Nearly three decades after his first countrywide trounce, his newfound walkabout spoke to his burgeoning principles and to a conviction for freedom – both literally and figuratively. Still, it could not be denied that there was a wanderlust deep within Ira. His defiance against the government and desire to remain anonymous may have placed him in such company as that of Thoreau, Emerson or Muir; those who felt a draw to nature and away from the technological advances and idyllic, fanciful activities of the time.

Cowboy holding his catch
Cowboy holding his catch.

Ira wandered the country upright in his saddle for two years, camping under the stars and following train tracks as a guide to anyplace. Occasionally, he sent a postcard to a family member to let them know of his safety as he crisscrossed the country. When he found himself in need of supplies he would ride into the nearest small town and seek temporary employment to trade for his necessities. Money was of no importance to him; he found great personal wealth in his freedom.

Ira spent several weeks in Kansas, with the same aunt he had inconvenienced thirty years earlier. While there, he began to feel the draw toward Oregon and his family members. Though he found his autonomy to be comforting to him, he missed the relationships of those who cared for him and decided to head west for a spell. He sent a postcard to his parents, letting them know he would be back on the trail within the week, heading home.

Months passed and no word came from Ira. None in his family found this entirely unusual; he was living the life of a vagabond, after all, content with life on the trail. They expected they would soon receive a postcard from somewhere along the road, signed off in his standard way: “God Be With You, Ira”. None of his family anticipated what came in its place.

Ira in his quick draw pose
Ira in his quick draw pose

In late September of 1966 Ira’s mother received a phone call from a stoic individual asking if she was the next of kin of Ira Leroy True. Like any mother’s response might be when asked such a question, she immediately insisted about what had happened to him. The answer that she received is the nightmare of every parent, no matter the age of their child.

Ira’s body had been discovered by a rancher in Golden Valley County, Montana, just outside the city limits of the small town of Ryegate. He was found lying up against a large oak tree, as though he had simply stopped to take a nap. His bible lay next to him and two suitcases nearby. It was determined that he had been dead for approximately two months. The cause of his death was found to be natural and it may truly have been that he did simply stop for a nap, never to wake up.

Ira died how he had lived most of his life: alone. While that may seem lonely and terribly isolated to the rest of us, it was just the way he liked it. Moreover, his final years had been a tribute to his personal convictions. Ira walked his talk – for several years and innumerable miles. He lived a life of his choosing and regrets were likely minimal. Surrendering parental rights to his only child may have been one of them.

John Ira True finding his inner cowboy.
John Ira True finding his inner cowboy.

If Ira could see his son today, the man who reclaimed the name given to me at birth – the cowboy Johnny True – Ira would surely smile.

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