Actor Stewart Petersen
Born on a cattle ranch in the tiny town of Cokeville, Wyoming, in 1960, Stewart Petersen was just 14 years old when he landed his first starring role as Billy Coleman in the beloved family tale Where the Red Fern Grows. Though he had never previously considered acting, Petersen was intrigued when his uncle, who was producing the movie, prompted him to audition for the part.
“From there, it just sort of took off,” says Petersen, who went on to star in six other family features over the next seven years, including a memorable portrayal of Joseph Smith in The First Vision in 1976. But, by the end of his teens, Petersen grew weary of the limelight. He enjoyed the experience of making films but not the notoriety that accompanied it, so he opted for a more ordinary life.
Petersen served a mission in the Netherlands and attended school, playing football at Rick’s College and joining the wrestling team at Brigham Young University, where he studied business management.
“I knew I wanted to be my own boss,” says Petersen, and the prospect of a business partnership with his uncle drew him and his wife, Chemene, back to the little valley he was raised in before he could finish his studies. Capitalizing on his love for the great outdoors, Petersen created Magic Mountain Outfitters, a guide service for big game hunters and summer pack trips.
“To me, [nature] is more than just happenstance,” says Petersen, attributing the landscape to a divine creator. “I get a kick out of taking people into the mountains and letting them see that for themselves.”
This business remains Petersen’s love and hobby, but it doesn’t pay all the bills, he says, so he is also the owner and operator of a custom home-building company called Frontier Summer Homes.
Since returning to beautiful Cokeville in 1989, Petersen has relished the opportunity to raise his own six children in the quiet, predominantly LDS community, of which he has been an active part. He served first on the town council, where he played an instrumental role in establishing the town’s chamber of commerce, then became chamber of commerce president and chair of the economic development committee. He currently sits as a trustee-atlarge on the Lincoln County School Board.
Petersen also enjoys time with his children— three boys and three girls ranging in age from 12 to 28, including a newly 19-year-old son who has been called to serve a mission in Brazil.
Today, Petersen reflects fondly on his days of making movies, seeing the Lord’s hand in an acting past that has opened the door to missionary work.
“Acting was never something I aspired to,” Petersen says. “In essence, it pursued me, but through it I have had the opportunity to talk to a lot of people about the Church. It’s been a blessing in my life and, I hope, in the lives of many others.”