Rainbow Bible Ranch: Christian Camp and Ranch In South Dakota.
Rainbow Bible Ranch
Where cows and campers weather prairie storms
(Used with permission from South Dakota Magazine)
Article by Paul Higbee
It’s the first truly warm day of spring, one that has meadowlarks calling. From high Castello Point, rising above Meade County’s prairie on Lonetree Ranch, the Black Hills color the entire western horizon - from Harney Peak off to the left, and Custer Peak straight ahead, to Bear Butte away to the right.
Larry Reinhold admires the view with his daughters, Rachel and Molly, ages six and four. As their dad did, the girls are growing up on this 4,250-acre ranch. Today there’s not a cloud in sight, but Larry is telling a visitor about storms, how up here you can watch them approach from beyond the Black Hills.
“For lots of people, a storm’s when they find shelter and stay put,” says Larry. “Not ranchers. A storm’s when you go outside and work your hardest. We had a storm a couple years ago where we lost 40 percent of our cattle. But if we hadn’t been out working, we would have lost 80 percent.”
A bleak South Dakota lesson? Not in Larry’s mind. Facing storms and being prepared for them is something the Reinholds seem to draw strength from, to draw metaphors from.
Rachel and Molly, along with three cousins and a sibling on the way, are the fourth generation to call the ranch home. Their great-grandparents homesteaded here in 1914. “They called it Lonetree Ranch because there was exactly one tree on the place, a big cottonwood,” says Larry. “People come out here now and say we don’t have any trees, but percentage-wise, we’re doing great. We’ve got a few cottonwoods and willows and even some spruces. What this really is, though, is great grass country.”
Grass country that helped the Reinholds build a wide reputation for Hereford cattle and registered quarter horses. Larry’s mom and dad, Tige and Vicky, still live and work on the place, just up the driveway from the big house where they raised three sons and a daughter. One son, Lyle, developed an interest in the ministry. He suggested turning part of the ranch into a Bible camp.
But at age 19, Lyle died, along with younger brother Lee and friend Wayne Brost, when sudden winds swamped their fishing boat. That storm, in 1979, was of course the toughest one the Reinholds ever faced.
“You know, Mom and Dad could have just given up then,” Larry says. “Lots of people do when something like that happens. Instead, they got to work and made Lyle’s idea of a Bible camp come true.”
Larry and his sister Lana threw their hearts into the camp too.
Tige sums is up this way: “For not knowing beans about camps at first, we’ve been doing okay. We took what we like about living here, and what they Lord gives us, and those things became our camp.”
Yes, they’ve done okay. So well, in fact, that while Meade County old-timers and folks in the cattle and horse trade still call the place Lonetree, just as many South Dakotans refer to it now as Rainbow Bible Ranch. About the time the calving and spring storm seasons wind down, the Reinholds prepare for up to 400 kids, ages six through 18, who will visit for five to 12 days, June through August. Last year, Rainbow’s 20th anniversary, campers came from 18 states, from Connecticut to California. The majority, though, lived within 150 miles.
Most of the 15 summer workers who help the Reinholds run the camp are themselves former campers. Everything’s based out of a specially-built barn-like building, housing sleeping rooms and a big mess hall, and sitting right next to a swimming hole and a horse corral.
“At first we worried that maybe you need pine trees to have a summer camp,” Larry recalls. “But kids like this wide-open prairie. For kids who have grown up in the Black Hills, it seems new and different.”
The camp is interdenominational. Campers come individually or with a friend or two, not as part of a group from the same church. That way they’re less likely to isolate themselves within a clique, and more likely to open themselves up to new experiences.
And Rainbow Bible Camp offers plenty of new experiences, in unusual combinations. Where else might a kid study the Bible in a group, quietly meditate alone about a Bible passage, practice for rodeo competition, and then mount up for an overnight horse trek - all in a single afternoon?
When Tige talks about taking things he and his family enjoy about ranch life and making them part of the camp experience, he means big things like learning to handle a horse well, and little things like scampering after frogs, snakes, and turtles. Of course, there’s never a shortage of work to do on a ranch, so campers experience a little of that, too. “It’s funny,” notes Tige, “but rather than take an afternoon rest, lots of kids would rather pull weeds or pick rocks.”
And when Tige talks of taking what the Lord gives for the camp, he means lessons and inspiration from the Bible, and also help from vital people who have shown up. For example, Larry and Lana’s spouses are so central to the camp that it feels like they’ve been here from the beginning. What’s a summer camp without music? Robin, Larry’s wife, arrived not only with song-leading skills, but with the ability to compose original music that campers remember long afterward. Robin and Larry and their girls live in the house where Larry grew up. Robin grew up on a ranch outside Custer.
Chris Morris, on the other hand, grew up near Pittsburgh, “where everything’s blacktop and trees.” After three and a half years stationed with the Air Force in Japan, Chris was transferred to Ellsworth Air Force Base, 15 miles across rolling prairie south of the ranch. At first South Dakota’s vast and treeless expanses seemed as foreign as Japan. But Chris met Lana and the rest of the Reinholds within 48 hours after landing at Ellsworth, and he came to love ranch country. He still can’t get over how brightly the stars shine here on clear nights, something that also amazes kids on overnight camp-out rides up on Castello Point. Chris, Lana, and their three children - Jason, Jana, and Joel - live about a mile north of the camp building, and Chris leads camp Bible studies and devotions.
“I present the Gospel to the whole group, and then I ask them to think what it means to them during quiet times here at camp, and to carry on in their studies through the year,” says Chris. “It’s encouraging when they return a year later and tell you what they’ve found in the Bible.”
It’s easy to make a connection between Bible study and kids meditating individually or in pairs down by the swimming hole, or perched on corral rails. But is there a connection between the Bible and climbing aboard a steer in a last-day-of-camp rodeo?
You bet, says Larry.
“Jesus led people away from their everyday lives,” he says, “and when they were facing entirely different challenges, that’s when they were most open to looking at themselves and the world differently.”
Actually, only a few older boys opt to ride a steer. Most of the rodeo, performed for parents, is pretty tame: team penning, double mugging, grabbing flags off calf tails, and riding a barrel course, not just for time, but for quality horsemanship.
“We’d never put a kid in a situation that’s scary,” says Larry. He is most proud of his camp’s safety record - that plus the high marks campers give the food.
It makes a difference to campers, the Reinholds think, that this is a working ranch and not a resort. Kids know there are livestock and a wheat crop to look after here, and that ranch work continues after camping season ends. “I think it’s important for them to see there are still South Dakotans finding ways to make a living in agriculture,” Larry says, “and to see family working together like this.”
Heritage isn’t a work used much at the camp. Who knows, in this mobile and fractured age, whether a young person has any awareness of a heritage? But the word legacy is another matter.
“Legacy means finding things in your life worthy of being passed along,” Larry says, “We talk a lot about that.”
And about being prepared for life’s inevitable storms.