On a blistering hot day, compounded by a howling wind that wouldn't quit, cowboy preacher Dan Boyd and his wife, Grace, rode slowly on horseback along the shoulder of U.S. Highway 310.
On the road between Rockvale and Laurel, the Kansas couple stopped long enough to share details of their journey before remounting and heading north to Billings. In nearly two years on the road, they’ve ridden through 26 states.
The goal, Dan Boyd said Thursday afternoon, is to lend aid to anyone one who needs it and to preach when invited.
“Jesus and I are going to try to help people who can’t help themselves,” Boyd said, sitting in a patch of shade while his horse, Bubba, nibbled the nearby grass.
Occasionally the horse whinnied, as if impatient to get back on the road. Grace Boyd, who was riding Little Red, stayed in the saddle while Dan shared their story.
Gary Boyd, Dan’s son, drives a pickup with a trailer and a third horse, Molly. He left to scout the upcoming road conditions.
Boyd, 68, calls himself “the last circuit riding preacher.” An embroidered sash proclaiming the title hangs down Bubba’s flanks.
Boyd was dressed simply, in a plaid shirt and jeans, cowboy boots and hat and a long white beard. The only sign of technology was the in-ear phone receiver he wore to keep in touch with his son.
Before the start of their journey, the Boyds lived in Benton, Kan., where Dan owned a detective agency. But his love of the cowboy life goes back years.
“My dad was in the Army, but ever since I was a little kid I wanted to be a cowboy,” he said, over the unrelenting noise of the wind.
Starting in 1966, Boyd worked on numerous ranches, in Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico, moving cattle. Even once he started his own business, he’d slip out when he got a call from a friend who needed an extra cowboy for a roundup.
His love of the cowboy way also seeped into his faith. Boyd founded a cowboy church in Kansas in 2003, and he started a second one in Augusta, Kan., in 2011.
In September 2012, he and Grace and Gary set out to share their faith and their help with anyone who needed it. The trip got off to a rocky start.
A month after they left home, Bubba inadvertently touched a hot wire and reared, causing Boyd to fall off.
“You can’t say I got thrown — cowboys don’t get thrown,” Boyd said, with a wry smile. “Say I had an ugly dismount.”
He got back on the horse and rode for a couple more hours. The next morning, he was taken to a hospital where he was diagnosed with two broken ribs and a punctured lung.
That required a month layover in Kerens, Texas, before the trio continued on their way. Since then, they’ve been busy.
They helped build a parsonage in Vermont, a horse barn in South Carolina and a chuck wagon for a cowboy church in Louisiana.
“We helped a widow lady in Gun Barrel City, Texas, who didn’t have a bathroom door,” Boyd said. “We told a Christian radio station to see if anybody needed help, and she did.”
Through a cowboy church in Sierra Vista, Ariz., the Boyds discovered a man who lived in an adobe house and needed his roof fixed. So they stopped and helped him out.
Dan Boyd also has gladly accepted invitations to preach, and he hasn't been particular about the denomination. He has spoken to Nazarenes, Baptists and Pentecostals, not to mention the many cowboy church congregations.
The trio travels through the southern states in the winter and the northern states in the summer. They’ll probably remain in Billings until Tuesday and then continue on their way.
Boyd hasn’t come by his faith the easy way. His first wife and two sons, Gary, then 4, and his 5-year-old brother, were riding in a car when a drunk driver plowed into them.
His wife and older son were killed and Gary was gravely injured. Gary has had 84 surgeries and soon will undergo his 85th.
“It took me a long time to get over what happened,” Dan Boyd said. “I finally came to the realization that that God gives everyone free will.”
And that includes the man whose decision to drink and drive killed two-thirds of his family. Boyd's faith intact, he rides his horse from one state to the next, sharing God’s message and his love.
Boyd figures it will take another two years to get to all 48 contiguous states. Then he and Grace hope to found a Christian community, called Jesus Christ Junction, possibly in New Mexico along the I-25 corridor just south of Colorado.
The plan calls for an RV park, for people traveling with horses; a bunk house for retired cowboys; a competition arena; and a cowboy church. It will take fundraising to get there, but Boyd has some work to do before then.
With that, he gets back to his feet and prepares to get back on Bubba.
“This isn’t about glorifying cowboys or circuit-riding preachers,” Boyd said. “This is about glorifying Jesus and doing it the cowboy way.”