Christian cowboy - Grain Valley man gives history a horse ride

Monday, August 19, 2002

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. -- Ralph Goldsmith is living out his dream. If you've been to the Independence Square in the last four years, you've probably seen him, treating visitors and residents alike to the rich history of the area.

Goldsmith, who lives in Grain Valley with his wife, Debi, offers tours by horse wagon around historic sites, such as the 1859 Jail, Bess Truman's birthplace, the Truman home and library and local religious centers.

The tours are offered through Pioneer Trails Country Store on the Square, which is owned by his sister-in-law, Marcia Armstrong. It's a family business, and for Goldsmith a bit of a family tradition.

"I come from a long line of horsemen," said Goldsmith, whose father gave him his first horse at the age of 9. "I was awed by it as a child."

Goldsmith may have been awed, but his mother wasn't. After finding out that the saddle club his dad wanted to take him to was on Wednesday nights -- prayer meeting nights -- his mother nixed the idea.

"It broke my heart," he said.

But he says it taught him a bigger lesson and challenged him to become the person he is today.

"I thought, let me prove to my mother I can be a Christian cowboy."

And that is how he sees himself today.

"The first job description was for Adam to take care of the animals," Goldsmith said. "I take that very seriously."

A long struggle

So seriously that he has devoted most of his time to the endeavor.

The idea came to him when Armstrong was operating Bess's Tea Room, which later became Pioneer Trails. But not everyone was behind the idea at first.

"One day I said, 'We ought to start a carriage ride.' And my daughter said, 'We ain't gonna do that, dad. That's dumb,"' Goldsmith said.

It worked, but it hasn't been an easy ride, said Goldsmith, who adds that the response to the business at first was "horrible."

"It has been a long struggle to make people realize I'm more than just a ride," he said. "It's a history tour."

To show the history through a pioneer's eyes, Goldsmith had lots to learn. The first year Goldsmith was in business he read eight hours a day. But that doesn't stop now, says Armstrong.

"We still read and research," said Armstrong, a registered nurse who cared for Bess Truman the last few years of her life.

Goldsmith admits there are times someone will stump him with a question. That's when he turns to the books, tweaking the lessons.

The horses, of course, attract lots of attention. There are six of them in all -- Clydesdales Romeo and Juliet, Belgium horses Bess and Bonnie, and quarter horses Chick's East and Sunday Donna.

And no need to wonder whether Goldsmith treats them well, said Armstrong.

"Chick was raised by him. Once he walked right into the family room. He didn't know any better," she said. "This was his mom and dad."

And Goldsmith said a working horse is a healthy horse.

"Animals are just like us. If we sit around and eat all day we won't be healthy," he said.

Builds wagons as well

In addition to caring for the horses, Goldsmith also builds the wagons and carriages, which range in size from two-seaters to those that carry more than 50 people.

The days can be long, especially during April and May when hoards of schoolchildren come to take the tours.

"We've had them from as far away as Denver," Armstrong said. "And they enjoyed it so much they promised to come back every other year."

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: