Ted Turner and the pictures we never took

Ted Turner and the pictures we never took

The pictures we never took. (Please submit a bison industry photo)

We’ve had good fortune associating ourselves with the bison industry. It is an industry that is comprised of ranchers and processors. (hat’s off to friend Rodney Sather and the NBA)

Occasionally I have been asked to do some public speaking. I was speaking to an audience of perhaps forty to fifty ranchers on the subject of “Event Development” and how ranchers can create more public awareness of their industry.
While I was awaiting my advance to the podium I realized that I was the only one in the room that didn’t have 25 or 50 thousand acres of land. Many of the ranchers that I was addressing owned vast acreages of short grass prairie, combined they owned a significant portion of the western United States. Their land was perfect for this animal.

One of the people that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting over the past few decades was Ted Turner. Our encounters have been mostly happenstance and yet he seemed to enjoy the short time we engaged. We would connect maybe once each year over the past decade, or two, just enough to renew a connection that we both recognized. A connection that was founded in the Bison Industry.

I have most often had an exhibit at National Bison events at which he attended. I would see him strolling in the early morning toward our exhibit and we would engage in polite and genuine conversation. He would always introduced his companions to me including his “associate” which we came to realize meant “body guard”. In later years I came to realize that he had sold his television stations and was a billionaire eight fold.

In your minds eye you would picture Ted Turner and the time he was with Jane Fonda. The short time I encountered Ted was decades later. We have all aged.

You might remember Ted when he was a sailor and Captain
of the Courageous, winner of the 1977 World Cup! and I was the V.P. of U.S. Windsurfing, smallest and fastest human powered sailing vessel in the world. At that time windsurfers went faster than the fastest sailboats in the world. It was a conversation that I never had with Mr. Turner, we were to engaged with the bison industry, everything was centered around buffalo.

Ted has meant many things to many people and I encountered Ted when he was entering the bison industry. When he made the decision to buy land and raise buffalo, he did it in a “Turner” way. I suspect my many rancher friends were a bit skeptical and hesitant to embrace this man. He wasn’t perhaps as conservative as many ranchers are known to be and yet they all saw his dedication to the land and the animal. Time progressed and Ted bought more and more land and more and more animals. It was a time when the bison industry had big swings in the market. Ted continued to buy and show faith in an industry that surely appreciated stability.

Eventually he started opening restaurants called “Teds Montana Grill”, it has certainly brought more exposure to the bison industry. Ranchers that were slow to warm up to Ted came to realize that he has a place in the industry and they too are benefitting from his efforts and marketing brilliance.

I encounter ranchers all over the western United States and we occasionally discuss Ted Turner and his work. Sometimes cattle ranchers disparage him , even though few of them know that he has given a BILLION DOLLARS to the United Nations. I tell them the amazing things that Ted has done. The cattle ranchers complain about Jane or some ludicrous concern they might have. When I tell them that he will be giving his land conservation efforts they “off put” by thinking it will raise their taxes? They won’t allow themselves a positive image of this man.

Ted Turner has done things. Ted has help move an entire industry forward. I’ve gotten to know a number of his ranch managers throughout the U.S. I’ve come to realize that Ted is successful because he hires the best of the best. His managers are ranchers first and secondly effective in public relations.

He has chosen an industry that isn’t for the faint of heart. It is an industry that resembles the historic ranching days of America, not of feeder lot cattle but ranging bison throughout the western plains and beyond. The rancher will brand, inoculate, wet check, cull , weigh, each an every animal is their supreme effort.

When distributed properly the bison is an animal that restores health to the beleaguered prairie and is a meat that restores health to an overly fat based American diet.

We were exhibiting at a bison show in Denver and it was next to a Planned Parenthood Clinic. (Ted supports women’s reproductive health) Our RV camper was parked on the other side of the Planned Parenthood building. During the day we were accosted by angry militant protesters wanting to shame us and deny us access to the clinic. (We were just headed to our camper).

Later that night Ted is on his evening stroll with his associate and as he passes our RV, he taps on it to let us know all is well. It is nearing darkness and Ted is on a stroll, he walks into the distance.

Bill Keitel

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