While growing up in Alberta, Canada, Elizabeth Bectell swore she would never live on a farm. But after graduating from college and serving a full-time mission, Liz found herself back in familiar territory. Now she’s a cattle rancher’s wife near Cardston, finding happiness in her choices, her family, her community, and her trust in a loving Heavenly Father.
I grew up in different towns in Alberta, Canada. Now I live with my husband and children on a cattle ranch twelve miles out of Cardston. We have 200 head of cattle. We’re three miles from the Montana border, right by the mountains.
Cardston was settled by LDS pioneers in the 1800s, and they built a temple here. It’s not a very big town, about 3,500 people. There’s a high population of LDS people. I have pioneer heritage and was raised in the Church.
Did you expect to end up so close to where you’d started?
No! I swore that I would never marry a rancher or a farmer. I swore that I would not end up here. I never wanted to be stuck on a farm. When we were engaged, Jeff said, “Well, this is what our life is going to be if you want to marry me. So you have to decide if this is what you want to do.”
It was a struggle for me to get to the point that I was okay with it. It wasn’t an easy decision. My dad was a farmer for a while when I was growing up and I have family members who are farmers. It looked like a lot of hard work and not always a lot of pay. You get paid once a year and that’s it. I knew we would probably never move, that we would stay right here. I wanted to travel and see the world. In fact, even though I’d grown up in Alberta, I’d never stayed in the same place more than six years while I was growing up. But I decided I just had to choose to be happy. Wherever you are, you just have to choose to be happy.
It was a challenge at first. But it’s a beautiful place that we live in. We have a beautiful view of the mountains. I told him I’d marry him for his view! It’s a beautiful place to raise your children. We have wonderful, wide-open spaces. We have a hill that we go hiking on. It’s a beautiful place to be.
And your children learn how to work in this kind of life. Our kids are getting old enough now that they can work on the ranch and help with cows. We work together as a family, which is a great thing.
Tell me about your family.
I’ve got five children. Damon is thirteen. Lindy is eleven. Rachel is ten. Coulson is seven; he’s excited because he’s getting baptized in June. Tyler is four; he stays with me at home.
A lot of our time is spent with family. Our kids are close in age, so they have basically always played with each other. We enjoy having game nights together. They just discovered Risk. Friends are starting to be a little more important to them as they’re starting to be in middle school.
What is your everyday work like on the farm?
When we were dating, I knew it was true love because I used to come out to the ranch and ride the tractor so I could be with Jeff. I haven’t ridden it much since. When you have five little kids it’s a full-time job for sure! Now that the kids are getting older, they’re getting busy. I have to run them to all their activities in town, which is important.
The last few years my kids have been big enough to babysit, so I’ve helped on the tractor once in a while. I thought I’d never do that. But sometimes being out on the tractor is easier than being back at home!
Right now we’re heading into calving season. That’s the really busy season for my husband especially. He has to check the cows every couple of hours to see if any of the cows need help having their babies. Lots of ranches have hired hands, but we don’t, so he does the checks all night long. It’s fun to see all the new baby calves, but it’s a challenging time because he’s sleep-deprived. I haven’t been much help because I’ve been busy having babies all these years.
During calving season?
Actually, yes. I have a whole bunch of spring babies. I only had one in December and that was heavenly because my husband could actually help me a little bit more than with the others.
Do you have extended family nearby?
My parents and grandparents live in Glenwood, about 35 minutes away from us. It is nice to have them close. When my husband was graduating college—he has a degree in zoology—his grandfather died so his family asked him if he would like to run the ranch here. So he came to run the ranch and lived with his grandmother. When we got married, she gave us her home and moved to town, to Cardston. She’s been a big part of our lives for a long time. When I was a young mom she babysat my kids for me while I did errands. Her home is like our home away from home in town. She was a librarian for a lot of years, and she read books to kids, so everywhere you go in Cardston, when you say Mrs. Bectell, everyone says, “Oh! I remember when she read to us at school! She was wonderful!”
My husband’s family has deep roots here. His great-grandparents ran this ranch, but they died in the flu epidemic of 1919. Their son, my husband’s grandfather, was three years old when he was orphaned. He was taken in by relatives, but he later came back and took over the ranch. So the ranch was always very dear to Jeff’s grandfather because it was his tie with his parents he barely knew.
My husband spent summers here as a child, so he learned to love the ranch. It was his home base and he loved it.
Wow! Your husband’s connections to the place are very deep. How have you made yourself a part of that community?
We have a Parent Link Center in our community with free programs to help with parenting. For example, they have a program called “Stay and Play,” where you can bring your child and meet other parents and play with your children and get parenting tips. I have a degree in Speech Language Pathology from BYU, and I’ve done some speech and language activities for the Parent Link Center.
Right now I’m doing story time at the library. I do the “Tales for Tots” program twice a year for six weeks. It’s really fun to get to read stories and do crafts and snacks with the kids. It’s not exactly in my field but it gives me an opportunity to be involved in the community.
Helping out at the school has helped me be involved. And of course our ward family has been important. A friend and I decided that we wanted to use our minds more and discuss literature, so we started a Relief Society book club almost six years ago. It’s now opened up to not just our ward. That’s been a great thing. We have women in their eighties and women in their twenties and everything between. That’s been a great way to connect as well.
Our “Run Like a Mother” group is another way I’ve connected with the community. A bunch of women meet at the swimming pool parking lot Saturday mornings and go for a run. We just did a moonlight 10K race together.
Can you run on the ranch during the week?
We have gravel roads, but lately we’ve had grizzlies on our land, so it’s a little more nerve-racking.
Yes. I used to take the kids for walks all the time, but now it’s a little bit more worrisome. We actually were out playing and walking around in the willow trees in our field one day in spring, and the kids were going to run up the hill when we saw a bear under a tree looking at us. We called, “Come back to the truck!” but the bear just kind of ambled off. It was scary, but it helped me see the bear wasn’t going to attack me right off. I still get a little bit worried about running on the ranch, but I do it anyway.
My husband actually has a second job with the Carnivore Working Group to deal with the bear issues. So the bears have given us more income, but you can’t be as carefree sending the kids out to play.
Besides our community in Cardston, we have the community here where we live. It’s called Carway, after the Carway border crossing. The people on the ranches in Carway get together every year and brand cattle. That has been a great thing for our rural community. Every spring we take turns going to each other’s ranches and working the cows together. First they have a roundup. They go out on horses or quads and round all the cows up into a corral. Then they get on horses and rope the calves and brand them and give them their vaccination shots, and then they let them go. Different people do different jobs. We have ropers. My husband wrestles the calves and holds them down.
They work the cattle in the morning and then we all gather in the farmhouse and have a big branding dinner together before they go out and finish with the cattle. Some women help with the cattle and other ranch wives will come in and help put on the big meal for everyone. We all help each other. That has been a great way for our community to be together.
Where do the kids go?
They help out! My older son is starting to learn to wrestle the calves, so that’s pretty cool. When they’re younger they’ll watch the gate to make sure the cows don’t get out when they’re not supposed to. And the kids like to sit in the back of the truck and drink pop all afternoon.
That’s a fun time of year because all the neighboring ranches just work together. Sometimes you’re so busy that you don’t get together much until branding time but then you can renew your friendships. It’s great.
Tell me about the family you grew up with.
I grew up in what you might call a blended family. When I was five and my older brother was nine, my parents adopted two children, a sister two months younger than me and a brother one year younger than me. When I was seven they adopted another little sister.
There were challenges to it. For example, I had been the baby of the family and got kicked out of that role. And trying to make a new family was challenging, just like it is for any blended family. It was challenging to blend our backgrounds to my siblings’ backgrounds. They’d had a difficult time in their previous childhood, so some of the issues and challenges that they had faced affected our whole family. And of course they had to fit in with strangers, which had to have been hard for them.
But it was fun, too. My new sister, who was just two months younger than me, gave me a built-in playmate.
I came to realize the importance of social work because of our adoptions, so when I first went down to [Ricks] college, I was planning to become a social worker. But slowly I realized that, much as I admired what social workers do, I didn’t have to shape my entire life around what had been important to my family as I grew up. I could find peace for myself in my own thing. I could make choices.
I still wanted to help people even though I didn’t want to be a social worker, so I studied communication disorders at Ricks and got a degree from BYU in speech language pathology.
You served a mission after college. How did you decide to do that?
I was going to graduate and I was trying to decide whether to get a master’s degree or what to do. It was a real confusing time for me. Back then I was always worried about what was coming next. I was all stressed. I remember thinking about going on a mission and feeling really peaceful about it, so I decided that’s what I was going to do.
You served in the Salt Lake City Temple Square Mission. What were some of the important experiences you had on your mission?
The Missionary Training Center was wonderful. I thought every member of the Church should go to the MTC just to immerse themselves in the scriptures and learn about the gospel. I loved that.
After the MTC, though, I had to face my fears and weaknesses and just keep going forward.
What were your fears?
I had to be out in front of a group, speaking and putting myself out there. That was scary. Sometimes people just wanted to be tourists and didn’t want to hear about the gospel, and I didn’t want to offend those people. I had to get over that fear of offending them to share the gospel. I got better at it as I went along.
When I was a missionary, the sisters assigned to Temple Square would be assigned to a different mission in the United States for four months near the end of their mission. That gave us more opportunity to teach people and to maybe see people join the Church. I was assigned to California. Seeing people baptized was amazing, seeing the joy on their faces, and feeling their joy in coming into the gospel.
On Temple Square, I was amazed at the stories of the sisters from all over the world and how they had sacrificed to join the Church. Lots of them were converts. That was a great experience, to meet sisters from all over the world and to work with them and to learn to accept and appreciate other cultures.
You mentioned that when you were younger you always worried about what was coming next but that now you don’t. How did you change that about yourself?
I think it’s a matter of being grateful and trusting that Heavenly Father knows who I am and what I need. His ways are always perfect. He’s sent people to my life or given me opportunities to grow or learn when I’ve needed them. For example, when I’ve felt I need to do something with my mind, He’s sent me job opportunities, like the Parent Link Center and the library story time.
Trusting Him means being willing to be in the moment. When I was a kid I thought, “I’ll be happy when I’m sixteen and can date.” When I was a young mom I thought, “It’s so difficult!” But as my kids get older, I’m learning to just love the stage that I’m in.
I hope I can teach my kids that you don’t always need to be looking forward. It’s good to have a vision of what you want, but there’s value in just being happy with where you are. It’s a much happier place to be than always worrying and stressing. I’m almost forty, so maybe that’s part of it: I don’t care as much what other people think of me. I’m more grounded with being who I am and being okay with who I am.
Are there gospel practices that particularly nourish you?
I’ve kept a journal for a long time, but a few years ago I started using a scripture journal. In the past, my journals had always been, “Oh, sorry I didn’t write,” or “Oh, I forgot to write.” But I decided I’m just going to be okay with whatever I choose to write at whatever time. My scripture journal is in a coil notebook because it’s easy to write in and nothing fancy. The summer I started, I would get up before everyone else, and it was so beautiful and so quiet. I would study my scriptures and write my thoughts in my journal. It helped clear my thoughts and helped me to see what answers to prayer I got.
What joys have come to you from having the gospel in your life?
I always wanted a family where we got along, where we were loyal to each other, where we had a good marriage. The gospel, I think, has helped me do that as my husband and I try our best to have a good marriage. I think that children can feel that peace that comes from making family a priority, and from feeling connected to Heavenly Father. Living gospel principles makes me happy.
I know that Heavenly Father knows me and knows what I need at the time that I need it. I’m discovering more and more that the Savior’s Atonement was not just for the redemption of our sins but is to heal us of our sadness and our sickness. I’m learning to lay my burdens at his feet. If I’m feeling jealous, I can say, “I’m going to lay this at your feet because I don’t want to do this anymore,” and that brings peace into my life. That’s a new understanding of the power of the Atonement for me. It makes a huge difference that I don’t have to hang on to things, that I can give them to Him and He will take them from me.
At A Glance
Location: Location: Cardston, Alberta, Canada
Marital status: Married
Children: Children (number and ages): Five (ages 13,12, 10, 8, 4)
Occupation: Occupation: Homemaker, Children’s Library Program Storyteller
Schools Attended: Schools Attended: Ricks College, Brigham Young University
Languages Spoken at Home: English
Favorite Hymn: “I Need Thee Every Hour”
Interview by Annette Pimentel. Photos by Stephanie Smith Photography or used with permission.