Local ranching legend Leonard “Bud” Purdy died at home on April 14, leaving a historic family legacy that reaches back to the 1880s and the settling of the West. His legacy also includes the glamorous early days of the Sun Valley Resort. He was 96.
Purdy was born in Beatrice, Neb., in 1918. When he was 10, he rode for three days in a car over dirt roads from his grandfather’s Redlands, Calif., home to Picabo, south of Bellevue.
Purdy spent most of the rest of his life in Picabo, raising sheep and cattle, farming hay and other crops, and eventually putting into conservation easement a ranch that borders Silver Creek Preserve.
“I rode a million miles and I handled cattle. This kind of life gets to you
—that’s the trouble.”
“When you have been on a place for 55 years, you get a sentimental attachment to it,” Purdy told the Idaho Mountain Express in 1995. “We’d like to see it stay a ranch.”
Purdy won numerous awards for his service to Idaho, served on nonprofit boards, and was awarded an honorary degree from the University of Idaho.
Last year when Purdy was named grand marshal of the Ketchum Wagon Days parade, he was still flying his own airplane at age 95.
Purdy’s ranch was founded by his grandfather, W.H. Kilpatrick, and his two brothers, who came through southern Idaho to build a railroad in 1883. In 1983, the Purdys celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Kilpatrick Livestock Co.-Picabo Livestock Co. with a barbecue for 750 guests, serving 10 barons of beef.
Purdy told the assembled crowd that the ranch and town of Picabo began when the Kilpatrick Brothers Construction Co. of Beatrice, Neb., garnered the contract to build rail line from Shoshone to Bellevue.
Purdy’s grandfather W.H. Kilpatrick led the construction crew from Blackfoot to a camp just south of Picabo.
“He had a thousand men and 300 mules,” Purdy said.
Three Kilpatrick brothers filed for the 640 acres allowed by the federal government for each husband and wife, as well as water rights to farm. That plot eventually evolved into the 12,000-acre Picabo Livestock ranch, 30 miles from Sun Valley.
By 1938, Purdy earned a business degree from Washington State University, but could not find work, so he decided to work at the family ranch.
“I came to work because there wasn’t jobs,” Purdy told the Mountain Express last year. “In ’38, it was a depression yet, and it was really hard to get a job. I had a college degree but it wasn’t worth much. I came out here to work as a ranch hand.
“I knew what I was going to get into. We all had horses and outside privies. There was one phone in Picabo and one toilet, I think, in the main house. It was primitive.”
After five years, the ranch foreman quit during World War II, leaving Purdy in charge.
“I was pretty young then, but there were 8,000 sheep, and we were raising lambs and cattle,” he said. “Food was really important during the war—you know, sheep were important. The wool was big stuff then. Meat was rationed, gas was rationed, everything was rationed. People don’t remember all that.”
Purdy married Maxine Dahl, who became the mother of his three children, Nick, Mark and Kris. They divorced in 1950.
In 1952, he married Ruth Eccles, who grew up in the city and had come to work at Sun Valley Resort in 1949. The Kilpatrick Co. was dissolved in 1955, about the time Ruth and Bud bought the ranch in its entirety.
Slowly the place became known, and over the years, the couple hosted many celebrities, including actors Gary Cooper, John Huston, Gregory Peck and writer Ernest Hemingway, who first came to the Wood River Valley in 1939. Purdy sometimes took Hemingway bird hunting around Silver Creek.
“He was pretty well broke,” Purdy said. “But he was pretty well known in literary circles.”
In 1995, the Purdys donated a conservation easement to The Nature Conservancy to protect the ranch from development, especially within streams that connect to Silver Creek Preserve, a world-class trout fishing destination.
Last year, Purdy told the Idaho Mountain Express that all the hard work of ranching had been worth it, despite having been injured numerous times and having to dodge bullets from a crazed ranch hand.
“I rode a million miles and I handled cattle,” he said. “This kind of life gets to you—that’s the trouble. You work outside all your life like I’m doing and you can’t envision yourself in town working.
“You get up and get in the dust and fight the battle all day long.”