Updated: April 11, 2008 at 12:00 am
The cowboy crooners at the Flying W Ranch are singing a harmonious tune once again.
Three of the longtime members of the Flying W Wranglers quintet moseyed off on their own in December 2005, deciding to become full-time "cowboys for Jesus." Some ranch visitors had complained the group was talking about Jesus too much during the shows, and ranch managers suggested they ease up a bit on the evangelistic tone.
As that drama played out publicly, it rankled feelings between the performers and the ranch owners.
The three musicians - Scotty Vaughn, Vern Thomson and Joe Stephenson - said Friday that they're returning to the herd. This time, though, they're doing things their way: They'll perform only overtly Christian shows at the ranch twice a month. The traditional nightly chuckwagon suppers will go on unchanged with the two colleagues they left behind, plus the three musicians hired to replace them.
The Flying W Ranch's chuckwagon suppers and Old West town have been a tourist attraction in Colorado Springs since 1953.
The ranch, at 3330 Chuckwagon Road, serves about 120,000 meals each year, making the Wranglers who perform during the suppers one of the most visible music groups in town.
Vaughn and Thomson joined the Flying W Wranglers more than 30 years ago, and "rookie" Stephenson climbed into the saddle nearly 20 years ago.
"I grew up at the Flying W Ranch," Vaughn said.
"You grew old at the Flying W Ranch," Thomson corrected him.
People change over 30 years, they said, and those three had become very overt in sharing their Christian faith during the Flying W Ranch's chuckwagon suppers.
They decided they wanted to turn their music into a Christian ministry of gospel cowboy music.
But the Wolfe family, which owns the Flying W Ranch, wanted to continue the formula they had adhered to for a half-century, a Western show with a few Christian references.
The difference essentially came down to whether they were going to serve up the idyllic West with a side of Jesus, or a heaping helping of Jesus with a side of cowboy culture.
"We were called to the ministry, and we're loudmouths about our faith," Thomson said.
So, the two sides parted ways. Three new Wranglers were recruited to perform at the ranch, while the departing trio formed a new band and began performing Christian shows around the country.
And, for a time, the friendship between the owners and performers fell apart.
Flying W Ranch coowner Russ Wolfe regretted how things ended, so he reached out to his longlost Wranglers about six months ago, using the religious Peacemaker Ministries to help patch wounds.
"It was a six-month project because there are a lot of strong personalities," Thomson said.
After they kissed and made up, the two sides made a plan to become business partners again.
The newly minted Colorado Cowboys for Jesus will perform a monthly Cowboy Gospel Jamboree at the ranch starting April 27, as well as a cowboy church service on the second Sunday morning of each month beginning May 11. The church service is free to all comers.
Terry Wolfe, one of the ranch owners, cried as the new partnership was cemented Friday.
"The most important thing is I have my brothers back," she said. "We have been through funerals, through marriages, through divorces ... We have been through a lot."