All that remains is the crumbling exterior of the Rezeride Saloon a couple of miles west of Kinnear, but it was once the center of the community.
Gardner’s Market took the name of the man who built it in 1947, Earl Gardner. Earl and his wife Stella were married in 1930. They farmed along Riverview for a few years before they purchased the Kinnear Store in 1944.
They sold that store to Oscar Lund and moved two-and-a-half miles west and built what became Gardner’s Market.
The couple had four children, Earl “David” Gardner who went by Dave, Charles, Nellie, and Marilyn. It was Marilyn who eventually took over the store.
Gardner’s sold Conoco gasoline. It was originally a general store, selling groceries, a few household items, and most famously for the children of the area, and the students at the Morton K-12 school just a few miles up the road, ice cream.
One of their employees from August 1949, until she took a job as the cook at the Morton School in 1954, was area legend Fern Watson. Fern worked the counter, helped with inventory and stocking shelves, and was the best goodwill ambassador any business could hope for. In later years, some of the dozens of children that Fern raised worked at the store.
“When I was a kid, they always had ice cream in there,” Clyde Woolery said. “You got two dips for a nickel and four dips for a dime.”
Earl and Stella owned the store for a decade, before selling it in 1957 to their daughter Marilyn and son-in-law Don “Fuzz” Foster.
Marilyn graduated from Morton High School in 1954, and Fuzz was from Caddo, Oklahoma.
Fuzz quit school in the 10th grade, lied about his age, and became an MP in Korea during the war. While in the Army, he met a guy from Dubois who convinced him to come to the High Country.
Fuzz took a job with the telephone company in Dubois. They met on a blind date arranged by Buzz Boedeker and as family legend has it, “Fuzz wore the tires off his Buick driving back and forth from Dubois to the Market.”
The late 1940s to the mid-1960s were a time of great technological changes in rural Fremont County. Electricity arrived, as did party line telephones, and the roads gradually changed from gravel to blacktop on most of the county highways.
Fuzz was part of that change, setting poles and installing lines to homes from Crowheart to Togwotee. They were married at the Holy Nativity Episcopal Church in Morton in 1954. They lived their first year in Dubois near their close friends Orville “Pete “and Erdine Stevens spending many evenings playing pinochle. Fuzz worked in the timber industry.
The seasonal nature of the timber industry had the couple looking for something more permanent.
“They wanted to get something they could have a steady job at. Mom grew up in the store, so she knew what it was. Dad was eager to do it,” their daughter Marilyn Foster Skiles said. “It was too muddy in the mountains to work in the spring. They went to California to see dad’s dad, then they went to Oklahoma to see dad’s grandma.”
They moved back to the Kinnear area in 1955 and worked at the store with Earl and Stella.
In 1957, Fuzz and Marilyn purchased the store from her parents and became landmark residents of the area.
“I grew up at the store until I was six or seven,” Charlie Gardner said. “Then my big brother Dave bought the farm across the road. We moved across the road to the King place.”
Gardner’s was more than just a store to the community it served as a bus stop with a warm place for the local kids to wait inside on subzero mornings.
“We waited for the bus at Gardner’s,” Charlie said. “Les Saunders was my bus driver, he said he was damn glad I only live a mile from the school.”
Fuzz and Marilyn lived next door to the main house at first.
“Grandpa built the main house and mom and dad lived next to them in a little house,” Donna said. “They sold the little house and moved it to Ethete. Mom and Dad moved into the main house and Grandma and Grandpa moved to Arizona then came back in 1962, where Charlie graduated in 1968. There was a trailer house inside the house that grandma and grandpa built.”
Gardner’s market featured cold storage lockers, a huge service to locals since refrigeration meant electricity or a propane tank, and large freezers were a rarity. Cold storage was a service offered by many county stores across Wyoming until the cost of larger freezers came within the price range of most people.
“We rented lockers there for years,” longtime local resident Violet Woolery said. “It was a full grocery store. We bought meat and groceries from Earl and later Fuzz and Marilyn.”
Violet is 101 years old and lived most of her life on the ranch below Morton, near the store.
“I graduated from Morton High School in 1940,” Violet said. “The school was that building by Gardner’s Market.”
The building she was speaking of was used for many years as a Grange Hall.
“When they built the new school, they moved the old building down by Gardner’s,” Violet said.
A Grange Hall, a couple of homes, and the store were joined by a slaughterhouse Fuzz built behind the store.
Gardner’s sold meat over the counter, meat processed by Fuzz and inspected by the USDA.
“One time Mom and Dad and Walt and Joan Westling went to Idaho to buy a camper. They left John and me at the store. A USDA inspector came in while they were gone, “Donna said. “Mom knew we were getting inspected. They found one hair on a drain in the cutting room. On another visit, the Inspector focused on a stamp pad, which annoyed Mom. Mom said, “What happens if an inspector disappears?” The inspector said, “There’s a big fine for that.” Mom said, “You’d better leave.” He did, and never came back.”
In addition to custom butchering meat for local ranchers, Fuzz also processed wild game, sometimes as many as 500 to 600 elk and deer during the hunting season.
Fuzz always wore a white shirt, whether he was selling groceries or cutting meat.
“Bill Armour, Sharon McCullough, and Edna Winchester worked for Mom and Dad during hunting season cutting meat and wrapping wild game,” Donna said.
Gardner’s sold ammunition as well. With high school boys often stopping by in those days to buy .22 and shotgun shells. If they needed a license they had to go to the Kinnear Store where Oscar Lund sold them.
Selling gasoline, groceries, and processing meat paid the bills, but the ice cream brought in the customers.
“We had six ice cream flavors, at one time. They were three cents a dip, then they went to a nickel,” Donna said. “I remember dipping ice cream as a little kid.”
Consistent suppliers were important to a small country store, and Gardner’s had a handful they relied on for the entire duration of the business.
“We got groceries from Associated Grocers in Billings, milk from the Riverton Creamery, and gas from Conoco in Riverton, owned by the Whipples,” Donna said. “We had Bunny Bread and hardware from some guy in Idaho. We carried nails, screws, hinges, whatever people needed. If they weren’t there they’d leave me a list of what they wanted.”
The store was popular with many Native American customers just across the Wind River.
“Fuzz didn’t butcher their own, they did custom butchering, they bought beef by the quarter or half then cut that up and sold it,” Charlie said. “They custom cut a lot of wild game. There was a slaughterhouse up behind the store for sheep, hogs, and beef.”
Before Fuzz built a USDA-certified facility, Earl had processed beef previously.
“Some of the guts didn’t end up there, Dad would give them to the Indians,” Charlie said. “They’d take them to the Wind River and scrub them on a gravel bar, and they’d come out snow white. I’ve got some recipes for guts, they’re not bad. I got it from a cookbook from St. Labre Indian School in Montana.”
The store was a meeting place for all ages. Children waited for the bus, and if they were lucky had a few pennies to spare after school for an ice cream cone.
Their teachers had the same opinion on the Gardner ice cream.
“One day a bunch of teachers got in trouble at the store,” Violet related. “It was just before school started and they were supposed to be in meetings. A group of them left the school and came down to get ice cream. The superintendent caught them and wrote them up. He was down at the store getting ice cream when he caught them.”
Fuzz and Marilyn were mainstays of the community. Fuzz was an active member of the Morton Kinnear Fire Department, serving as chief and often transporting critical patients to the hospital in Casper.
“Fuzz and I were EMTs together,” Clyde said.
Marilyn served on the Fremont County Public Health Board and was active in Rebekah Lodge in Riverton.
The daily grind of managing a store, especially one that was often open seven days a week is daunting. After owning the store for three decades they decided to sell in 1987.
The original draw of Gardner’s was the cold storage, with wire cages storing meat and produce for customers individually inside a large walk in cooler.
Ironically it was cooling that led the way to retirement.
“They closed after a fire in refrigerators,” Charlie said. “They wanted to retire and decided that was a good time to do it.”
The store and its entire contents were sold at auction on April 25, 1987.
The memories of the store remain strong in the community and in the extended Gardner family.
“My cousins were so fortunate to live close to our grandparents,” Marilyn’s niece Margaret Polly said. Her mother Nellie married and moved the family to Oregon.
“Going to Kinnear and Riverton, for us, was quite an adventure and so different for us city kids. I loved our visits to Wyoming and the store itself was a big part of that,” Margaret said.
Marilyn passed away, and then Fuzz.
Donna lives in Texas, but Fremont County’s older residents fondly remember the store, the friendship, and the meetings that took place there. It will always remain a part of the history of the area.
Check out more from this series by clicking here.