A cold rain was falling as family, friends, neighbors and acquaintances gathered in Four Mile Cemetery near Council Grove, Kan., under gray, late-December skies to say farewell to Kenneth D. Muller, one of the best-known Flint Hills cowboys.
A horse-drawn wagon carried the casket down the highway, past the pasture where his last personal horse grazed and through the gates of the cemetery. Muller’s well-known green flatbed truck followed the wagon, sending puffs of exhaust into the chilly air.
Most of the crowd gathered in the cemetery knew Muller simply as “Kenny,” foremost a cowboy but known as well for a lifetime of service to livestock organizations and youth leadership.
Kenneth D. Muller was born in Abilene on Jan. 3, 1929, and died in Council Grove on Dec. 21.
His family moved to Morris County and settled in the Four Mile community when Muller was a child, opening their ranch headquarters in the heart of the largest remaining native grassland in America.
Kenny interrupted cowboy life to serve in the U.S. Army and returned home to marry a neighboring farm girl. Together, Kenny and Donna became statewide leaders in quarter horse circles and raised two children, Suzanne and Richard.
Muller collected numerous Kansas Quarter Horse Association awards, including high-point trophy saddles earned in the show ring by trainer Dean Smith. Muller put those saddles to use on his working ranch horses.
He offered stud services from his standing stallions and raised show horses and work horses for the ranch. Muller was mounted on horses daily, looking after custom-grazing cattle and remaining on call for cattle day work in a 30-mile radius. Many of the area ranchers rode horses that he raised.
Spring “going-to-grass” season was always exhausting, as ranchers lined up to vie for help from Kenny. When cattle got out or needed doctoring, Kenny was the first called, always well-mounted with deadeye rope in hand.
He was a successful local rodeo competitor and a leader in 4-H, Extension and fair boards, helping to develop facilities and organize events, all the while showing championship horses.
Suzanne and Richard soon followed in the family tradition, showing county fair horse winners for more than a decade, and Suzanne grew to dominate the Kansas State Fair 4-H horse show.
The Muller children also were winners mounted on home-raised horses in numerous performance events, rail and cattle classes. Kenny was diligent, as well, coaching other youth horsemanship skills.
With their parents as Four Mile 4-H Club community leaders, Suzanne and Richard Muller excelled in all 4-H work. They collected cattle, swine, public speaking and leadership recognition among additional 4-H accomplishments.
Under Kenny and Donna Muller’s guidance, the Four Mile 4-H Club Park was developed along Four Mile Creek on Highway 177. The park became a popular stop for travelers to enjoy the wholesome natural feeling of the Flint Hills.
“I always like to get up early because there’s plenty of work to get done,” Kenny often said. He was often at the local elevator before it opened in the morning, getting feed for his cow and hog herds.
As he developed his extensive swine operations, he sold Chester White seedstock and provided youth show feeder pigs for projects throughout the Midwest. And he assumed a leadership role for the Kansas Pork Producers Council.
Several years, Kenny had the champion entry at the Kansas Feeder Pig Show in Hutchinson. He was president of the Morris-Lyon County Pork Producers, smiling while barbecuing pork chops for the annual meeting.
Kenny was called on to judge many livestock shows throughout central Kansas. While association horse shows were his specialty, Kenny judged all species of livestock at many county fairs. He also helped train several winning youth judging teams.
With other local horse and youth activity enthusiasts, Kenny was instrumental in forming the Morris County Youth Rodeo Association. The initial group project was a youth rodeo with a low entry cost for contestants, yet having memorable recognition tokens. That rodeo has continued for more than 30 years, attracting young cowboys and cowgirls from many miles around.
Kenny was announcer for the youth rodeo and served as president of the association. When he first heard about ranch rodeos, Kenny encouraged the association to sponsor a ranch rodeo at Council Grove. The first one was most successful, and there are now two ranch rodeos annually drawing teams coming from afar.
It was especially important to Kenny that his Muller ranch team won the ranch rodeo one year. Always humble and quite sentimental, Kenny was most gratified to be recognized for service to several horse and youth groups.
Forever an entrepreneur, Kenny and his son developed a fence construction business, building many miles of pasture fence. Knowing the value of quality horse equipment, Kenny also had a leather shop, making ranch horse tack. Kenny established a fireworks enterprise that son Richard and his wife, Tammy, continue every Fourth of July.
Richard Muller is continuing the cowboy tradition on the family ranch.
Buchman is a Flint Hills rancher and freelance writer. He writes from Council Grove, Kan.