A life of action in a white coat and, alternatively, in a Western saddle, has been the lot of Portola Valley resident Walter J. Cole, a Stanford dermatologist, cow roper, occasional veterinary consultant, community benefactor and chuck wagon mess cook, from all of which he has retired.
In view of his many accomplishments in the community and his 57 years of participation in the Mounted Patrol of San Mateo County, the Woodside-based association has named Dr. Cole, now 94 and no longer riding, the Outstanding Horseperson-Citizen of 2009.
"He (is one of) the last surviving members of a small group that organized and moved the patrol forward for our continuing enjoyment," patrol member Bill Wraith wrote in announcing Dr. Cole's award. "His fellow professionals, (Mounted) Patrol and other horse friends join us in honoring him with this special award."
Dr. Cole grew up with horses in Manitoba, Canada, where his father, a surveyor for the railroad, kept a herd of 40, Mr. Wraith said. He studied medicine in college, served as a surgeon in the Royal Canadian Navy, and completed post-graduate studies at Johns Hopkins and Stanford universities and the University of California at San Francisco, and was a medical school professor at the latter two. His local dermatology practice started in 1955 and he retired in 1991, Mr. Wraith said.
In the local hills, he helped cut trails from the Mounted Patrol grounds on Kings Mountain Road to Towne Ranch in La Honda, Mr. Wraith said. Dr. Cole was a regular on cattle drives and round-ups and co-authored "Chuck's On," a cowboy cookbook published by the California Beef Council, with whom he sponsored Mounted Patrol's first barbecue pit.
Dr. Cole had run the barbecue at county fairs for years, organized Mounted Patrol blood donations, participated in search-and-rescue missions, and arranged nursing scholarships at UCSF, Mr. Wraith said.
Artist with rope
Much of Dr. Cole's work with cattle took place in the hills above Portola Valley at ranches with names such as Marthin, Mariani, Piers and Conley, he said in an interview.
On roping days, Dr. Cole would be part of a team of cowboys who gathered in a corral to brand, dehorn (if necessary), vaccinate and castrate (the males), one animal at a time.
Since the cattle tended to be uncooperative to these ministrations, the mounted cowboys would capture them by "heading and heeling": immobilizing the cow with rope lassos looped around the head and rear heels and pulled in opposing directions.
Dr. Cole was a header. "Cowboys, by and large, were either good headers or good heelers," he said. A reporter commented that roping days must have been awful for the cattle. "They don't know where they hurt the most," Dr. Cole replied.
Asked for the key to great cowboy beans, he gave up little by way of secrets: "Everybody's got their own ideas," he said. He soaks his beans -- either Pinto or maroon-and-white Anasazi -- overnight and cooks them with salt pork and onions, he said.
At one end of the spectrum for open-fire cooking is food that tastes great, in part because you're outside, and there's a very clean pot when the meal's over. At the other end, at least there's plenty to eat. Where did his beans place on that scale? "If you don't like it, don't eat it," Dr. Cole replied without hesitation.