February 21, 1928 – February 16, 2022
Gwen Petersen was well known around Montana and the West. She was an accomplished poet, author and editor of dozens of books and articles, creator of the first Montana Cowboy Poetry Gathering in 1986, playwright, perpetrator of the Toot, Hoot and Snoot show, illustrator, regular contributor to Range Magazine and The Fencepost agricultural publication, comedic character, and beloved friend.
Gwen Petersen was born Gwendolyn Alice Norton, a lovely British girl, in Decatur, Illinois February 21, 1928. Her parents were Joseph Ingram Lyle Norton, and Mildred Mills Norton. She had four siblings: Dorothy (Jean), Tom, Harry and Janet; she and her younger brother Tom would keep in close contact her entire life.
Gwen always loved the idea of ranching and boarded the train to Montana as a young woman. When she arrived in Livingston, she knew she was home. She worked there as a telephone operator, and then went on to graduate as an occupational therapist at college in Puget Sound. Moving back to Montana, she worked with the patients at Warm Springs and wrote plays for them.
Gwen came to Big Timber and met Martin Petersen, a local ranch hand. She said it was love at first sight – on his part! They were married in 1970. Gwen was always joking and making people laugh. She and Martin raised pigs, sheep, cattle, dogs, and cats. Gwen loved her horses, and rode in the Montana Cattle Drive. After Martin died, she stayed in her country home with her cats, dog Bailout, and miniature horses. Gwen thrived on writing and producing, and her first book The Ranch Women’s Manual, copyrighted 1976, has been reprinted several times. From The Greenhorn’s Guide to the Woolly West to Everything I Know about Life I Learned from my Horse, to How to Shovel Manure, A Tall Bush, Gwen has been the leading voice on life lessons for country women. She is known for her hilarious viewpoints and was featured in the very first National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko Nevada, followed by an appearance on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show.
Gwen join the MOGA Big Hearts Family in 2013 when she hosted the first Whoop up Fundraiser to benefit service men and women in Montana. The first of four events to follow, featured Baxter Black Wylie Gustafson and a host of other artists from around the area. Her dear friend and fellow poet and song writer, Sandy Sallee was always there to support Gwen’s vision and generosity. Gwen led multiple fundraising events that supported the Big Hearts under the Big Sky mission and proceeds allowed several military families to enjoy the benefits of a Big Hearts trip experience. Big Hearts and Gwen Petersen will forever fit in the same thought and her role in the MOGA/Big Hearts program will never be forgotten.
Gwen was always a force of nature. She said it wasn’t that she was a leader it’s just that you can’t stop her! She enjoyed hilarious fiascos and was always a dauntless advocate of Women of the West. Gwen loved horses and her Cowgal Pals and celebrated the trials and tribulations of living in Montana. Though she spent the last couple years at Pioneer Medical Center in Big Timber, her mind was always working, and she wrote limericks for the nurses every day. Gwen often said, “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?” Her last book was going to be “Closing the Gate”.
Gwen Petersen got pneumonia and closed the gate February 16, 2022, with several friends by her side. Gwen will have a small service of remembrance on her birthday Monday, February 21, at Stenberg Funeral Home from 11:30-12:30. This will be followed by a procession to graveside at Mountain View Cemetery. Please come join her Celebration of Life at 2:00 at her favorite watering hole, the Grand Hotel in Big Timber. Bring a story or read a poem from one of Gwen’s many books. Celebrate Gwen’s life in Rhyme and Meter and Rollicking Fun. In lieu of flowers, consider a donation to the Big Timber Carnegie Library in Gwen’s name. Her pallbearers are her long-time friends Elaine and Lawrence Allestad, Sandy and Scott Sallee, Jimmy Conley, and Cathy Henry. Gwen will be laid to rest next to Martin.
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