It all began with a work trip. As a research consultant for various natural resource management agencies, I frequently traveled across Montana for workshops and meetings. Whenever I was asked to take a project that would require me to spend more than a couple of days in another Montana community, I tried to include some horseback riding. After all, what is the point of visiting some spectacular part of Montana without a horse? My clients were often asked to help find suitable housing for my horse so that I could ride him when not working. These requests were frequently met with silence on the telephone – then, quizzically, “A horse?”
While it did impose a rather unusual requirement on prospective clients, it nearly always ended in a very worthwhile adventure for me. Since most of my clients were natural resource professionals, they were always well acquainted with local ranchers, and those acquaintances were generally the solution to my unorthodox contract requirement. It also had the great benefit of my forming some wonderful friendships with ranchers across the state. I saw this entire situation as a win-win!
On one such trip to the Bozeman area, I housed my horse, Power, at the Gallatin River Ranch. At that beautiful ranch, there lived a charming jack donkey (i.e. stud!) named Onk. Onk was very social and immediately began to hang out with me and Power. Every evening, he would follow me on the trail as Power and I made our way to the top the ridge overlooking the ranch. There he would stop, look down at the barn, glance at us, then nod his head as if to tip his hat, and head back to the barn. I was completely smitten.
Upon returning home, I explained to my family how I had fallen in love with this incredibly handsome and charismatic donkey and wondered about getting one for Dunrovin. Silently, my husband and two young sons just stared back in disbelief. “Why, exactly,” they asked, “would Dunrovin need a donkey?” And, my reply was, of course, “For comic relief!” The lack of a firm “NO WAY!” from the family was taken by me as a resounding “YES!”, and I promptly called the ranch for more details about Onk and his origins. As luck would have it, Onk had – the summer before – bred a lovely little jenny at a ranch near Twin Bridges. That breeding had produced a little jack that was only 3 months old and for sale. It took only one photo and one phone call to seal the deal.
Dunrovin’s first donkey, Señor Kona, more than lived up to his billing as “comic relief.” He soon became Dunrovin’s mascot, loud morning greeter, mischief maker, and the Lovely Lady Lonza’s ever-present side kick. Señor Kona brought a smile to every face and enchanted every child. He was a man about town – visiting schools and nursing homes, pulling a decorated cart, riding in the back of my van, wearing a sawbuck saddle filled with candy treats, winning a prize in UM’s homecoming parade, dressing up for Christmas and Halloween, letting little ones pin velcro tails on his ample rump, and teaching kids about leadership through his “donkey challenge” games.
As part of his training, I took him everywhere with me in Lolo and soon I became known as the Donkey Lady of Lolo – much to my young sons’ embarrassment who tired to distance themselves from the whole affair. Upon visiting the barber one time, my husband was greeted with an exclamation “Well, I’ve been watching your wife drag her ass all around town.” He became a local character well known for waiting for me outside the grocery store or the post office, or for accompanying me to pick up my kids from school (they always walked home a good 100 feet in front of me and never looked back). For holidays, I would dress him up and take him to school. At one point, a secretary came running down the hall to tell me that they had just called a cab for the superintendent and that I should take Señor Kona into his office and announce that his ride had arrived. Everyone got into the act!
His unquestioning trust, playful antics, and sheer exuberance reminded us all that love and joy take many forms and come from many places. His sudden death left a huge hole in Dunrovin’s heart and soul. The mornings became too quiet; there was no big nose and big ears pushing into the tack room in search of treats; Lady Lonza stood silently near his stall with her head hung low. He graced our Dunrovin Ranch sweatshirts as a Montana Legend – and that he most certainly remains – a legend to us all.
About a year after Señor Kona’s passing, I heard of two little jenny donkeys on a ranch near Lewistown. One was the typical gray with a dark cross on its back; and the other was a chocolate brown with an even darker cross on its back. They were half-sisters out of the same jack: one was 6 months old and the other was 9 months old.
This time the question of why Dunrovin needed TWO donkeys didn’t even come up. Of course, Dunrovin needed these two – and we are ever so grateful to have our lovely Divas grace us with their presence. Miss Gertie, the oldest, is named after my grandmother, Gertrude; Miss Maude takes the name of Gertrude’s younger sister, and my favorite great aunt. There is no doubt that Gertrude and Maude smile from heaven with every antic the Divas serve up at Dunrovin. I am certain that Grandma Gertrude and Aunt Maude would see the Divas as sister souls – embracing life, spreading good cheer, and dressing for every occasion.
I am also certain that somewhere Señor Kona’s spirit is keeping an eye on all of us – especially his Lovely Lady Lonza. Señor Kona’s spirit will forever inhabit Dunrovin and his voice echos across the ranch every time Miss Gertie nad Miss Maude tell us to hurry up with the hay!