody can say that, but we’re powerless against that universal force and stasis. Actually, when things don’t change, they die and putrefy, decompose. So change is good, but by the same token, just changing for change sake, I think, is only accidentally constructive. It gets us out of a rut but thrusts us into an unknown situation that we may not be able to control. I don’t know what to say about change.

00:05:53

It’s happening as we speak. That’s an interesting perspective. I never thought about being a conservative as being someone who wants change to be slow. I think of conservativism as, I guess, in this country, I think of conservativism as faith, family, and freedom. Let’s say that’s one way to define it.

00:06:17

Yeah. So I kind of have that in my head when I think of conservative policy and the other thing that we talk about in this podcast. So we have five themes, and they are identity and community, persistence, how we manage change. I’m forgetting the fifth one. But there is one, I’ll think of it.

00:06:38

But anyway, one of the things that we talk about is what is our Wyoming identity? Because people who live here and stay here and work here, and maybe they were born here, like your family was and has been here for generations. But even people who have come recently, like I’ve lived here 20 years, have a definite Wyoming identity they identify with. Well, I’ll tell you mine, but first I want to hear what your Wyoming identity is. I’m going to poke a pin in your balloon right here.

00:07:10

Okay. Okay, go ahead. That’s good. And I’m going to tell you that regardless of what your notion of Wyoming identity is today, or regardless of what my notion of Wyoming identity is today, that will change. It will not be the same in 20, 5100 years.

00:07:29

So if we’re talking, like, Wyoming identity snapshot this point in time, what is Wyoming right now? I identify Wyoming as an energy colony for the rest of the country. And our collective identity as a state kind of folds itself in on that. And we put all the bells and whistles on it, like the cowboy way and coat of the west, and dress it up so it looks attractive. But in Essence, Wyoming right now is an energy colony for the rest of the country, an energy colony where the quaint native dress is cowboy hat, cowboy boots and big belt buckles and stuff like that.

00:08:17

And again, that’s going to change in 20 years. Well, that’s interesting that you just said that that’s going to change in 20 years because we were just talking about change and I was thinking more of, when I think about Wyoming and why I moved here and why I stayed, more importantly, why I stayed. I think about wide open spaces and not very many people. And the landscape is incredible wherever you. Right.

00:08:44

That’s not going to change very quickly. We’re not going to level the Tetons or fill in flaming gorge. The landscape is going to stay the same. The number of people in the state will probably change marginally over time as it has. I think in 100 years we’ll still be the least populous state in the country just because goddamn snow and wind, if nothing else.

00:09:13

So, yeah, that notion of a Wyoming identity as a landscape is pretty much immutable. That is not going to change very fast. But when you’re talking about the landscape of humans in Wyoming and their ideas of what it means to live here, that will change, I guarantee you. What about diversity in Wyoming? Cultural diversity, people of different colors living here.

00:09:43

Do you think of Wyoming as mostly a white state? Oh, it is. Now, 200 years ago, it was a red state. Well, shit, I guess we’re still a red state if you’re talking political terms. But.

00:09:56

You just did a double entendre right there. Yes, I did. You better write that down.

00:10:05

I’m trying to think of how to frame an answer to your question. That is not going to get me in trouble with one ethnic group or another. Wyoming is a white state now. We took it from the natives who were here. It was a white European Anglo Saxon culture that settled state of Wyoming.

00:10:26

And there’s a whole bunch of. That’s where ten podcasts. What has happened in Wyoming since the Lewis and Clark expedition? The railroad was a big thing. The workers that were working from the east on Indiana Pacific line were primarily Irish and Eastern European immigrants.

00:10:47

My great grandfather was one of them. The workers on the central Pacific coming from the west coast to try and meet up at Promontory. Those workers were a huge, big population of Chinese. In fact, the up railroad advertised in China for young men to come work on the railroad to get their labor, to get the project done. The project, though, the up railroad was in the hands of white America.

00:11:14

The reason I’m asking that question is because I read one of your columns and you talked about the Spanish coming, and it wasn’t always.

00:11:27

This is where we get in trouble with different folks by saying one group of people took over this other group of people’s land and it was good or bad, if I’m trying to remember that column. Right. Russia at one point claimed Jackson Hole. You live in Jackson, right? Yeah, I live in Moran.

00:11:50

Same thing in the greater Kelly metroplex. Yeah. Vitas Barrick, who was a Danish explorer working for Tsar Nicholas II, laid claim to the headwaters of the Columbia River back in the late 18th century for the Tsar of Russia, and that includes the Snake river and Jackson Lake. So at one point, Russia claimed Jackson Hole. Never did much with it.

00:12:21

I haven’t heard that history at. Oh, yeah. The state of Wyoming was put together through five or six different land acquisitions executed by the federal government. Where I grew up north of Rawlin’s was at one point included in New Spain, and then it became Mexico, then it became the Republic of. Remember.

00:12:46

Well, I’ve read that not just reading it, but reading it in other places as well. There have been a lot of people, and the Native Americans who were here when Lewis and Clark got here were not the Native Americans who were here 200 years before that. Indigenous cultures were not all that reluctant to take land from their neighbors, other indigenous people. It’s kind of like human behavior 101. We want what our neighbor has, and we go get it.

00:13:21

The diversity in this square state that we call Wyoming now is result of 13,000 years of history of people occupying, being driven off this place and what we have today, again, in that snapshot of human history in 2022 Wyoming is 600,000 people, mostly white, but a bunch of other ethnicities mixed in. And this is what we have. I think part of how people consider the identity of Wyoming includes the tribes, both Eastern Shoshone, Northern Arapaho, as well as the other tribes that were here in Wyoming. We include as part of our self identification that Native American heritage, not because we deep understanding of history, but because we like the Native American culture and the imagery and tend to forget what we did to them. But that Indian culture is still part of how we think about Wyoming.

00:14:29

We don’t necessarily think about Wyoming in terms of the Chinese miners who were massacred in rock Springs because of a mining strike. Well, that’s really interesting. Or the japanese internment camp in Heart Mountain that has gotten a lot of press and publicity, and they’ve done such a beautiful job in preserving it historically and really opening people’s eyes to what took place there. Yeah. And if there’s one person responsible for keeping that at a high level in our consciousness is al Simpson with the stories he’s told over the decades about his friendship with Norman Mineta that began at that Heart Mountain Internment Camp when they were.

00:15:20

Yeah. So I have another question for you, Rod. What do you think about economic diversification? What are we going to do about our boom and bust cycles? Not that they’re ever going to end, but is there a realistic possible way for us to open up and have more diverse economies?

00:15:42

Yeah, there’s a way to do it, but you bump up against that conservatism, that reluctance to change that is part of Wyoming culture. Going back to the pre statehood days, Wyoming was an open rain state. You just bought a bunch of cows somewhere and brought them out here and turned them loose and then gathered them up and sold. And that’s how money was made in Wyoming for a decade, probably. And then came the homesteading acts and technological advances like barbed wire and windmills to pull up water out in dry areas and stuff like that.

00:16:21

And folks resisted that because it was different than the way that granddad did it. So they were reluctant to try it. But once that change was tried, it paved the way for other changes. It diversified the livestock industry, and for God decades, agriculture was the big, the economic driver in wild. And that economic situation prevailed until the mid 1950s.

00:16:51

I think it was 1954 or 55, when tourism, recreation, hunting, fishing brought more money into the state than agriculture did. And that was a major change, and that had been resisted over the years. We don’t want these tourists coming in and petting our buffaloes and stuff, but they brought money in, and that diversified Wyoming’s economy. And then we’ve always been producing energy. But the big thing that happened in Wyoming was the clean Air act of 1970.

00:17:26

And the Clean Air act mandated that Power Plants not throw so much sulfur dioxide into the air, because creating acid rain and stuff like that. And President Nixon signed the Clean Air act. It’s part of a big bunch of environmental regulations after Earth Day. And everybody thought, oh, my God, the tree huggers are going to take over a be. We’re going to be Sierra Club north, something like that.

00:17:53

But the Clean Air act is the single most important event in bringing the powder river basin coal province into international provinces as an energy source. Because the coal was clean. It’s lower BTU, but there’s very little sulfur in powder coal. So that was a huge, big change, and that brought about diversification of our economy. And that’s kind of where we sit now.

00:18:21

We’re at the cusp of the information revolution and the crypto revolutions and all that kind of stuff, and they may or may not make inroads into Wyoming. We’ll see. But the economic profile of Wyoming will change like everything else in the state has changed, and it will not be because of things we have done as Wyomingites. The economic life of Wyoming will change because of the marketplace, because of risk cap being put to work in Wyoming and returning a reward. It’s the marketplace, Emmy, that will determine our economic future.

00:19:05

Well, two things. It’s the marketplace and how we respond to that marketplace. Right. That’s important. Yeah.

00:19:14

On the topic of economic diversification in the state of Wyoming, I will say this. Some of my friends are for it, some of my friends are against it. And me, I’m for my friends. That is such a good answer. Oh, my gosh.

00:19:33

Well, I want to talk a little bit about yourself, and I know you’re a Wyoming native. You were raised outside of Cheyenne on a. No, no, I was raised north of Rawlins. Oh, north of Rawlins on a ranch. Yes.

00:19:50

How did you become a columnist and a writer? And this has now become your passion, as I read your columns in the cowboy state daily. What was the journey? Were you always interested in writing? Were you always interested in policy and politics?

00:20:15

More the writing side of you want to hear a story? I can tell you exactly when it started. Yeah, it started probably in October, the year that I was in 8th grade in Rollins junior High. I had a teacher, her name was Jo McFadden. She was like, 160 years old.

00:20:35

She taught my dad, and she was old school, and I kind of always enjoyed writing and stuff, but we had a spelling test in Mrs. McFadden’s 8th grade classroom, and I misspelled the word rhythm. I knew it had two h’s in it, but I forgot where the h’s went. So she made me stay after class and write rhythm up on the board, like a hundred times and late for football practice. And if you’re late for football practice at Rawlins Junior High, you got to run wind sprints.

00:21:15

So I was going to have to run wind sprints just because this old lady was trying to teach me how to spell a word. I was pissed. And I finally said, what good is this going to do me? Why do I need to learn to spell this word? So she made me sit down and she went up to the board and she wrote a bunch of numbers on the black, like 17 136.5, 1291.

00:21:46

She stood back and said, now look at those and tell me how they make you feel. And I looked at these numbers and thought, shit, I’m going to have to run two wind sprints now. And she erased it, and she wrote up on the blackboard, I forget what the exact words were, but it was like love, orgasm, cancer, father death. And she made me look at those words and say, now, how do those make you feel? And that’s the point.

00:22:14

I realized I was a word person and not a number person, and have a deep respect and appreciation for the power of the English language. It’s an incredible instrument, and I’ve always tried to use it. I’ve tried to use it in as creative a way as I can and not let the language itself stultify into some sort of bureaucrats. That means nothing. I don’t want the language I use just to appear to be numbers to people.

00:22:44

So that’s where it came from. And then the Cowboys State Daily. I don’t know. I wrote a couple of blogs for this guy, for Reed Erickson when he was in Cheyenne, and then he left. And Jimmy Orr, the editor, asked if he could reprint one of my blogs.

00:23:04

I think this is how I said, sure. So I’ve been writing for him for two years and just thoroughly love it. I also write poetry on the side, so I don’t get my mind stuck in a prose groove, if that makes any sense. But writing is so much the creative process. Well, I can’t paint.

00:23:30

I can’t sing. I can’t dance. I can’t play a musical instrument. I’m stuck with words. But that’s what I think is really amazing about when you can appreciate when someone writes something and they paint that picture for you with their words.

00:23:48

It is like painting a picture. Yeah, exactly.

00:23:54

I love it when I’ll read something and I can see it in my mind’s eye because they just made it come alive, and I just love that. Right. And in the world of geopolitical policy and nation versus nation, language is so incredibly important. I think it was Clausewitz who said, when the talking stops, the shooting starts.

00:24:25

Oh, my gosh. I bet you have some really good quotes. And it’d be good if you added a quote of the day to your column. That would be cool. That would be fun.

00:24:37

But anyway, Rod, I have to jump off. It’s been so great talking to you. I look forward to meeting you someday. And good work at the Cowboy State Daily. You’re doing an amazing job.

00:24:50

I appreciate that. Thank you so much. I do look forward to shaking and howdy. I will tell you that I lived several years in Italy, and your last name fascinates me, DiGrappa, because DiGrappa is like the everclear of Italy, right? It’s like this super rectified wine that just take the top of your head, so.

00:25:13

Right. It is a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. DiGrappa. I will meet you someday. That sounds good.

00:25:21

Thanks, Rod. All right. See you later. Goodbye.

00:25:30

Thank you for listening. I’m executive producer Emy DiGrappa. Winds of change is brought to you by Wyoming humanities, our co-hosts and all the people who generously share their stories and their time. For more information, go to thinky.org subscribe and never miss a show.