Robert Matteson, right, receives his honorable discharge from the Army in February 1973.

Matteson family/courtesy

Robert Matteson, right, receives his honorable discharge from the Army in February 1973.

Death of 'Cowboy Bob' brings peace to family in New York

Oak Creek man was subject of family's 30-year search



Matteson family/courtesy

Robert Matteson in an undated photo.


Courtesy Photo

Robert "Cowboy Bob" Matteson, pictured here in Oak Creek's Elk's Tavern, was thought to be the town's only homeless man. He died Sunday morning at age 63.

— Last weekend's death of Robert "Cowboy Bob" Matteson in a garage in Oak Creek brought an end to a 30-year family mystery rooted in upstate New York.

Matteson, 63, died Sunday of heart failure resulting from coronary disease. He was found in the garage where he was sleeping off Main Street.

His death sparked immediate reaction in the small South Routt County town where Cowboy Bob, as he affectionately was known, had called home for the past seven or eight years. Thought to be Oak Creek's only homeless person, Cowboy Bob spent his years in Oak Creek working occasional odd job and spending time at local bars.

But the folks who knew him best actually knew very little about him. His death, they feared, would go unnoticed because of his social standing.

On the other side of the country, in Oswego County, N.Y., news about Matteson's death went anything but unnoticed. Instead, it began to provide answers to three decades of questions.

Robert Matteson - "Bobby" to his siblings - was born the son of poor dairy farmers near Central Square, N.Y., just north of Syracuse. He was the youngest of seven children, six of them boys. His father died when Bobby was still a boy.

After high school, Bobby enlisted in the Army. He is thought to have served four tours, including two in Vietnam and two as an MP in Germany. Military papers indicate he was honorably discharged, family members said.

But he returned from Vietnam a different person.

"The last time he came back from Vietnam, he just didn't seem the same," said Judy Matteson, his sister-in-law. The death of his mother also hit him hard.

He married and had two children. His son, also named Robert Matteson, was born the same year - 1975 - that his parents divorced. Rob Matteson said Wednesday that he never knew his dad and had only minimal contact with his dad's side of the family.

Nonetheless, news about his father's passing - and whereabouts - has had an enormous impact on him.

"It's like my total existence has been turned upside down," Rob Matteson said. "I haven't slept since I heard. I want as many answers as I can get."

There still are plenty of blanks to be filled.

Sometime after returning from Vietnam and the birth of his son, Bobby dropped off his things and told family members he was leaving. No one knows where he went or why, and the only other contact came a number of years later when he called to say he was considering returning to Oswego with his two German shepherds. He never returned, and his family never heard from him again. But it wasn't for a lack of effort.

His brother Jim, now 73, said the family hired attorneys and private investigators to find Bobby. They tracked him as far as Topeka, Kan., before the trail went cold.

Jim said his brother apparently never used his Social Security number and never used the VA for medical services.

"It was like he fell off the face of the Earth," Judy Matteson said. "We couldn't find him."

Jay Matteson, one of Bobby's nephews and the son of Lyman Matteson, said family members had assumed Bobby's fate would remain a mystery.

A phone call from Routt County early this week changed all that.

"It provided tremendous closure for the family," Jay Matteson said. "No. 1, we knew where he was and what had happened. No. 2, even though he was homeless, he had a home.

"There were people there that looked after him. That really helped all of us feel a little bit better about what had become of our uncle, brother, father and son."

Coincidentally, the Mattesons have planned a family reunion in mid-August in Oswego. About 60 people are expected to attend, including Rob Matteson, Bobby's only son. It will be his first time meeting many of his father's relatives.

Like many of Matteson's relatives who spoke with the Steamboat Pilot & Today this week, Rob Matteson is pleased to know that folks in Oak Creek looked after Bobby - or Cowboy Bob. Rob Matteson has a 14-year-old son, and he says "you couldn't separate us with a crowbar." He plans to bring his son to Oak Creek as soon as he can afford it.

"There will be two more generations of Mattesons visiting your town," Rob said Wednesday.

They'll take solace in knowing the fate of their long-lost father, brother and uncle.

"This is better," Jim Matteson said. "Now we know where he's at - he's with the Lord."

Soon, Robert "Cowboy Bob" Matteson finally will return home, where he will be buried next to his parents in Mallory, N.Y.


seeuski 7 years, 10 months ago

Wow, You never know who you'll meet and their story. Very interesting and sad. I am sure the family will feel comfort when they get to Oak Creek.


Tricia Nickerson 7 years, 10 months ago

I find this very sad. How could someone sit in a bar and be homeless when they have family far away like that. And I really doubt that he was the only homeless person in town.


rrogers82 7 years, 10 months ago

It's comforting knowing that Bob had a family somewhere. Sometimes people just don't want to be found and you shouldnt condemn them for their choices. His memorial was nice last night and it was great to see so many people there. I especially liked the sign that read "Happy Trails Cowboy Bob". It's nice to know his story and I'm so very happy that his family has found peace in his passing.


Tricia Nickerson 7 years, 10 months ago

I'm not condemning anyone, I'm just saying it's sad.


Scott Wedel 7 years, 10 months ago

Some years ago Linda Koile tried getting VA benefits for Bob so he might have the money to stay in one of my apts. Bob did not give enough information for the VA to find his service record.

He was also careful to not get himself arrested for trespassing or so on which would have also created a public record.

Apparently, he really did not want to be found.


littleacres 7 years, 10 months ago

Bob was a very simple, caring man that didn't ask anything of anyone, but was always willing to lend a hand to anyone that needed it. It's so easy for people that didn't know him to judge and make comments. He never bothered or hurt anyone. My family was very close to him and infact both of my boys thought the world of him. I never lectured them or asked them to do this. Because of the great person he was, they chose to love him. I just wish that the people who thought less of him would've had the chance to actually sit down and get to know him for the great person that he was.......He will be missed dearly.
Shannon Bostock


littleacres 7 years, 10 months ago

It is sad and I wasn't trying to target you buggedbybattles.


Tricia Nickerson 7 years, 10 months ago

Thanks littleacres, was really telling rogers this.


Duke_bets 7 years, 10 months ago

Thank you Oak Creek for giving Bob a home. A memorial service at his favorite place with all of his friends attending was special.

A huge THANKS to the Pilot for covering this story. Job well done!


julesed306 7 years, 10 months ago

Thank you to the people of Oak Creek for watching over my Uncle Bob. He was where he was suppose to be for a purpose. From all your stories he had a place in your hearts as you must had in his or he would not had stayed there that long. He could had called any one of his family and they would had took care of him but he did not want that because that was Uncle Bob for you. Keep the memories close to your heart and the next time you see a homeless man remember to open your heart. We are so happy you did Oak Creek.


johnmatteson 7 years, 10 months ago

To all my friends at Oak Creek,Thank you so very much for all you have done,My eyes are pouring tears and my heart is full of love for all of you.You have truly givin peace to my family,and I cannot tell you in mere words what it means to me personally,to have my faith in people restored,what a worderful world indeed,when a whole community will turn out to wish a final goodbye to a lonely man.It's makes me so proud to be Cowboy Bobs nephew,a man who touch so many people with nothing more than his heart and soul.Love truly is the best of things.Not bought or sold but givin freely to any who would except it.Thanks to all and bless you.I owe this paper a special thank you for all you have done too.Class Act all the way!Thank you,John.M


tigger46526 7 years, 10 months ago

iam cowboy bobs great neice i didn't know him i have heard alot of storys form my grandmother which was his big sister helen matteson bristol here are some storys she told me how he like fishing and hunting and my mom told some storys about him how they use to play togetother when they were younger even thow i didn't know uncle bob the storys that my grandmother and my mom and uncles told me he sound like he was a great man and i wish i had know him my grandmother really loved him and before she passedaway she wanted to find him and make sure he was all right but she passedaway before she had the chance to find him but now they are together the bristol family loves them both


raven 7 years, 10 months ago

I love this picture of our uncle Bobby! That is the man I remember, the warm smile. I have already sent comments on the previous article, but, would again like to thank all of you who blessed his life, may you all be blessed for your love, kindness and support that you have shown him and continue to show his family from NY. I have lived in Colorado for a year and plan on visiting your area in the fall to bring a memorial bench. I have received some very nice e-mails from some of you, especially one man who told me the memorial bench was a great idea since uncle Bobby loved to sit on a bench, he is going to help me place it in his favorite spot. I look forward to possibly meeting those who would like to share a moment with me. Blessings, Arlene


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