Women in Wyoming; Phyllis Preator calls the McCullough Peaks home
Women In Wyoming portrait, by Lindsay Linton
— April 1, 2014
Characterized by their warm hues and wild mustang herds, the distinct desert badlands of the McCullough Peaks between Powell and Cody are unofficially guarded by resident Phyllis Preator. Sitting in her artfully decorated kitchen, we’re surrounded by stained-glass cabinets, handmade by her husband, western and Native American themed sculptures crafted by Phyllis, and her painted vignettes of wild horses. The atmosphere is intimate and inviting, yet out the window and across the fields, the ever present backdrop of the Peaks are what Phyllis calls home.
Phyllis first explored McCullough’s red rocks as a young girl with her cowboy father, a dedicated horseman whom she admired. These adventures fostered a strong sense of self, a genuine affinity for horses and a fascination for discovery. Reflecting upon her childhood, Phyllis says, “I thought it was the only way life was. I was never afraid to be left alone in the wide open spaces. It was the lifestyle I lived for, and I can’t leave it behind.”
Though the Peaks appear barren and desolate to many, to Phyllis they are a fragile ecosystem, and she has become a stewardess preserving their history. She is about a year from completing her most ambitious and comprehensive publication; Behind the Shadows: McCulloch Peaks, Early History and Stories is filled with more than 20 years of research about everything McCullough, including their historical misspelling and other entertaining, informative anecdotes. The detailed record will significantly expand upon her first self-published, 200-page manuscript about the topic, as well as build upon her second book about the Peaks’ wild horse herds: Facts and Legends: Behind the McCulloch Peaks Mustangs. Behind the Shadows will include historical information about the cultural, anthropological, geological even archeological elements of the Peaks while also, as Phyllis hopes, making this piece of history fun and accessible to all ages.
Phyllis is driven by curiosity and desire to understand the “why” in life. She’s a natural storyteller and throughout our interview, simple questions become colorful, descriptive narratives that eventually circle around to the answer. Her innate draw to history and narrative manifests in observation, investigation, writing, teaching and even re-enacting historical events. For the past 21 years, she’s organized reenactments of the Pony Express ride, sometimes involving up to 100 riders who would run their horses along an original Pony Express mail delivery route. Whatever the medium, she’s passionate about uncovering the truth and stretching stories from the past into the present.
Despite the numerous times Phyllis has explored the Peaks, whether with her father, as a volunteer with the Bureau of Land Management, professionally with the U.S. Geological Survey, or on her own, each visit presents a unique opportunity to peel back a layer of history. Like a sponge, she tries to “absorb what happened out there.” Perhaps an insatiable hunger for the mystique of the Peaks beckons Phyllis back for weekly visits. There is also an authentic connection to the land that fosters a true sense of refuge and peace. Whatever the reason, there is no doubt a palpable connection between Phyllis and the Peaks. Make sure to look for her book release next spring!
This project is sponsored in part by the Photographic Communications department at Northwest College in Powell, Wyoming. http://photo.northwestcollege.edu/
“Women in Wyoming” will feature women across the state who exhibit outstanding skills and passion, as well as a commitment to their communities. We need your support to help fund this project. If you’d like to sponsor Women in Wyoming, or contribute directly, please contact WyoFile executive director Lorena Garcia at [email protected] Your name will be listed as a Women in Wyoming sponsor.
— Lindsay Linton is based in Jackson, Wyoming, where she specializes in portrait, editorial and commercial photography. Her multi-faceted background includes documenting the generational farming families of her hometown in Powell, Wyoming, Been Here For Generations, through environmental portraiture and historical narratives, to assisting world-renowned headshot photographer, Peter Hurley, in New York City. She is also a dancer and designs performances for events and other projects.