Little Big Club
The Bighorn Polo Club has reason to boast.
By Sam Morton

Bighorn Polo Club is one of the largest in the United States
It is about as far out of the way as a polo club can be, yet it is one of the 10 largest in the United States, boasting more than 45 full-time members. There are no leagues played for here; the biggest tournament of the year was a 3-goal handicap, yet two of the last three winners of the U.S. Open have their headquarters and breeding operations there. Once accepted as a member, it may be one of the cheapest clubs to play in America; dues are $1,000 a season, during which more than 30 trophy games are played for. Possibly the largest summer youth and beginner programs in the United States are here, yet not one dime of PTF money is spent. There are no professional umpires, yet they have had a carousel of professional managers.

Every American 10-goal player, from Foxhall Keene to Adam Snow, has made a pilgrimage here. Tommy Hitchcock played one of his first tournament games here. The town’s population is 217, yet in one of the two bars in town, there are pictures of more than 90 visiting polo players from all over the world, even though few locals attend the games. I played chukkers last summer and my teammates were South African, English and an Indian; not a Cheyenne or a Crow but an Indian from India. After three chukkers the Indian left and was replaced by an Argentine.
There are sometimes 240 horses tied up around a single field waiting to play, and it may be the only field in the United States where members are allowed to take sets on the grass. Now it starts to get a little crazy: Couples married there have a tradition of returning to midfield in front of the club house and consecrating the memory of their matrimonial bliss. The unique thing about that is, so many couples have been married there over the years, and the summer season is so short, at least one couple claimed to have pulled up in the dark and waited for another to leave before starting their lawn mowers.
“We even waved hello as we passed in the dark,” one of the couples said.
So you’re thinking, “With 217 people, how many people get married?”
You’d be surprised; long winters.
Some say there was once a type of organized gambling out of the grandstand, and players have been known to get so drunk after weeknight games that they could neither find their rig nor their horses in the dark. Apparently, they resorted to stumbling around until something snorted at them and at least a half dozen tailgates left down have been ruined in this way. A former president of the club once played barefoot and led his horse on to the field by tying it with a 30-foot rope to the bumper of an American Motors Co. Gremlin. Did I mention the most prestigious polo breeding operation in the world was located right here?
History; you want history? The first man to umpire a polo game in the area was a personal friend of Crazy Horse; a man whose own people didn’t know him!
The Big Horn Polo Club, near Sheridan, Wyoming, goes back to the early days of the West, where everything seems to be measured by how many years before Col. Custer got killed. Well, it seems they played some sort of polo in Sydney, Nebraska, pretty much the same time Custer was killed, which goes to prove that G. Gordon Bennett, who happened to be a personal friend of Custer’s, may have had a hand in the whole affair.
In other words, when the military hammer came down from President Grant after some pretty angry mothers wanted to know who was responsible for their son’s bad haircut, most of the military in the district could claim they were off playing polo in Nebraska.
Stay with me, this is a feature article. Actually Big Horn is quite a ways from the Battle of the Little Big Horn, yet as few as 10 years ago there was a polo game that pitted cowboys against Indians.
On July 4, 1893, in the town of Sheridan, Wyoming, there was a game of polo played in front of several thousand spectators, warmed up by a military band before the match started. Of course there were also steeplechase, flat race, trotting race and even a fat man’s race run, but polo started the festivities. The teams featured five mainly British players to a side, pitting Beckton vs. Sheridan.
The regulation game is an hour and 10 minutes long with five minutes breathing spell every 20 minutes. Frank Grouard and H.C. Alger were umpires.

Malcolm Moncrieffe and his Wyoming pony Ways
There has never been an event like cowboy polo.
Frank Grouard was a Polynesian captured by the Sioux in 1870, living with them until he joined the U.S. army as a scout for Gen. George Crook. Crook was surprised by the Sioux eight days before Custer was killed and retreated to the Big Horn area, where the men enjoyed the fishing, hunting and even a game of baseball in the most pristine setting in the United States. Grouard went into the horse business after the Indian wars and gravitated back to Big Horn, where a Scotsman named Malcolm Moncrieffe started a polo operation on the flats not far from where Crook had waited for the Indians to cool. With 40 playing ponies in work from 1898 to 1912, Moncrieffe shipped horses to England, where they were played and marketed by Lord T.B. Drybraugh, who featured pictures of Moncrieffe and his horses in his book published in 1906.
Moncrieffe had acquired quite a string of horses as he had looked over more than 50,000, handpicking 20,000 for the British cavalry and artillery for use in the Boer War. During the 1900s, Moncrieffe and his friend Bob Walsh, a former piano player in a whorehouse in Miles City now turned president of Moncrieffe’s First National Bank in Sheridan, traveled to Denver and Colorado Springs to play area military teams on the lawn of the Broadmoor Hotel. It was neither Moncrieffe nor Walsh that had shined for the Big Horn teams but a genuine cowboy bronc rider, steer roper, relay rider and cattleman named Johnny Cover. Cover was in charge of Moncrieffe’s polo operation as a teenager and evolved into one of the better players in the district if not the country.
Cover quit Moncrieffe over Moncrieffe’s using Cover’s team and wagon without asking and was immediately hired by Goelet Gallatin, who, with Col. Milt McCoy, had built one of the finest and most elaborate polo facilities in the world. Gallatin, a New York attorney, had played at Squadron A at the turn of the century and belonged to the rough riders who rode there. He had married Edith Post, the energetic horsewoman and big-game hunting daughter of Charles Post. A cousin, Fred Post was evolving as one of the largest horse dealers of the time. With a private polo field and a hundred-stall barn built on the former site of Boer warhorse inspections, the Gallatins acquired government remount stallions of the day plus stallions such as Kemano, who was a gift of Quincy Shaw of New York. Kemano won top polo stud classes in both England and America. The Gallatins’ friends, the Von Stades, Hitchcocks, Igleharts, Millburns and dozens of others, brought mares from Argentina, England and all over the United States. The Circle V polo company expanded its polo operations to include more than 150 top brood mares and a barn in Aiken, South Carolina, where the horses were played in the winter.
Kids came from far and wide to participate in a polo clinic at Bighorn
It was on a visit to the Gallatins’ where a young Tommy Hitchcock and Devereux Millburn followed Johnny Cover around to get the secret of his booming backshot. After making the final of a Kansas City tournament, Cover was asked to join a team of Americans traveling to England, which he declined, stating he had “cows to look after.” Years later Foxhall Keene would call him the second-best Back in the United States, behind his former protégé Millburn. The Gallatins had some of the best trainers in the United States and also some accomplished players, including Cover, Ray May, Milt McCoy and several others who could band together to play 16-goal games.
Cameron Forbes and his brother Waldo, who were members of the Dedham Polo Club outside Boston, also played polo in the area. Their family had started its own breeding facility along the Big Horn Mountains and had built one of the best fields in the United States. They imported stallions and a crew of polo players and shipped their horses to Boston, where they were played by the Forbes brothers and sold there. The Forbeses would invite up to six entire teams to come and play at their field for two months of the summer, enjoying the fishing and mountain riding as much as the horses. Cameron Forbes would go on to be one of the leading officials in the United States Polo Association in the 1920s.
Bighorn has one of the biggest and most successful polo schools for youngsters.
By the 1920s the area had thoroughbred breeders who had been in business for more than 30 years, producing some of the longestwinded, hearty horses on Earth. The Forbeses’ neighbor, Vess Hardee, raised a horse that ran in the Kentucky Derby, and numerous horses raised in the area had gone off to horse shows, racetracks and polo fields around the world.
Moncrieffe’s neighbor and partner in the Boer War horse-buying spree, O.H. Wallop, had a son who was a member of Yale’s championship collegiate polo team of 1927 with Winston Guest and Michael Phipps. Wallop played in Big Horn in the summer and Santa Barbara in the winter. In Big Horn, local players often trailed or led horses up to 12 miles to the games. For a while the little town of Big Horn was polo central with the Moncrieffes, Wallops, Gallatins and, not far off, the Forbeses. There was even a fop named Bradford Brinton who, though a competent art collector, was somewhat of an “all smoke and no fire” type who liked to show up in his britches and boots and tell big windies. And don’t you know it was his house that got preserved. He must have thrown the best parties.
For a while, Neponsit Stud Farm, which was part of the original Forbes Ranch, kept polo going after the war with games being alternated between Moncrieffe’s and the Forbeses’ fields. After World War II Neponsit Stud Farm featured games until polo faded out in the late 1950s.
In 1963 Bob Tate, a local horse trader and polo player who had gone partners with Jimmy McHugh, Frank Butterworth and Charlie Leonard on Wymont Ranch, organized local ranchers to start up polo on the old Moncrieffe field. Wymont Ranch, with Tate at the helm, received a flood of buyers from Paul Butler to Pete Bostwick, Cecil Smith, George Oliver and Memo Gracida. Tate’s connections put the area on the map to almost everyone in polo.
The 1970s found the Big Horn Polo Club a hard-drinking group of bump-and-run area ranchers, some of whom had traveled enough to be dangerous. The bright spot in any summer was the arrival of Bud Tyler, who schooled the locals on how to ride broncs and score goals. The best lesson anyone could have learned from Bud was to have fun when you play.
Wyoming has rustic vistas, beautiful mountain views and wide open spaces.
McHugh brought in Virgil Christiansen as a manager and coach for two summers, but there was no one with the energy of the Moncrieffes, the Forbeses or Gallatin to elevate the club. Paul Nicholson, an area rancher, brought in Kay Morgan, a professional from Kansas in the 1980s, and Tate brought Skee Johnston to the area. The two formed a friendship, which eventually led to Johnston buying the Flying H ranch on the former site of the Gallatin Ranch and Circle V Polo Co.
At roughly the same time the polo club moved to a new facility featuring one large level field approximately 900 by 400 yards. Johnston brought Oakleigh Thorne out for the summer, and a string of players followed. The Flying H soon developed its own field, which was near the old Circle V field. Johnston brought out Tao Astrada, Jeff Atkinson and Boone Stribling to lift the level of play in the club. Johnston soon established one of the largest polo breeding operations in the country at the foot of the Bighorn Mountains. The Flying H ranch can be counted on to send up to eight players to the field at any one time.
Johnston joined a host of smaller area breeders, and horses raised in the area began to find their way onto polo fields from Palermo to Saratoga. At any one time a polo player might look at over a hundred green and made prospects if he is with the right guide.
In the early 1990s the World Cup 30-goal tournament featured horses from five different ranches spread across five different teams raised by members of the club. By 1995 players came from the four corners for the unique experience to play at the Big Horn Polo Club. All games are set up in a match format, which changes every week, and pros are even switched around among players who bring them. A third private field was put in by Brian MacCarty, and games are often held on off-days to supplement the three-games-per-week schedule. Brian’s grandfather Alan used to play in the 1940s and pony his horses down the Bighorn Mountains and after the game turn them loose and drive them back up. Tommy Wayman, as well as Tommy Boyle, have bought ranches in the area. Boyle bought the ranch of Paul Nicholson, whose daughter Julie is Boyle’s wife. Dr. Paul Wollenman has also moved to the area, which gives members years of his experience at Palm Beach Equine Clinic. Perk Connell runs a local instructional riding school complete with beginner horses and an indoor ring. Barbecues are thrown every Friday night, and sometimes the games must be played in the mornings to make room for the steer ropers in the afternoon.
In the early 1990s a series of steeplechases were run around the fields, but never has there been an event like cowboy polo, which was played at halftime of the yearend game between rival dude ranch crews. The game is played three men to a side, with brooms and a volleyball. There are no rules except to chug a beer before you start or an O’Doul’s for alcoholics. The game is played directly at and away from the grandstands with about a 5-yard runoff. No line, no umpires.
One year, a dude ranch boycotted the games and the leftover Crow Indians from the Indian relay races took on the cowboys and Hoka Hey! Intertribal!
The Indians did not have saddles as they ride bareback and requested that the cowboys jerk their wood (i.e., take their saddles off). Within three minutes all the cowboys had fallen off their horses.
Vicki Jorgensen and Julie Boyle mis it up on the fields used by many champpion teams, including two U.S. Open winners.
The polo school, which bars both parents and polo players, has new riders and players playing 15 minutes after they show up. So far, between 12 and 40 show up every week in June and July. In August they get to play real chukkers in the club if they graduate. This school is totally free to the public and worth every penny, as benevolent sponsors like the Denison family, Lee Taylor, Kelly Howie, the Last Chance Bar and P&O Ports of Miami like the idea of what we are doing and pick up the check for everything from helmets to pizza. Also the Uskups of Chicago have donated helmets, boots and mallets. This school sponsors a free rodeo, featuring relay race, polo, roping barrels, poles and jumping. All instructors, with bighearted volunteers such as Tommy and Rosey Wayman, Laura MacCarty, Vicki Kane, Brendan Whittle and Amanda Blish, Shane Winkler and Roger St. Claire, pitch in to help a slew of others in the rain and heat.
You can still get a scotch and soda out of the drive-through window at the Last Chance Bar in Big Horn, but very few people get one before the game anymore. I could tell you the weather is perfect unless you are foolish enough to play in the heat of the day, which some do as it’s way better to risk frying a groom than miss Sheridan’s night life. All I can say is I’ve never seen anything like it.
The thing that stands in the forefront of the club is a certain attitude that prevails. It takes a certain kind of person to show up where the only flights in and out have one seat on each side of the plane, where restaurants don’t serve skim milk for dieters’ coffee. The logic is, “If you’re on a diet, drink it black, otherwise we got cream.” It’s quiet, but some people like it quiet. To top it off it is the best horse country on Earth.
Well, the buffalo don't roam here much anymore, but the deer and the antelope still play.
At the helm of the Bighorn Polo Club are Charlie and Vicki Jorgenson, who are about as affable hosts as you can ask for. Both have played in the club since it was at the old Moncrieffe field and have watched it evolve to what it is today. Shane Winkler, the manager, is one of the best. Both the Jorgensons and Winkler have watched out for the welfare of everyone, whether they have been there five years or five minutes. With the history of the place it might not be that surprising that two of the last three teams to win the U.S. Open hail from a club whose town has a population of 217. If you look hard enough you’ll find trophies spread around the area from 1917 or 1904. The first U.S. Open trophy sits on a shelf of one of the earliest ranches of the area. Another U.S. Open, in 1956, was won on horses from this ranch. The sponsor, a bighearted man, was too ill to leave Wyoming to compete.
In 110 years the names associated with the Big Horn Polo encompass an entire sports history. Moncrieffe, Forbes, Wallop, McHugh, Johnston and Boyle. In a field near Beckton stock farm are some indentations of old rifle pits used by a handful of hay cutters who defended themselves from an attack of more than 300 Sioux Indians. The Boyles C Spear ranch is 30 miles away from the Little Big Horn battle, and Oliver Henry Wallop, a former Oxford polo player, witnessed the scalping of a Crow Indian by two Sioux from the door of his cabin. Johnston’s Flying H ranch was the scene of a mounted running battle between the Crow and the Cheyenne. Go back 200 years and you really have a story.