WOMEN YOU SHOULD KNOW IN WYOMING: Former Miss Wyoming Connects People With Wilderness

Jessie Allen Gottwald serves as a nature ambassador and role model

Jessie Allen Gottwald poses with her dogs, Scout and Levi, and horse, Drifter. Allen Gottwald operates Diamond 4 Ranch in Lander, Wyoming. (Courtesy photo from Jessie Allen Gottwald)

By Erin Banks Rusby

Special to the Wyoming Truth

A hunting guide and a beauty queen? The two aren’t mutually exclusive—just ask Jessie Allen Gottwald.

Allen Gottwald, 33, has worked nearly every summer of her life on her family’s Diamond 4 Ranch, located about 90 minutes outside of Lander. Sitting above 9,000 feet on the Shoshone National Forest, the horse ranch draws recreationists who seek to disconnect from life’s daily chaos and immerse themselves in the wilderness.

Allen Gottwald, who began managing the ranch at age 25, said the mountains raised her, but knows that isn’t everyone’s privilege. As Miss Wyoming 2014, she toured the state, speaking in over 40 towns and sharing her platform: “exploring nature’s playground.”

“I think it is so essential for the mental and physical health of children and adults,” she said. “Movement outdoors is always something I will loudly, strongly support and promote.”

Today, Allen Gottwald still champions that platform as the ranch’s incoming owner. Summer is her busy season, as she trains a staff of 15 and welcomes hundreds of guests—many of them women and girls who participate in wilderness experiences Allen Gottwald has crafted specifically for them.  

Becoming a cowgirl

Jessie Allen Gottwald leads a team of animals during an elk hunt in the Wind River Mountains. She is one of a small number of female hunting guides and works to mentor staff interested in that career path. (Courtesy photo from Jessie Allen Gottwald)

Allen Gottwaldstarted honingher horse and ranch caretaking skills as a young girl.She navigated progressively more intensive lists of chores, like brushing horses and filling grain pans, and co-led trips for young guests.

At 13, Allen Gottwald considered herself a junior wrangler. That’s when she delivered two gear-laden horses to fishermen who’d hiked in. It took 10 hours of riding — five hours in and five back — alone with her horses and her dog.

“I just remember coming out of that day feeling like the people at the ranch maybe looked at me a little bit different or had a little more appreciation for my independence and capabilities,” she said.

Over the decades, Allen Gottwald grew proficient in every aspect of ranch management, including caring for over 100 horses and hunting.

But owning the ranch wasn’t a given. While attending the University of Wyoming, Allen Gottwald considered a career in communications. She worked as the secretary of FFA, speaking to high schoolers around the state, and landed a summer internship in the office of U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R.-Wyo.), where she fielded constituent calls and gave tours of the U.S. Capitol to visiting Wyomingites. 

During her junior year, Allen Gottwald’s parents announced their plans to retire. Her two sisters had chosen other careers, and if Allen Gottwald didn’t take the reins, the ranch would be sold.

The pull of the ranch prevailed. Allen Gottwald wasn’t prepared to assume ownership immediately, she coordinated with her parents to gradually transition all ownership responsibilities. As operator since 2015, she oversees the bookings, hiring and busy- season logistics, allowing her parents to ease into retirement.

The ranch experience and future

For decades, Allen Gottwald and ranch staff have guided hunters who come to the remote Shoshone National Forest to hunt elk, deer, antelope and moose by archery or rifle. She uses her keen eye for detail to teach visitors about the animals they harvest — from the plants animals prefer during different times of year to the subtleties of animal tracks and how they reflect behavior.

Long before taking over the ranch, Allen Gottwald identified gaps in representation, both of staff and visitors. As a hunting guide, she strives to mentor female staff interested in that career path. She believes women may find her hunting perspective intriguing: that it isn’t about mindlessly killing animals, but instead deepening one’s knowledge of animals, the environment and their relationship to each other.

It’s about sharing a message that “you can be a phenomenally successful and talented hunting guide and not look like that [macho man] stereotype atall,” she said.

At age 20, Allen Gottwald noticed that it was rare to see women-only groups at the ranch. With ownership on the horizon, she developed the skills to offer women’s wellness retreats and cowgirl camps for girls ages 10 to 14, most of which she now leads herself.

Women with any level of experience can join the four to seven-day retreats, where, in addition to yoga, Allen Gottwald leads them through hikes, cold plunges and horsemanship. The programs now comprise about half of the ranch’s offerings.

Jessie Allen Gottwald leads a group of women in an alpine meadow yoga session in the Wind River Mountains. In 2016, she began offering women’s wellness retreats, having noticed the ranch hosted few groups of women. (Courtesy photo from Jessie Allen Gottwald).

“When I first started doing them [in 2016], I wasn’t sure what the vibe would be like,” Allen Gottwald said, noting that participants have ranged in age from 27 to 77. “But it’s cool to see these women connect on this level, where we’re all sharing this common experience, and they all come from different backgrounds and stages of life.”

Allen Gottwald incorporates play into the retreats. One way is by teaching women to ride bareback. Sometimes, the horses wade into the river up to their bellies, allowing the riders to dangle their bare feet in the water.

“It’s cool to hear from some of those women, ‘I haven’t ridden like this since I was a kid,’ and to hear them giggling and bringing out that playfulness with the horses rather than just their functionality on the trail,” she said.

During the eight-month off-season, Allen Gottwald also leads groups of girls in outdoor experiences as an instructor for the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), an organization that provides wilderness skills training around the world. (Last year, she married fellow NOLS instructor Chase Gottwald on the 13,200 ft summit of Wind River peak.)

In March, Allen Gottwald led a group of private school students from the Los Angeles area, who had little outdoor experience, into the Arizona wilderness. When the girls learned Allen Gottwald is a former Miss Wyoming, she shifted from being an unrelatable mountain woman to an intriguing, feminine role model with a bevy of outdoor skills.

“I think they realized that maybe you can do a little of both,” she said.

Allen Gottwald hopes to broaden her skills and dreams of working as a mountaineering instructor, perhaps in New Zealand, in the winter months.

“My passion for being in the wilderness, building community with people in wild spaces, my passion for working with animals—that felt so strong and that has continued to be the driving why of why I continue on this path,” she said.

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