Stephen Jennings Moreland was born to Robert Jennings and Elaine Anderson Moreland on November 8, 1951, in Gordon, Neb. Steve and his three younger sisters Sandra, Sybil, and Nancy were raised on the family ranch eight miles northeast of Merriman, where he grew to love the beauty of the Sandhills and the cowboy way of life.
His grade school years were mostly in the Merriman school system, with the exception of two years of country school — his fourth grade year in a trailer house on his family’s Green Valley Ranch, and his eighth grade year in a vacant tenant house on the Weber Ranch three miles to the northwest, where there were six kids in six different grades. Steve attended his Freshman and Sophomore years in Merriman, but as their High School closed in 1968, he finished his education in Gordon, graduating in the Class of 1970.
That summer Steve would recollect fondly as one of the most memorable of his life — working as a wrangler on the Moose Head Ranch, a guest ranch in the heart of Grand Teton National Park, near Jackson Hole, Wyo. He then attended a year at Chadron State College, before working the summer of 1971 in the hay field on the family ranch, as he’d promised his dad he would. They put up the last stack on August 3, and before sunup the following morning, Steve’s pickup was headed back to the Wyoming mountains. He worked again as a wrangler on the Moose Head for a couple weeks, before spending the rest of the fall outfitting on LD Frome’s elk hunting camps in the Teton Wilderness Area, near the southeast corner of Yellowstone Park.
He would recount an incident from his time on the hunting camp which he figured was one of the most apparent “miracles” he’d ever personally experienced. He was leading a pack-string of eight mules when, nearing a stream, he was suddenly taken by an overwhelming thirst. Though not planning to stop his string, he decided to; and as he was bending over for a drink of water, on the path ahead a tall pine tree spontaneously toppled, crashing across the trail. Had he not stopped, it would have most likely hit him, or at the very least, his mules. He always reckoned an angel must have been standing over that stream.
That winter, Steve returned to the Sandhills of Cherry County to settle into ranching alongside his dad, Bob. Having been assigned a low number in the military lottery and with the likelihood of being drafted, he enlisted in the Nebraska Army National Guard on January 22, 1972. Though trained as a clerk in Fort Ord, Calif., he would become a forward observer in his home unit with the 155 Artillery at Chadron.Monthly drills and summer training provided periodic diversions from ranching over the next six years, until his honorable discharge in January of 1978.
Later that year, Steve proposed to a local ranch girl, Carol McCrory, on the top of Scotts-Bluff, just outside the town of Scottsbluff, Neb., where Carol was in Nurse’s Training at the time. He told her he’d bought a small ranch south of Merriman, was planning on running about 200 head and needed a cook for the place, and was she interested? Despite the ambiguity of his proposal she said ‘yes’, and they were married the following summer just after sunrise on June 23, 1979, on the Jack Cobb Ranch by the Niobrara River. After the ceremony they took off on their honeymoon for Steve’s favorite place on earth after the Sandhills, the Tetons.
The first seven years of their marriage were spent on the old Leach place 18 miles south of Merriman, where every morning Carol helped him hitch up their runaway team of Belgians, ‘The Rushmore Four’ — George, Thomas, Teddy and Abe. Though working occasionally as a qualified nurse, soon Carol’s full-time job of choice was to work alongside her husband, which she did faithfully for the rest of his life. He always maintained she was the hardest working person on the ranch, and they shared the greatest respect for one another, living, working and raising a family together the 42 successful years of their marriage.
Their first son, William Jennings, was born August 17, 1982, while they were still living down south. In the spring of 1986, they sold the Leach place to George ‘Butch’ Shadbolt and purchased the Ronald Snyder Ranch adjacent to Bob’s Green Valley. After a two day trail drive from one ranch to the other, Steve, 8 months pregnant Carol, and 3 year old Will started their new “ranching adventure”. On June 10, 1986, Tiffany Jean was born, and the family was completed a few years later with Brock Jeremy on February 6, 1989.
In 1994, Bob and Elaine Moreland retired, enabling Steve and Carol to lease the Green Valley and run it along with their own Spearhead Ranch. Thus ensued many more decades of ranching, which Steve experienced not as an occupation, but as a way of life with his wife and kids. Preferring from a young age the company of ‘old timers’, and forever surrounded by a library of cowboy memoirs, Steve enjoyed stories of days gone by, and invariably approached aspects of ranching with the same nostalgic tone, while also trying to embrace methods that would withstand the test of time, drought, hail, changing fads, plenty and want.
Always a horse enthusiast and teamster when time allowed, many would have seen Steve and Carol over the years with a team and buggy at the local County Fair, parades, or on trail rides with their kids in tow. In the summer of 1989, Steve, Carol, Will, Tiffany and four-month-old Brock joined the historic ‘Cody to Mullen wagon train’. In November of 1997, Steve and Carol took their kids and a good family friend, John Burton, to the Grand Canyon, where they rode mules to the bottom and back fifty years to the day from when John had made the same trip on his own horses in 1947.
aInspired by a story in one of his old cowboy books, Steve and Carol decided to ride 100 miles in a day, just to see if they could. They started early on the morning of October 3, 1998, in Clinton, Nebraska, and after 14 hours and 5 changes of horses, finished in Valentine, Nebraska, where Old West Days was taking place.
Steve grew up appreciating photography, and from the old prints or thrill of a Kodak film order to that of uploading digital photos, he never tired of trying to capture the unassuming majesty of the Sandhills, or the everyday moments of his family and friends. It was his love of photography, deeply instilled work ethic, and the freedom and usefulness of a Polaris Ranger in the choppy north hills that kept him involved in the daily running of the ranch with his wife and sons after a nasty bout of West Nile Virus in 2013, which debilitated his walking for several years. He worked hard to regain strength to get back in the saddle, and did that time and again — after he had a heart stint put in the summer of 2014, and after winning a match with cancer in 2018.
Although perhaps not outwardly emotive, Steve experienced a deeply rooted and sincere love of his Creator, attributing the beauty of his days, the love of his family, and all the blessings of his life to the One who gave them to him. Steve loved living in the Sandhills of Cherry County with the family he so cherished — his wife, and their children and grandchildren — working to raise good cattle, be a good neighbor and a friend to all. His faith in God was as vast as the prairie skies he so loved, knowing him as his Savior and friend. He implored his family to not stop “living” on his account, knowing that any illness could take his life if contracted. He was truly at peace and didn’t have any fear of death due to his faith in Jesus.
Stephen Jennings Moreland passed from this life on September 21, 2021, just shy of his 70th birthday, at Faith Regional Hospital, Norfolk, Neb., with his beloved wife and partner, Carol, by his side. He was preceded in death by his parents Robert and Elaine Moreland; and sister Sandra Moreland Channer. He is survived by his wife Carol; sons Will (Desiree) Moreland and Fiora, Finnegan, and George, Brock (Chelsie) Moreland and Holden, Rowan, and Hugh; daughter Tiffany (Thomas) Stokely and Olivia, Amelia, and Eleanor; sisters Sybil Moreland, and Nancy (Shawn) Vineyard; numerous nieces, nephews, family and friends-both facebook and personal!
Funeral service was held on Tuesday, September 28, 2021, at 2:00 p.m. at the United Methodist Church in Valentine. Burial followed at Mount Hope Cemetery in Valentine. Sandoz Chapel of the Pines was in charge of service arrangements.