Q. It did?
John: Yes. It went right down through the middle of his house,
between Fremont and what was then Uinta Counties and so, then Lincoln County
was created and that still went down through the middle of his house.
So he went down to the Legislature and got this county put together on
the basis of a watershed. And to the best of my knowledge this is
the only political jurisdiction that I've seen in America that was strictly
based on a watershed. It makes a lot of sense; they all ought
to be. This one isn't quite strictly based on a watershed because
he included Bondurant in it - I've got a map here someplace that shows
where he penciled Bondurant in and out several times - and some say that
the reason that he put Bondurant in was because Bondurant was so isolated
from Jackson. There wasn't a road through the Hoback; the road
went up through the Gros Ventre. But I actually think the reason
he put Bondurant in was to get enough votes to get Pinedale made the county
Q. Probably true. I didn't realize it was done on the basis of a watershed.
John: Pretty much. With that exception it's all the Upper Green. It's a pretty sensible way to make a political jurisdiction.
Q. How many years were you on the ranch, John.
John: Well, I was raised there, obviously, and then I got in a lot
of trouble when I was a kid. Nobody hates a hick town like a hick
kid. And so managed to get myself sent away to school, which was
a good thing for me and for Pinedale at the time. So I was gone from
the time I was 14 until I was 24. And then I came back with no intention
of running the ranch - I never wanted to be a rancher. But I got
back there and I found things in kind of a state and felt like the only
honorable thing for me to do was to stop - I was on my way to California
- and I felt like I had to stop and take care of business and get the place
sharpened up a little bit and then sold and then on my way again.
Which I figured...
Q. This was after your father had died?
John: No, he wasn't dead yet. He'd had a stroke and was pretty debilitated. And my mother was trying to run it from the office, and we had a foreman that was trying to run it without any reference to the office, and between the two of them it wasn't working very well. But I thought that I'd probably just sort things out and get it sold in 6 months, and I ended up staying another 17 years, until I sold it and then I ran it for another year for the fellow I sold it to until I left.
Q. In the history of the ranch, was it basically a cattle ranch or...
John: It was always a cattle ranch, never anything else. The
last, lets see, where did I do that - the last four years, three years,
it was run as a yearling pasture basis. We didn't have any mother
cows anymore because I'd had to sell them off. When I took the place
over in 1970 it was already carrying almost $600,000 worth of debt and
then my father died and they slapped another $250,000 on top of that, so
it packed around almost $1,000,000 in debt for the entire time that I was
running it, and over a period of time, it was kind of like - did you ever
see AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS? Where they were trying to get across
the Atlantic and they don't have enough fuel and they just start burning
the ship. That was basically what we were doing up there - I mean
that was liquidating the cows, cutting corners here, and selling this off,
and it was pretty rugged.
Q. And then the interest would be ...
John: Oh, the interest was just a voracious thing. It was like living with a monster, and you know, I couldn't sell it, and I couldn't afford it, and I couldn't pin a note on its chest and leave it on somebody's doorstep, so it was kind of...
Q. That's tough. Did your grandfather homestead the original ranch?
John: Well, the way that came together, P.W. actually homesteaded...
I don't know that he actually ever homesteaded anything, I mean under the
Homestead Act. He had a lot of Desert Entries, and he had Desert
Entries that he put in in the name of everyone in his family, but as far
as fulfilling the requirements of the Homestead Act, I don't think he ever
did anywhere. Actually Mim and Norm homesteaded a chunk up there
in the early '30's. But all that country up there had been homesteaded
before P.W. moved up there. You see, he started out, he was a mathematician
and an astronomer and had been a college president and a number of things,
and he was teaching and getting his doctorate at Columbia in I think it
was 1902 - something like that - when he was told he had incurable nephritis.
They removed one kidney and didn't even send him a bill because they didn't
think he would live to pay it. He was about my age at the time, a
little younger. And his wife had an uncle who was A.W. Smith, who
had come in here in the early days. I mean he was the first white
man to spend a winter up in this country. And he put together the
Mule Shoe and the 67 and just about all those big ranches down there in
Big Piney at one time belonged to A.W. Smith. And so he'd been established
down there, and P.W. came out, I think basically he just came out West
to die, but the mountain air was good for him or something - getting away
from academia - I don't know what it was, but he sort of stuck around down
on the Mule Shoe for a few years and then after it looked like he was going
to live after all, then A.W. said, "Why don't you get a place of your own?"
and grub staked him a little bit, and P. W.'s brother George had homesteaded
- well, he didn't homestead that either - Bear Face Dodge homesteaded it
- but he had a place up on Willow Creek, which was Welborn's Place.
And he'd been living up there since the 1890's, and he knew about a place
that was right north of Cora called the Westfall Place that was for sale.
That was a little homestead, not too big. And P.W. came up and bought
that and moved onto the Westfall Place, which is presently owned by - there's
no house or anthing there anymore - but is presently owned by a combination
of Dick and Jim Noble. And he lived there until, I believe, 1912
or 1913. And by then it was already called the Bar Cross -
the Westfall Place was.
That was his brand, which he had gotten because he was a mathematician, and it was a mathematical symbol, and it was also a great brand. It was a one-iron brand and it was easy to put on.
Q. And he designed that brand himself?
John: Ya. He lost it for a while. There was a period where somebody got hold of it. He let it slip and he didn't have it for, I think, 5 years and then he got it back again. And I don't know the whole story about that. Maybe Mim can tell you.
Q. Was that Luman and Merritt?
John: Luman and Merritt, that's right. So he didn't have it continuously. But then the Wright place, which is the area most people think of when you say the Bar Cross, that came up for sale, and he bought that in about 1912 or something and moved up the river to the Wright Place.
Q. Had the Wrights homesteaded that?
John: Ya, the Wrights had homesteaded that, and then he just started accumulating, you know, as I was saying on the phone the other day, there were lots and lots of little homesteads - 40s, 160s, 320s, well the 320s were all Desert Entries - but 40s and 160s which anybody can tell you are too small to make anything on. And they were all over the place, and those people came and starved out in a very short period of time, but they managed to homestead it, and if you look at the plats of the New Fork Valley, it's just - it's littered with names that you don't hear at all any more - you know, Samora, Mershon, Choteau, Johnson, Wright, Westfall, I mean all of these people, Merritt, Rahm - some of them here still. But there were all these people that had ranches up there. He bought the Wright place. He still had the Westfall place. He'd acquired the Johnson place, and then he started to accumulate stuff, and in the meantime A. W. (Smith) had died and he had left his property to P.W.'s (Jenkins) wife and her two sisters, both of whom were farm girls back in Missouri, and they just wanted to liquidate their portions right away, and they did. And also P.W. was not a terribly great businessman and there'd been some reverses down there. He had to sell most of that stuff out to the Mickelsons and whatnot. He did keep the Reservoir Ranch. And that was part of the Bar Cross. And then when George (Jenkins) died, he got the Willow Creek Ranch, John Welborn's place. So that was part of the Bar Cross.
Then when Norm came up - Mim met Norm in college at the University of Utah in the late '20s. He was a banker and he - his first year of banking was 1930 and he saw the handwriting on the wall and decided he was going to get into a business where he could at least grow his own food. So they moved up here in 1930. He was a very good businessman and he saw the way things were going, and he acquired quite a lot of property up there himself in the early '30s, I mean, he got one section of land we call Mable's from Mable Lozier for the price of her overdue grocery bill, which was about a dollar and a half an acre. So the ranch continued to accumulate by little bits and pieces until I think the last fairly large chunk that came into it was an isolated portion right in the middle that had been the Rahm place. Well, actually we always called it the Finn place named after the Isaaksen brothers who had homesteaded it. And then the Rahms had lived on it for quite a while - Gottfried Rahm. And then the Loziers had, Walt and Nancy, and we bought it from them in 1945 and that was the last piece of the contiguous property there that we acquired. And it stayed in that condition as a family operation with Mim and her two sisters (Ruth Jenkins Wilson and Helen Jenkins Kvenild O'Neil) and their husbands until things started to fall apart in the early '60s. Or the late '50s, I guess. First, Ruth and Bob split off the Willow Creek Ranch from the rest of the operation and then sold that to John Welborn and moved in here to town. And Helen Kvenild, later Helen O'Neil, got divorced from John Kvenild and somehow in the course of that John Kvenild ended up on the Reservoir Ranch, which was still part of the Bar Cross. Then he split that off and sold it to Gordon Mickelson, and so there was just that remaining contiguous chunk up in Cora, which my father and then I operated until - well, I sold it in 1987 and left it in '88.
Q. Now when they were putting together all of the ranch and they purchased the homesteads, did they acquire any of the brands of any of these homesteads and retain them, or did they just go strictly on the Bar Cross?
John: They acquired quite a few brands and then sold them again. I mean they didn't, I don't think they saw any real purpose in hanging on to the brands. At one time, when the ranch was still a family operation, we had - in addition to the Bar Cross we had the Elkhorn, the DK, the EK, the AW, the Quarter Circle 7, and I think that's it. All those brands were registered brands that belonged to the Bar Cross Land and Livestock Company, and then when the ranch broke up, for example the Wilson's got the AW and Quarter Circle 7; the DK and the EK went to the Reservoir Ranch; we kept the Elkhorn and the Bar Cross.
Q. You don't happen to recall, say of the other homesteads, what they had. Do you recall any of the brands at all?
John: You know, I really don't know. I never did much research on that and nobody ever mentioned it. You know, some of those people were hardly around long enough to have brands of any note. For example, there was one outfit that we bought, the Mershon place, I think those people were largely trying to grow potatoes.
John: Ya, that was their idea, and it was totally inappropriate to the country that they'd come in to, but
Q. Now was that M-e-r-s-h-o-n?
Q. Were they relatives of the Mershons that Norm Pape bought his place from?
John: Yes, the same Mershons.
Q. You know, I have a question. I've just been thinking of it as you're talking, because you keep mentioning those Desert Land Entries, and I think it was Jake (Pfisterer) wondered why more people didn't take them up because you got more acreage.
John: Well, you got a lot of acreage and you didn't have to live on it like a homestead; you didn't have to prove up on it in anything like the exacting way like you did a homestead, but, on the other hand, you had to deliver water to it and put it to beneficial use, and in some cases that was kind of a proposition, you know. I mean because it wasn't going to be a Desert Entry to start out with if it was...
Q. If it had water.
Q. Okay, so that answers my question.
John: So you had to go out to dig a ditch. And that's what P. W. did, because he was a ditch digging fool; he loved digging ditches; he loved surveying them; he loved moving water and stopping water. The only thing he didn't like was water that was running its own course. But he put a lot of Desert Entry land in up on the bench out there by Cora, you know, going north of Cora; he dug the Jenkins Ditch. He had to go a long way with the Jenkins Ditch, and then once he got it up there, well then he could put water on that whole area all the way from the Bar Cross to what's now Haub's place and then you know he had 320s all over the map out there, what had previously been
John: Sagebrush, but in order to do that he had to dig that ditch. So that's the principal reason. And then there were a lot of companies that came in here in the early part of the century that, you know, irrigation companies, and you'll see those sort of scattered around, these stories like the Green River Irrigation Company down there along the Green along the Soap Holes and whatnot, and those people uh...I think those were kind of like Florida land deals, a lot of them in a way were... the people would be conned by the irrigation company into coming in and filing for the Desert Entries so they'd get enough land put together to get permitted to dig this big ditch, you know, and then they'd get out here and things would get kind of tough and the company would fold, and they'd be totally in the lurch. I think there was an awfully lot of that.
Q. There was up home in Park County, too, and we got a book on that for Christmas.
John: But those were all lands that were put together by first Governor and then Senator Carey, John Carey, called the Carey Act.
Q. From what stream did you irrigate?
John: Well, the main body of the Bar Cross was always irrigated out of the New Fork. Obviously, the Reservoir Ranch was irrigated out of
Q. North Piney
John: North Piney, though a lot of it came out of the Reservoir itself, P. W. designed and built.
Q. Now I have a question on the Reservoir ranch. Didn't he survey a canal up to North Piney and take the water out of North Piney and fill up the reservoir in the winter time?
John: That's right
Q. And then all of his water (was there) when spring came.
John: That's right.
Q. I think that's what John Kvenild told me one time.
John: Yes, that's right.
Q. What about the Willow Creek Place?
John: The Willow Creek place, as its name implies, was watered out of Willow Creek except for Lake Creek. The creek that runs out of Willow Lake is Lake Creek and that joins Willow Creek directly, but there is a chunk there on the south end of the Willow Creek place that was irrigated out of the New Fork, and we had an ideal irrigation situation. I think that was a lot of P.W.'s thinking. You know, he saw that valley and he just wanted the upper end of it because it was a perfect irrigation deal. For one thing, if you didn't get the upper end wet, nobody could get wet down below, so everybody down stream from you regarded your interest as theirs, in a way, which was great.
Q. So he spread the water out across the valley then.
John: That's right, and he'd bring up the water table to the top and if you didn't bring up the water table to the top in that valley, given the alluvial nature of that gravel, you could irrigate like crazy down below and you'd never get anywhere.
Q. That's why it takes so long now; it goes out of spring and into early summer before it hits west of Pinedale here.
John: That's right. Because they don't irrigate up there like they did.
Q. It's changed considerably. Since A. W. Smith had homesteaded some of the earlier ones, in any of the ranches did they have any territorial water rights, or were they all later than that? Do you know?
John: Well, obviously down in Piney they must have, but I studied all those water rights in the New Fork District pretty thoroughly because I was on the irrigation commission, and a lot of it was a little bit obscured. They had tried to equalize the water within the district at the time the dam was built the first time, so they had intentionally obscured priority dates on a lot of that stuff. And if there was anything that was territorial that had been subsumed into the irrigation district. And the district was run - this was another of P. W.'s fairly sensible designs - he had set that district up to run as though it was under one single management. You know, the district commissioners had basically the design for the whole area; it wasn't like one guy was in a position to do his own thing. It was all coordinated.
Q. Everyone cooperated.
John: And it seemed to work pretty well.
Q. It solved a lot of problems, didn't it.
John: It did. Well, we had Binnings to contend with. But if it hadn't been water, it would have been something else.
Q. Who were your neighbors?
John: Well... over the course of time that I was there, we had a lot of different neighbors. Nobles were always neighbors, at least further to the south, and then Jim Noble bought that place from Harry Rahm when I was a boy, so they were right up in us. I always felt like Bobby and Gloria Lozier were neighbors, though in fact they worked for us. They lived on the Finn place, which is where I lived when I first came back to the ranch and where I went to school. And you know, I always kind of felt like they were neighbors. The Wilsons felt like they were neighbors, though they were part of the ranch. Binnings were neighbors of sorts. Irv Lozier, Walt Lozier, Nancy Lozier, and then we had the Alexanders on the north originally until Jack shot everybody. And then Bobby and Gloria Lozier had that place for a while. And then Larry Lozier had it for a while - oh, Rob Lozier actually owned it and various other Loziers lived there during the period that Rob owned it. Rob also owned part of Jim Noble's place for a while. That's right; that was the sequence of events. Rob owned part of Jim Noble's place and then Harry (Rahm) bought Rob out and then Jim bought them all out. We had Gene Pfisterer for a neighbor. He had a place up on the bench that he proved up on. A real late Desert Entry actually - real late, I mean just before they cut them off - on the Canyon Ditch.
Q. Now you mentioned that Rob was on the place and then Harry. That was Harry... ?
John: Rahm. Yes. Who else did we have? I guess that's it. We had Mike Noble down below. That's about it.
Q. What brands did Jim Noble have, did you know?
John: Well, all the time that I knew Jim's brand, it was always that Bootjack.
Q. How about John Welborn?
John: It's funny you'd mention that ... It's amazing the things you can forget. I'm not old enough to have this kind of lapse. What the hell was John Welborn's brand? (Note: UZ)
Q. Go on to something else and it will come back.
John: That's amazing. I haven't looked in that particular file for a long time, but it's gone. That's sort of disturbing. I guess that will happen to me more and more.
Q. All right. On the cattle, where did you put the brand?
John: Right rib - is that right - no, left rib.
Q. How about on the horses?
John: Left shoulder.
Q. What were your ear marks?
John: There's an undercut and a swallow tail. And the undercut was on the left ear and the swallow tail was on the right. It wasn't a real swallow tail. I mean, some people just practically split the ear in half, but we just out a notch.
Q. Did any of the cattle have a wattle or dewlap?
John: No, no. Didn't believe in general mutilation.
Q. I kind of like those. I can tell whose it is.
John: Pretty easy to spot, aren't they.
Q. And you said the brand was the one that P. W. designed himself.
John: Ya, and another interesting thing about that brand, P. W. for a while in the late 20s owned a drug store in Big Piney and manufactured his own pharmaceuticals down there and had the Bar Cross Brand on the pharmaceuticals.
Q. He did? That's interesting. Do you recall what year he registered the brand?
John: I'm sure it must have been right around the time that he went to the Westfall Place, so that would have been 1903, something like that. You know, there were older brands in the family, I mean, the Mule Shoe, for example, is just about the oldest brand around here.
Q. That was one that A. W. Smith had.
Q. John, did you build your own branding irons or did you have some blacksmith work on them?
John: Actually, the irons that I used most of the time when I was running the place were some irons that had been made by somebody in the early days. Actually, I can show you one. I can go out and get one. They are forge welded and they are just great irons. I'd bought irons from O.M. Franklin and my father bought all his irons from O.M. Franklin, bought those copper irons, but
Q. O. M. Franklin, who was he?
John: O. M. Franklin was a big pharmaceutical company--bag balm, etc.
Q. Oh, ya.
John: Veterinary supplies and pharmaceuticals. And I built a few irons,. but they never were as good as these antiques that I had--that I branded just about everything that I ever put a brand on. And I just found them lying around the shop.
Q. You don't know how many years before they had been built .
John: Oh, I think they had to be real old. Just looking at the forge work, they had to have been ...well, 20's probably.
Q. In the later days, you purchased all of them.
John: Ya, he bought the copper irons and they were supposed to be better, but I didn't find them to be.
Q. What, they probably got hot but didn't hold the heat as well or something?
John: Well, they were very conductive, but they didn't have as much mass as these steel irons; they weren't as big. I could carry one of these steel irons to several calves. They would hold the heat.
Q. Was there any particular reason that P.W. designed the brand the way he did?
John: Aside from the mathematical thing, it was a terrific brand. I mean, it really was, it was one iron. You didn't have to have several different irons--didn't have to be running back and forth with several irons, and that made a big difference, I think. And it was pretty hard to put on crooked enough so you couldn't tell what it was. Even after it got to being the "slash blotch," you know, people still knew what it was. So it was a highly readable brand; it was easy to put on; the irons were easy. I mean, you could make your own in the shop. I mean, I never saw a better brand from the standpoint of just pure practicality of branding cattle. I never really saw a better one.
Q. Now when you sold the ranch, the brand went with the ranch.
John: Ya, Mim is still giving me a hard time about that, but I just
felt like that is the Bar Cross Ranch, and I wanted it to go on being the
Bar Cross Ranch. I didn't want it to start being somebody else's...
John: Well, I didn't want it to go into one of these cycles where, well "That's the Haub place, or that's the Miller place, or section so and so." I wanted it to have its own independent identity so that a variety of people-could pass through there, and it would be the Bar Cross. And it was hard for me to give the brand up, you know, for sentimental reasons, but I felt like the one thing that I wanted to do was to gift that institution with some of its own identity if I could.
Q. And that's the one way to do -it.
John: And that was the one way that I could do it, exactly, so I think that after these present short term owners have passed though then maybe somebody will come in there and understand that there's a legacy attached to it and...
Q. Ya, I'm sure they will. When did you usually brand?
John: We'd always brand in the spring. We'd have a big branding in May, our biggest branding would be in May, and usually over the course of 3 days we'd brand around 600 to 700 calves, and then we'd have another branding in June where we'd brand another couple hundred calves, and then we'd usually have a short branding in July where we'd brand 60 to 100 calves. I mean, the June and July brandings would kind of be just one day deals, one morning deals often.
Q. And who used to help you brand.
John: Oh, gosh, we had everybody in the Cora valley. Nobles would always come up, Jim in particular. Loziers. Welborns--Welborns would always send somebody. And then when we were running jointly, when the Bar Cross was a family corporation, then we had all... It was a much bigger outfit; anyway, we had a lot of people that worked there. We had more people working per cow when I was little than we did later on after things got a little more automated. So there'd be a lot of people. I always felt like it was - labor was both cheaper and more fun than machinery.
Q. Now did you brand on Mother's Day, too? We found a lot of them always did.
John: Ya, we always tried to shoot for Mother's Day. It had a kind of perverse quality to it. I like it. It's just actually from the standpoint when you ... unfortunately for the mothers, both bovine and human, that just in terms of the way the weather works around here, that would be right about the time you're getting ready to move out in the sagebrush, and what you always wanted to do, I mean the reason everybody brands in such a big clot around here, is they're moving off the meadows onto their pastures. And it's a very narrow window of opportunity in this country. There just aren't a lot of dates when that's opportune.
Q. And I suppose you always used to help all the other neighbors brand when
Q. Helped each other out.
John: Ya, and then there were people... Johnny Wardell always helped us brand, for example, always, always. And that was partly because Johnny and Red Matheson were such good friends. And also, Johnny had worked for us for 8 or 10 years when I was little. I don't think I ever smelled branding smoke on the Bar Cross but what I could see Johnny Wardell somewhere. There were people like that, and we always helped him. So he wasn't a direct neighbor, but it was just...
Q. Close. Could you describe a typical branding day?
John: We'd usually get up at about --- I don't know - it depended a little on where we were going to brand, but we'd be down there ... we'd get up around 4:30 or 5:00 and be down there at sunup and take them out of whatever meadow they were in try to have everything gathered up no later than 7:30. Then we'd run the cows through the chute. We always had to vaccinate and Warbex and whatnot all the cows, and if we were going to take a chunk of several hundred calves, that would take a good Percentage of the morning, and then we'd try to brand several hundred calves in the morning after we got the cows through the chute and leave a couple hundred, you know, or a hundred and fifty something like that for the afternoon. And we'd often eat lunch - we'd usually do this - I mean, the big brandings would take place down at the Finn place because that was centrally located to all of the meadows and it was easy to get cattle in from the various pastures into there, and it had a good chute system. So we'd usually eat lunch down there rather than going back to to the main house, though that varied.
Q. Did they cook the meals down there or did they cook them in the house.
John: Oh, they'd usually cook them in the house and bring them down. And, you know, it's interesting. Everybody had... I don't think I ever went to a completely sober branding. There was quite a lot of variation between one place and the next on how unsober it got, and there was variation from one year and to the next. I mean, I remember years on the Bar Cross when every single body was drunk. You know everybody.
Q. After you finished branding.
Q. As it went on.
Q. They were nipping a little as they went along?
John. Ya. There was a lot of that. Over at Pfisterers, for example, they'd start out drunk. There were a lot of brandings... I mean I don't know how candid people are being with you about this, but I'll tell you I sure saw a lot of brandings where people were drunk at the get go. I really did. I never saw one at the Bar Cross where that was the case. But it depended on whether or not there was the permitted use of hard liquor. That made a big difference. There was almost always beer at a branding, but sometimes there'd be several bottles of whiskey sitting on the pickup seat and that would give a whole different flavor to the undertaking. But I always associate alcohol and branding. But I think now Sublette County is a lot more abstemious than it was 10 years ago and certainly more so than it was 20. I mean it was... alcohol was... alcohol and gasoline were what this whole thing ran on 20 years ago.
Q. Did you use just the rope or did you use the branding table?
John: Oh, we just roped 'em unless it was just a little bunch of really light calves, you know sometimes we'd get a bunch of late calves where we had a fairly small corral and we'd just let them out.
Q. Just by hand then.
John: Ya. And we did that a lot of.-the time anyway.
Q. And so over the years really the branding procedure really never changed a great deal.
John: Not much. I mean all the time I watched brandings going on the Bar Cross, I don't recall - aside from the fact that the deal with the cows got more and more complex.
Q. How about butane torches, did you use them to heat?
John: Ya. That was a major shift. When I was little, we had a 55-gallon drum that had been cut out that we'd stack a bunch of wood in and cut holes in the bottom - put a bunch of wood in and keep putting a bunch of wood in - and stick the irons in down in the bottom in the coals. and that was much nicer because you didn't have that horrible sound.
Q. Noise and flame.
John: Ya, but sometime during the period when I was gone - when I was back East - they shifted over to butane.
Q. Did that speed it up any?
Q. Just more convenient than the barrels and gathering up the wood.
John: Ya. That's about it. I don't think it was much faster. It's just that you'd have to go out and get some wood.
Q. Ya. Go out and gather it up.
John: I mean, you know, it's just the way agriculture went in general. You know away from horses toward tractors and away from wood toward things that came out of the ground.
John: I guess, but it's a whole mind set.
Q. Did you have any good stories - any good branding stories that you can recall, one good one?
John: I'd like to say that I did, but you know the truth is they all kind of bled into one another eventually. It seems to me that there was just one branding somehow.
Q. I think everyone we've interviewed has had the same experience. That really nothing ever happened that
John: Well, there were lots of little things that happened. I can remember like sort of on the human scale, there'd be a girl that had just come to work in the main house cooking and there'd be some young guy on the crew that had taken a liking to her, and there'd be the stuff going on between them, you know. They'd want to be wrestling calves together and I'd be splitting them up.
Q. Spoil sport.
John: That sort of stuff would be taking place, or somebody'd be passed out in the seat of a pickup or somebody fell off his horse and broke his arm, or... there was always ... or you know, there'd be a great big hail storm right in the middle things and you'd have a major wreck that way. Let me look. Let me see if I can find a single one.
(John grabbed the diary from 1976. He had diaries going back, I believe, from 1902 through the time he was on the Bar Cross.)
"We emerged mounted at 5:20. The morning was cool, even cold and damp. Little Bay kept the promise we'd made-on his behalf to Rankin by giving 4 crow hops and unloading her in the yard. (That was Carol Rankin, remember.) But that was only the beginning of the rodeo. The main event occurred as we were trying to corral the Finn bunch. Because of the narrow gate and other factors unknown to us, but worrisome to the bovine mind, this is always a tough job, but never have we had the entire bunch back at us like they were this morning. They scattered like dandelion fluff in a gale, and we weren't contained until 8:00. After that, however, things improved. With 5 sets of wrestlers, we went through them like shit through a frog and were done by 11:30. The count 207 cows and 205 calves, of which 102 were steers - 50%. And 143 were crossbreds - 70%. The hour passed before lunch and the beer consumed while waiting made us listless, too listless to be useful after lunch. Uh... I went down and fixed a loose bolt on Rankin's tractor in the afternoon."
Q. What year was that, John?
John: 1976. But, you'know, I could read you a bunch of them like that. I mean there were...
Q. Well, that's good, that gives an idea. Of all the years in the ranching business up there with you and your family, did you ever have any rustling problems?
John: Well, you know that's a good question. Calves would come up missing sometimes, but we were running in close to 12,000 acres of heavily forested country in the summer time. It is pretty hard to say. I never felt like I had any real clear evidence of it, and I remembered my father went through a period where he was convinced that it was happening. But I really honestly think that was more his turn of mind than any actual event. I mean he basically had kind of a paranoid turn of mind.
Q. But no alteration of brands, or anything-like that.
Q. Be sort of difficult with that brand.
John: That was another good thing about the Bar Cross. I mean there were a few things you could turn it into, but they were all pretty obvious. And if you'd work it over with a running iron, you'd be able to see it. You know, I think that that whole - that kind of brand alteration thing is something that pretty much disappeared after the open range. It was something that was going on when there were cattle just, you know, like fleas all over the landscape and nobody really paying much attention to them except when they'd harvest them like wild animals. And, you know, a person'd try to improve his harvest a little bit. You had to wait for them to heal up a long time. You knowi they didn't get some of these cattle off the range until they were like 4 or 5 years old.
Q. So basically rustling has not been a problem.
John: I don't think so. I mean you could probably talk to someone else who'd have a different perception of it, but I never saw that to be a problem. I mean, interest was always my problem. As far as I was concerned, there was really one major enemy. Well, that and the fact that we were the last vestige of the free market system, in a way. Everybody else was in a position to charge for his product, whether it is labor or a manufactured item or service or whatever. I mean, you are in position of sufficient leverage so you are not completely at the mercy of the market. And we were just squeezed. The Seven Sisters had to pay more for their crude oil, so they raised the price of gasoline, and they could do that without, you know, without any difficulty. And we had to buy their gas, but we couldn't get any more for our cattle. We were just... we had to take just what the market would give us. We could argue with Joe Hay about a couple of cents, but...
Q. But you were locked in.
John: We were locked. I always felt like the only thing that I could do, the only thing I had any control over at all other than trying to save calves, was cutting expenses. So I ran a pretty lean scene.
Q. What percentage of calves did you have say on an average year?
John: Year in, year out we'd have about a 92% calf crop. That was what ... when I left the ranch, I totalled up all the calf crops, and that was what it came out to. Which is not bad.
Q. No, over the years that's very good.
John: Well, I mean the only way we could struggle under that kind of debt was with a fairly high measure of efficiency. I, you know, I took some grief from some people that - that had no - just figured I was a hippy and didn't know any more about it, for losing that place. But I was amazed that I held on as long as I did.
Q. You had three strikes against you to start with, you know.
John: Well, John Hay told me when I first ... I came down there. Well, actually what had happened, I'd been taking real estate people all over the place all spring after I came back and one of these guys drew me aside and said, "I think you ought to examine how you feel about this place because you just told that group of people everything that's wrong with it, and I don't think you want to sell it that bad." And I said, "Well, I hadn't thought about it like that, but maybe you're right." So I decided I'd hang on to it a while, and I went down to talk to John Hay in Rock Springs about it, and he said, "Well, you got maybe another year before I'll have it anyway, so if you want my advice, I'd sell it."
Q. And you stayed 17 years.
John: Ya. But it got pretty rugged toward the end. It was really... I'm better off doing what I'm doing now, I'll tell you.
Q. But the debt level was very high when you came back.
John. Ya, it was very high. But you know a lot of those guys got the idea, and my father certainly was among them, got the idea that they could kind of sell out without selling out. You know, just cash in on the appreciated value of their land...
Q. That leveraging business was touted by the banks.
John: Ya, everybody was into it
Q. Everybody. There was a period where that was the thing to do.
John: That was what people did during'the '60s. Money was 3%. You know, a lot of that five hundred and some odd thousand that I took over had been borrowed at 2-1/2 and 3%, you know, and I got a chance to pay 15% on it.
Q. And there was a period, wasn't there, where if you were "smart" you leveraged.
John: Oh, that was supposed to be the smart thing to do, though I, you know, taking the long view, I don't see that it worked very well for anybody who did it. I mean the people ...
Q. Most of them were in trouble.
John: The people - you know you look around Sublette County - and the people that are in good shape and have always been in good shape are the ones that never played that game, were never tempted to get into that and they played a very sober, conservative game all the way through. They just ranched and that was all they did, and they didn't get into some kind of, you know, intensely production minded agricultural - you know capital intensive, energy intensive agriculture.
Q. Well, I think you're right, just looking around. They're the ones survived.
John: Look down on the river where they had kind of a culture that was sort of based on that approach to it. They'll be there a long time.
Q. There are a lot of things the old way was what had always worked.
John: Like Sommerses. I mean Sommerses is a real good case in point. And I always felt like I wanted to get back to that and that was basically how I ran it while I was doing it, but it was... we'd already gone that way and it was real hard to go back. But, you know, nothing lasts.
Q. Now, I was going to ask the name of the present owner.
John: The present owners are Alejandro Orfila, who is the former Argentine Ambassador to the United States and also the former Secretary General to the OAS--Organization of American States. And his partner is a fellow named Marshall Coyne, who owns a lot of real estate in Washington, D.C., and also owns the Madison Hotel in Washington and is kind of tycoon. I think he's seen the place once. He's a friend of Don Kendall's. The fellow I dealt with almost exclusively was Alex (Alejandro) Orfila.
Q. Does he reside here in the United States?
John: Ya, he lived in Washington and now he lives in La Jolla, I think. Interesting character. I at this point don't have any sense of how I feel about him. I've felt a lot of different ways about him, but I was, you know, at the time that I sold it, I really didn't have a lot of choice. I didn't want to do it on the Courthouse steps and he was about what I had. And I think those guys are going to take a bath. They put a lot of money into that place, between interest and improvements, and I don't think they'll get it back.
Q. And they're trying to sell now.
John: Ya. I hope they sell to somebody who really does ... I told them that it was the sort of thing that you couldn't just ranch as sort of a play thing. It was kind of like buying a real spirited stud horse and expecting to ride him three times a year and not get broncy on you. You can't have a ranch like that and manage it at a distance. It's a very hands on kind of a proposition. Ideally, someone like John Welborn will buy it. He was perfect. He came from that sort of other context - He'd been president of the First National Bank of Denver and ...But, you know, once he hit the Willow Creek, he was a rancher and that's all he was. And a darn good one.
Q. So it would be nice if they could find someone like that.
John: It would be lovely.