There is an ol’ boy up in South Dakota who has a horse packing operation in the Black Hills he calls “Gunsel Horse Adventures”— a getaway that combines horsebacking with the area’s famous buffalo roundup.
My first question? “What’s a gunsel?” Bob Lantis, who’s been running the operation for 40 years, told me that “a ‘gunsel’ is a would-be cowboy, someone who doesn’t yet know what he’s doing.” I take it to be a term of endearment.
“Our job is to convert them from ‘gunsels’ to cowboys by combining a vacation with some education for those who want to experience the cowboy way,” Lantis adds. By his definition, the “cowboy way” translates to “Riding good horses in the backcountry, living in tents, and learning to cook campfire style.”
Gunsel excursions are organized around four days of riding during an exploration of the remote areas of the Black Hills—uninhabited territory that I’ve found to be as beautiful as travel brochures advertise.
“This country is so beautiful you’ll forget you’re on a horse. If you want to learn, even if you’re a beginner, we’ll teach you to saddle pack horses, set up for pack trips, load the pack animals, and set up a tent,” Lantis says, citing all of the things you’d expect of a Sherpa. “Or, you can just sit back and let us do all the work,” he adds. “We build the itinerary to suit our guests.” A typical itinerary might include getting your bearings and checking out a buffalo herd on the first day, then a ride up to the Badger Clark Cabin the next day, which was named after the poet who penned the classic “Cowboy Prayer.” That might be followed by a five-hour ride up French Creek Canyon.
“The last day is spent at the Governor’s Annual Buffalo Roundup at Custer State Park,” he says. The park owns 1,500 head of buffalo, which are moved into corrals every fall to cull those that will be sold. Lantis’ guests ride on the fringes of the herd, this year in the company of honorary trail boss Michael Martin Murphey.
The last time I participated in the buffalo roundup there was lots of hooting and hollering, including “Hizzoner” hollering at me. He forcefully explained that he thought that my camera and I were too close to the thundering herd as it roared by. Naturally, I moved.
Gunsel Horse Adventures
Rapid City, S.D
(605) 343-7608 or (605) 342-3387,