Ten-Gallon Heart

updated 02/15/1993 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/15/1993 01:00AM

THERESA, WHO LIVES IN "A SMALL LOG CABIN on a little river, with no luxuries except peace and quiet, moose, bear and salmon," wants a cowboy. I was married to one," she says, "but I wouldn't mind another. There's something about cowboys."

One of her fellow advertisers in Sweetheart magazine is looking for someone too. He's a sheep rancher—and "a gray-haired devil to boot. He writes, "Have a spot and 400 sheep. If you can stand sheep and me, maybe I'm the critter you been hopin' for." But since cowboys and sheep farmers don't get along that well—at least in the movies—he's probably not the critter Theresa has in mind. She might do better with the rancher who wants "a marriage-minded gal to keep house, drive tractor and mend fence. Look good in blue jeans a plus."

Love, it seems, is always looking for a home on the range. Out where the buffalo still roam, Cupids surrogates wear 10-gallon hats. When Charlie James, 56, isn't tending his 50 Black Angus cattle on the 80-acre Sweetheart ranch outside St. Ignatius, Mont. (pop. 870), which he works with Katie, his wife of 33 years, and his daughter, Lise, 29, he's rounding up personals for Sweetheart. That's the matchmaking monthly (circulation 15,000) that he publishes for men and women in the isolated reaches of Montana, Wyoming and the Dakotas.

James has become a familiar sight, driving his pickup truck—with CUPID 1 license plates—to distribute his magazine in small-town diners and dance halls. "I know there are lots of lonely ranch people out here who didn't want to settle for just any ol' filly or stallion," he says.

In 1975, after a 20-year hitch in the Army, including three tours in Vietnam, James moved to Helena, Mont.—he was reared in the eastern part of the state—and bought a shopper publication. It was there that he published his first personal ad, on behalf of one of his female employees. "In a couple of weeks," he says, "the right guy responded, and she shipped out to Alaska." Even after he sold the business and took up ranching, James was still bitten by the love bug, and in 1988 he launched Sweetheart, whose 24 pages are filled with nothing but personals—about 65 ads per issue.

Most of his lonely hearts—who pay $45 per ad for three months—speak in rhythms that hark back to Buffalo Bill and Calamity Jane. There are loggers looking for "young willow trees with the bark still on"; a mountain man boasting he still has "all my own teeth" and cowgirls who can turn a cow better than any man can.

"I noticed right off," says James, "that some of the guys wanted somebody to help out at the ranch, but that wasn't all. They wanted romance too. They wanted somebody to come home to instead of old Shep."

Plenty of ranch women began advertising too, as well as some from the big cities. "I've had some women from back east fly in to check cowboys out," says James.

Understandably, James doesn't hear about his failed matches. He prefers to talk about people like Zane and Cindy Smith, who met on Halloween 1991 and were married last Aug. 1. Zane, a 23-year-old saddle-maker in Kalispell, Mont., received dozens of letters after he ran a photograph with his ad, but it was the 22-year-old rental-car clerk who captured his heart. "Our first date," says Cindy, "we played pool. I never dreamed of picking my husband from something like the Yellow Pages."

Not all of those matched have been in their 20s like the Smiths. but some have been quicker to wed. Ayleen Bain, 66, of St. Ignatius, married her husband, Tom, 70, in 1989, 10 days after they met. "We'd each been married before," she says, "but I ended up divorced, and Tom lost his wife. Both of us were lonely. Thanks to Charlie, we don't have to spend our last years alone."

All this is country-and-western music to Charlie James's cars. "Shoot straight from the heart," he says. "There's somebody out there for everybody. It's just a matter of finding them."

MICHAEL J. NEILL
CATHY FREE in St. Ignatius

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