By Mike Tontimonia
A real cowboy is more comfortable glued to a saddle than a recliner. He pays little attention to the time — more to the task at hand.
Lunch might be a smashed sandwich pulled from a jacket pocket and a drink might be what’s left from yesterday. That is if there is a lunch at all.
His goal is always to get here or go there. Load a mule or three, deliver this or that, patch a tent, clear a trail, pack a group of hunters into the wilderness and bring another out.
And when the day is done and the light fades to darkness nothing changes — just the amount of light or the dark of night. He rides trails so narrow and steep that some riders fear passage. But not to this cowboy who rides on till the day is really over.
It was the late 1960s when a boy named Jon Sund became a cowboy, a true, wind-whipped and sun-baked free soul, traveling when and where the mood took him and if anything, a kid more comfortable straddling a weathered saddle than being straddled by a school desk.
Sund was a child then, but he could dream and he dreamed about horses, big sky, dirty boots, and long drinks from a cold stream.
He was raised in Nebraska dodging tumble weed with his siblings, riding ponies and horses and growing those crazy dreams and humming cowboy songs.
And at the same time a few states away, a thousand miles at least, deep in the shaggy peaks of the southern Rockies, laid a chunk of land that had found its way from milk cows to hardly used, a couple hundred acres that had somehow survived the federal government’s declaration that this wild piece of the west would become a national treasure, a designated wilderness in the very gut of one of the country’s finest national forests.
But what was a distant mid-1800s homestead — then a dairy — then other things, as buildings fell to ruin and pastures turned to prairie grass, remained at rest, a tiny finger of private land no more than a tiny speck in the vast wilderness around it.
The property has had several owners since its homestead days, perhaps most widely known as the Waterman place, but owners are temporary and the property is more than just real estate.
No, it is a place borrowed for an instance in time, a piece of its natural surroundings, a place that humans simply use and a door to the wilderness where memories are made, not owned.
Jon Sund grew to manhood, still dreaming, still wrangling horses, still wondering what the future might hold for him. He stabled horses, he tamed wild ones and he eventually ended up operating a high-end riding stable at a fancy Wisconsin resort.
That’s where he was in the spring of 2003 when he kicked back with a tired, year-old horse magazine in his lap and as he leafed through the tattered book for the umpteenth time an unnoticed ad called his name. An outfitter in southwest Colorado was ready to sell out.
There it is was again, that dream, that perfect dream. Sund was soon the owner of the business, a hunting outfitter with zero experience and little else.
All he knew was that it had to do with horses and lots of space and that’s like winning the lottery to a cowboy. Lots of space in this case was a permit that came with the business, a permit to use tens of thousands of acres of remote wilderness.
Little did Sund know but the base of his new operation bordered the Waterman ranch. But good luck has a way of finding its way into dreams and before the ink was dry on Sund’s new business deal, he signed a second, this time a lease for all of that hidden property smack in the middle of nowhere.
But to be sure, nowhere to some was to be somewhere for this cowboy whose dream had suddenly became a reality.
At least he hoped that because he had bought and leased his way into a future way of life without seeing any of it. Gutsy move for sure but dreams can be worth more than caution and they would prove to be just that for Sund.
That was in the spring of 2003 and Jon Sund, now the outfitter, was on his way to his first sport show to entice hunters to come visit him at what is now known as Eagle Mountain Outfitters.
Sund’s office is located in a wall tent situated a horseback ride from some of the best and most remote elk hunting in in the West.
Even a phone call was miles away, groceries a day away. Sund was as green as new sod when he hung his freshly painted shingle but he did outfit a couple dozen hunters that first year, a number that has become many times more.
In fact, as Sund’s reputation for good horses, strong mules, dry tents and no surprises has grown and so has his customer base.
Sund says that now his business is about 80 percent repeat, the best endorsement any outfitter could have. According to Sund, life has been good to him, a life centered on horses, riding, and being where that cowboy lifestyle took him, smiling and humming a happy song along the way.
When asked about his career on horseback, Sund, who describes himself as a very lucky guy, asked, “How many of us get to live our dream?”