Letters From the West

Idaho ranching and conservation giant Purdy dies at 96

Leonard "Bud" Purdy

Leonard “Bud” Purdy

Leonard “Bud” Purdy, one of Idaho’s most beloved and respected ranchers and conservationists died Monday at his home on Silver Creek in Picabo.

Purdy, 96, led the ranching industry into rest and rotation grazing on public lands that both protected the range and improved cattle production. He duck-hunted and skied with Ernest Hemingway and hosted Jimmy Stewart and Gary Cooper at his Picabo Ranch.

He helped start the Idaho Cattle Association, led the University of Idaho Foundation as president and was chairman of the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry. In addition to the ranch, he and his late wife Ruth owned the Picabo Store, the Picabo Elevator and Silver Creek Supply, a seed business.

“Bud Purdy was the very embodiment of the Code of the West – someone whose life was a lesson in cowboy ethics, common sense, stewardship and the value of hard work and perseverance,” said Idaho Gov. Butch Otter. “I don’t know whether Bud was a religious man, but there was nobody with as much faith in his fellow man.”

Purdy donated a 3,500-acre conservation easement on all of the ranch along Silver Creek in the 1990s to the Nature Conservancy, adjacent to its own Silver Creek Preserve. Purdy didn’t even take the tax break on the easement valued at $7 million.

He was inducted into the Idaho Hall of Fame in 2013 and was grand marshal of the 2013 Ketchum Wagon Days Parade.

He loved the cattle business, he explained to writer, producer and author Steve Stuebner in an article in 2012 for the Idaho Rangeland Commission (which he co-founded). “Every morning, you get up and do something different,” he said. “You turn out on the range and ride a horse every day. Even now, I go out and make sure the water is OK, check the fences and make sure the gates are closed.

“It’s just a constant going out there and doing it,” Purdy said. “I was never a cowboy, but I’ve ridden a million miles.”

Purdy was born in Beatrice Nebraska Jan. 2, 1918 He spend the summers on the ranch of his grandfather, W.H. Kilpatrick, who established the ranch along Silver Creek. He graduated from Washington State University and returned to the take over management of the ranch in 1938.

He is survived by his sister Margaret Struthers of Twin Falls, his three sons, Nick, Mark and Gordon and his daughter Kris Wenslawski. His wife Ruth died in 2006.

His burial will be private but a celebration of his life is set at the Limelight Room in the Challenger Inn at Sun Valley, May 4 at 3 p.m. In lieu of flowers friends are asked to contribute to the St. Lukes, University of Idaho or the College of Southern Idaho foundations.

“His passing is a loss for all of us, but it’s an even bigger loss for the next generation who won’t have the benefit of his wisdom and good will,” Otter said.

Rocky Barker is the energy and environment reporter for the Idaho Statesman and has been writing about the West since 1985. He is the author of Scorched Earth How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America and co-producer of the movie Firestorm: Last Stand at Yellowstone, which was inspired by the book and broadcast on A&E Network. He also co-authored the Flyfisher's Guide to Idaho and the Wingshooter's Guide to Idaho with Ken Retallic. He also was on the Statesman’s team that covered the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news in 2007. The National Wildlife Federation awarded him its Conservation Achievement Award.

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