They didn’t expect their loving son to change so dramatically when they sent him to discover himself in the new colony.
Discarding the fame of aristocracy for the life of the often romanticized wild west, Coutts Marjoribanks (pronounced Marchbanks) would become a cowboy.
His story will be told when O’Keefe Ranch holds its popular Cowboy Dinner Show this summer.
Remittance Men – Aristocrats to Cowboys is an historical dramatization written by Kiss FM radio announcer and theatre guy Jason Armstrong.
The third youngest son of Dudley Coutts Marjoribanks, first baron of Tweedmouth, left the his upper-class life in the Scottish Highlands for North Dakota in 1884 at the age of 24.
There, with some start up capital from his father, he began a livestock operation, breeding and selling cattle.
“The western ranching way of life was just what he needed to bring him into his own. He took to cowboying like a duck to water, and relished the rough and ready lifestyle that sneered at the more placid approaches to accomplishing things,” writes local historian, cowboy poet and author Ken Mather in his book Buckaroos and Mud Pups.
(Mather is also part of the Cowboy Dinner Show, and will join the troupe again this year for more of his original poetry and stories.)
“His skills in riding, roping and handling cattle grew, but his family regarded his lifestyle as far from acceptable.”
The solution was to send Coutts to the Okanagan in 1890, where his older sister, Ishbel Maria Marjoribanks, lived with her husband, Lord Aberdeen.
Coutts would end up managing the 13,261-acres, now Coldstream Ranch, that Lord and Lady Aberdeen had purchased.
“Coutts Marjoribanks’s tenure at the Coldstream was not a happy one — at least not for the owners,” said Mather. “He really preferred the daily activities of cowboying to the paperwork of management. His true love was the cowboy lifestyle, which he lived with all the passion and recklessness he could muster.”
Nicknamed “Major,” a play on his last name, Coutts lived up to that rabble-rousing cowboy image, riding his horse into the Kalamalka Hotel bar whenever he wanted a drink, which Mather says was whenever he was in town.
“To his credit, this would have involved some good riding, as the steps to the hotel were steep,” said Mather. “General opinion was that his riding excelled his management of the ranch.”
In 1895, Marjoribanks left the ranch and later purchased a property in the Coldstream area, where he lived with his wife Margaret Nicholls and his stepdaughter until his death in 1924.
Along with the historical dramatization, the show will feature a song about Coutts, titled Remittance Man, as well as another titled Ogopogo, which describes the legend of the monster in Okanagan Lake.
“We have had fun writing the show and developing songs and stories that audiences will enjoy this year. Much of the show focuses on the history of the cowboy and the B.C. west,” said Rob Dinwoodie, host and lead singer of the Cowboy Show Band, with musicians Dixon Zalit and Kevin Bader.
The Cowboy Dinner Show is not complete without the meal of sizzling steaks with all the fixings prepared by Cattlemen’s Club Restaurant, as well as rides around the ranch in the BX Express stagecoach.
Visitors can also learn to throw a lasso, yodel, and will finish the evening the cowboy way, around a campfire, singing songs under the stars.
“This is a family show that has values and promotes the importance of entertainment for the whole family,” said Dinwoodie, adding, “Most folks have never seen, let alone have ridden a stagecoach.”
O’Keefe’s Ranch’s Cowboy Dinner Show takes place every Friday night in July and August. Tickets can be reserved online at www.okeeferanch.ca or by calling 250-542-7868.