Early Sublette County Brands Project
McGinnis Ranch
Written by Marjorie McGinnis Brawley
 1886 to 1990

 The Territorial brand Lazy JHPL originated by William John McGinnis when he came to Wyoming in 1886, has been worn by cattle grazing in Sublette County (then part of Uinta County, Wyoming Territory) for over one hundred years. W. J. and his wife, Mary, (my grandparents) had no definite destination in mind when they left Park City, Utah, in search of a piece of land where they,might make a living and rear their children.  They had heard of wagon trains massing through the Green River country of Wyoming Territory on the way to Oregon Territory;  they thought they might join one of those trains and travel until they found a location to fulfill their dream of a cattle ranch.

As they travelled down Parley's Canyon, Grandpa bought cattle from various farmers along the way until they numbered fifty head and one little calf.  The children--Anderson (8 years old), Carrie (9), Miranda (5), and Lucilla (Lulu, 3)--promptly named the calf "Little Jim."  Since Little Jim was the first animal to carry the Lazy JHPL brand, I will quote from some notes Aunt Nan (Miranda Yose) gave me about their journey:  "Little Jim gave us all a really bad scare one day.  We were in Echo Canyon near Evanston, Wyoming, when Little Jim got up on the railroad track and got his foot caught.  We could see a train coming, and there was Little Jim caught on the track.  Carrie was determined we were not going to loose that calf, and she ran to rescue him.  Though the rest of us were yelling at her, 'Carrie, come back--come back,' and, as the train drew nearer, we were practically frozen in our tracks.  She managed to get the calf loose and away just seconds before the train rumbled by."

Camping wherever darkness overtook them, they finally arrived at Fontenelle, where they stopped overnight at the Roney Pomeroy place.  The Pomeroys took them into their home to eat and sleep.  Grandma never forgot the hospitality of those fine people.  She told me, "They pumped water from their well and heated it on the kitchen range so that  we could all have a warm bath.  It was heavenly--after washing down in the cold streams we passed- - -can you just imagine, not having a warm bath for almost a month- -"

 The Pomeroys explained to them that there would be no wagon trains until Spring; then they told them of a cabin a trapper named Riley had abandoned on LaBarge Creek that might be fixed up for them to spend the winter in.  "There are a few other families over there, and the Spur Outfit brought a herd of cattle into that country a few years back.  They're all good folk and will help you out if need be.  And there'll be plenty of grass along the creek to see your critters through."

While they were saying their goodbyes the following morning, Mr. Pomeroy  cautioned them, "Set your brake and take it slow down Holden Hill; that grade has doomed more than one wagon."  Then he added, "I'd get the same brand on those cattle as soon as you can."

When they arrived at the Riley cabin, they found it to be little more than a shelter with 'dirt roof, dirt floor, and poor deerskins for the door and windows."  Aunt Nan wrote, "Father got busy and went back to Evanston to get the necessary things to make it livable.  Mother made a bed of deerskins for herself and us children."

Every morning that winter, Grandpa and Anderson would ride out to gather the cattle together so that they wouldn't stray too far.  They soon met the other families along the creek: Niels and Hedevig Miller a short distance below, Tilford Kutch not far up the creek, Jim and Martha Bess and Robert and Caroline Anderson who had built their homes close together farther down from the Millers, and John and Lillie McNish on the north side of the creek.  All had families, and all made the "new kids on the block" feel most welcome.  By the time Spring came, the McGinnis family was agreed that they had found the location they had set out seeking and need travel no further.

My father, named William John after his father, was born in that cabin February 18, 1887.  "What grand neighbors we had," Aunt Nan wrote.  "Mrs. Miller gave Mother some warm baby clothes and blankets she had made for her little boy, Vigo, when he was born a little over a year before; one of the other ladies brought an old lady to take care of us when the baby was due.  Mrs. Benbrooks was so capable and nice, and everything went well . She used to play tunes for us on a comb wrapped in paper, and we children thought that was wonderful."

 On one morning when they were gathering the cattle, Grandpa met Joe Alford, who had some land on the north side of LaBarge Creek, where he raised horses.  Now, he was helping the Spur outfit gather cattle to put across the Green River to the winter range on the Little Colorado Desert.  He suggested that W.J. ride with him down to the Spur headquarters to meet Alexander Reel, manager of the Spur.  He said they had a good blacksmith who could forge whatever brand Grandpa might decide to use.

Of the cattle Grandpa had brought from Parley's Canyon, more were branded with a
 Lazy PL on the left rib.  Grandpa thought he might put it on the rest of the cattle and add a Lazy J beneath it.  It was the blacksmith who suggested that they join the two irons with an upright bar to make the single iron more stable and to eliminate the need for two irons.  Thus the Lazy JHPL brand was born.
 Amid strong outcries from the children, Grandoa caught Little Jim the following day, heated his new iron, and seared his brand on the calf.  After explaining to the children that now everyone would know that the calf truly belonged to them, they accepted the procedure.  Not long after that the Spur was branding late calves before crossing them to the east side of the river;  joshing that no one could make that brand over, the crew helped Grandpa brand the rest of the cattle.

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 While, if I heard of them, I have forgotten the other brands of that early date, I will insert here what I do remember: Joe Alford branded his horses with the Rocking Chair brand on the left shoulder.  Niels Miller used a brand called the Index Finger on his cattle, and a simple M on his horses.  Later he bought the land belonging to Joe, and that is where his grandson, Charles, and granddaughter, Harriet Chrisman, now make their home.  When the Millers retired and moved to Ogden, Utah, in 1908, their oldest daughter, Inger--who had married a rancher from the Opal area, Jim Chrisman, in 1898--decided to bring her family to LaBarge.  She and Jim brought with them the Flying W brand still used by Charlie and his brother, John.  John and his wife, Dee, have their home on South Piney Creek.  I believe their son, John Jay, has revived the old Rocking Chair brand is is using it on his livestock.

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 Throughout the years, the McGinnis family shared--in common with all the others who dared the challenges--the inconveniences, hardships, and travail involved with making a home in this then remote region along the Green River and its tributaries.  When their third son, Asa, was born on July 17,1889, it seemed the gods wee truly smiling upon them.  But it was short-lived euphoria.  Within less than a year, they were to experience the sad loss of all their small herd of cattle, followed by the loss of that precious baby boy, who drowned in LaBarge Creek on November 5, 1890.

The relatively mild winters that preceded the winter of 1889-90 caught all the settlers totally unprepared for the vicious force and extremes of that winter.  No one was spared;  when the spring came all were faced with the same choice:  start over or move on.

Those who had the courage to stay were too preoccupied with the task at hand to
do much celebrating when word reached them that Wyoming had been admitted Statehood July 10, 1890.  The impact of its new status was not to become very evident to them for some months.

 To make the money they needed to make a new start, Grandpa went back to the mines at Park City.  Grandma and the children remained on at LaBarge.  Each spring on his return to Wyoming, he would buy a few cattle along the way with which to rebuild his herd.  He filed a homestead on the banks of the Green about eight miles above where LaBarge Creek empties into it, and the summers were spent improving that land.

 He took the first water right ever taken from the river for irrigation and set about building a dam to divert the water.  John Knowlen and William Vickrey had filed homesteads further down the river, and with their help, the dam finally began to take shape;  then there was the ditch to build to carry water to the land that had been grubbed out of the brush on the flatland fanning out from the river channel.  The dam was to prove an annual job after the ice and high water were passed each spring, and the itch required constant supervision and maintenance, too, during the irrigating season.

 It boggles the mind--in this modern day of electrical appliances, rapid transportation and communication, and equipment to take the drudgery out of almost any endeavor--to attempt to visualize the goals those hardy folk of yesteryear set for themselves and accomplished with little more to go on than their resolve, ingenuity, aching muscles, a lot of sweat, and blisters.  It took almost ten years for W.J. and Mary to see the fruition of their labors.  In 1898 they finally moved from the cabin on LaBarge Creek into their new home, a large, two-story house built with logs hauled by teams the many miles away from the mountains at the head of Dry Piney Creek.

Wyoming tourism was in its beginning chapter as people from back east and Europe heard of the wonders, and wanted to see, the country described by Ashley, Sublette, Fremont and others who had explored the region in the early 1800's.  The new McGinnis home lay about half way between the Union Pacific railroad station at Opal and the little settlements of Merna and Cora, and so it became known as Midway.

The stage lines that carried the visitors along this route persuaded Grandma to turn her home into an overnight stooping place for their accomodation.  I loved the stories my Grandmother told me of the interesting people they sheltered during those years.  She said, "It made a lot of extra work, but we enjoyed the contacts with the world outside
the Valley."

 Midway was appointed by the attorney general as a postoffice in 1906, and Grandma served as postmaster for the northbound mail for twenty-six years.

 By now there were two more children, a daughter Olive born in Park City September 30, 1893, and a son, Frank, born at Midway August 15, 1900.  Grandfather still went back to the mines at Park City winters when they were short of money.  The older children were soon branching off with families of their own.  The oldest, Carrie, was married at Midway the autumn after they moved there, and moved to Nebraska with her husband.  Lucilla married John Budd May 21, 1905, and moved to his Meadow Canyon ranch north of Big Piney.  Anderson married Delia whitman on July 8, 1906.  William married Mamie Hanson, who had come to teach the Lindley school across the river from Midway a few years before, on September 20, 1908.

Meanwhile, with the  flats now producing hay, Grandpa brought six hundred head of Durham cattle up from southern Utah; at last, the Lazy JHPL was "off the ground" and began to prosper.  Grandpa was to buy the homesteads of Anderson and Bess on LaBarge Creek and the George Whitman homestead below them.  In 1911, he incorporated his holdings under the name McGinnis Land and Cattle Company.

 Rody Thornton had begun ranching in the early '80s on Dry Piney Creek just over the hills west of Midway.
 After the winter of '89 had left so much rangeland vacated, Mr. Thornton had brought about a thousand head of cattle up from Texas.  He had bought the Knowlen and Vickrey homesteads along the river shortly after Grandma and Grandpa moved to Midway.  Thornton died in 1912, and in 1916 the McGinnis Land & Cattle Co. bought his estate from the heirs.

 Uncle Anderson and Aunt Delia then moved onto the Thornton lands on Green River below Midway, and Uncle Anderson used the Thornton Figure Four brand to start his own herd of cattle.  That same year my Dad, William, took the Bar UF for his brand;  he and mother were living at the George Whitman homestead on LaBarge.  I was born there August 16, 1916;  and the next spring they moved to the Thornton home ranch.

Grandpa had suffered from "miners' consumption" for several years, and when he developed pneumonia in 1919, it was to prove too much.  He died in Salt Lake City on April 19, 1919, at the age of 71 years.  After his death McGinnis Land & Cattle was dissolved and his estate divided. Uncle Anderson got the land below Midway where he and Aunt Delia had built their home, and he took the Lazy JHPL brand;  he used it thereafter until his death, August 13, 1963, when it went to his daughter, Alice Schaffer.  While I have been writing this I have heard that she has sold the ranch where she grew up.

 Will the Lazy JHPL brand, like those hardy folk who labored so many years to see it grow, pass into the shadows of history?

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The Y Lazy S brand: 1917 to 1987
 Miranda McGinnis married Walter C. Yose on December 12, 1917.  They started their herd of cattle under the Y Lazy S brand, and got Midway when the property was divided.  Grandma lived on with them there for many years.  In her later years, she was to spend the winters in Salt Lake City, but would return to her beloved Wyoming to visit at the homes of her children through the summer months.  She passed away, at the age of ninety-four years, in Salt Lake City on December 31, 1949.  After Uncle Walter passed away, his sons, Walter, Jr. and Frank, took over the operation of the ranch; Aunt Nan still lived on in the old Midway house until after Frank married, after which she moved to Big Piney.  She died there in 1977.  She was then ninety-six years of age.  I believe the Y Lazy S was discontinued after Midway was sold in 1987.
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The F Bench and Standard Ring: 1920 - 1991

 When Grandpa's estate was settled, young Frank McGinnis and Grandma got the Anderson-Bess places on LaBarge.  Uncle Frank married Isabelle Stacy in 1920, and they started the Standard Ring brand and built their home there on the east bench overlooking LaBarge.  Aunt Isabelle passed away just five years later;  in 1928 Uncle Frank married her sister Viola.  He leased Grandma's acreage and bought two homesteads up LaBarge Creek that joined the National Forest boundary.  (For several years the Standard Timber Company had a commissary on the land below the forest boundary.)

Because the Standard Ring brand was often confused with the Link brand on Middle Piney--both were hip brands, and the range used by both overlapped--Uncle Frank changed to the F Bench.  Later, when Uncle Frank, who became ill with multiple sclerosis, could no longer carry on with his ranch operation, he sold to my father.  When they were closing the deal, Uncle Frank said, "I would like for Marjorie to have the F Bench brand."  I was very proud of that brand.  He and Aunt Viola then moved to Kemmerer where he died November 16, 1955.

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The Bar UF: 1915 to 1973
 My father--that William John born on LaBarge Creek in 1887--and mother were at Midway when their first son, Aaron Hanson McGinnis, was born on July 6, 1909.  A few years later, Father decided to try venturing off on his own.  He bought an eighty acre farm near Olathe, Colorado, where two more sons--William John (third generation) was born February 29, 1912, and Victor Samuel on November 12, 1913, were born.

 However, Dad was to grow homesick for the wide expanses and the cowboy life of his childhood, and he was being urged to return to the McGinnis Land & Cattle Co. because Grandfather's health was failing.  He brought his family back to Wyoming in 1915. They lived on the George Whitman homestead until the Thornton lands were purchased, after which they moved to the old Thornton home ranch in 1917.  Dad built a new home there, and there we grew up.

Dad, like his father before him, spent the most of his life accumulating more land and building the Bar UF to a sizeable herd.  Along with the home ranch, he got the old Horse Ranch, patented to Daniel C. Nowlin in 1895 and sold by him to R. Thornton in 1898, then sold to the McGinnises in 1916.  Later, Dad added the homesteads of two brothers, Charles and Jay Allen, their lands adjoining the Horse Ranch.  Still later, when sheep were threatening to take the surrounding range, he used his homestead rights to file a homestead where Black Canyon and South Sawmill Creeks run into Dry Piney Creek;  Mother filed a desert claim below that, and they bought another piece of land that belonged to Mrs. Haddenham there.  After the patents on his homestead and the desert came through, he bought the Herman Whitman homestead alongside them, thus uniting most of the upper Dry Piney basin into one holding.

During these years life on ranches was not much changed from what it had been while Dad was growing up.  Most of the streams were settled and fenced by now and Big Piney was a growing town.  Although Kemmerer was by now a thriving coal-mining town, this area was still in Uinta County, and land and water matters called for a trip to Evanston.  Now there were cars, but the roads were still little more than wagon trails;  the trip to Kemmerer involved flat tires and most travellers carried water with them to add to the steaming radiator by the time each hill along the route was climbed.

The newer homes were mostly two-story buildings with shingled roofs.  Water for household use came from wells dug by hand; our house on Dry Piney was "uptown",
because Dad built the kitchen over the well, and we had our pump and a sink inside the house.  After the house was finished, the folks used the old Thornton house for a bunkhouse and storage.  I remember its dirt roof where the primroses and bluebells bloomed in the spring.

 Cattle were still trailed the long distances from the ranches to the railroad shipping pens at Opal, Green River, or Rock Springs.  It was to be three decades before trucking came into popular use to get the cattle to the markets.  Electricity and telephones, too, were not to be common conveniences until the late 1950's and early '60's.  A few ranches did install their own power plants earlier and, also, some had inter-ranch telephones.  These were not too satifactory, however, and frequently out of order.

Meanwhile, the Bar UF was outgrowing the feed that Dry Piney could provide for winter, and Dad bought the Millison homestead on the east bank of Green River in 1929.  They ran their stock under the Lazy JF brand.  When my brother, Bill, started making a herd of his own, he took that brand and is using it today.

Now the Great Depression and the Drouth of the '30s dealt a double whammy to the ranchers of the Green River country.  By the time I finished high school in 1934, we were to see the Dry Piney meadows turned to parched and cracked wasteland.  Cattle prices were at rock bottom.  Rather than sell his base herd down to where they could winter at the Millison place, Dad set out to find some place where he might feed them through the winter of 1933.  It was then that he learned the old Spur ranch was for sale.

After Alexander Reel had died many years before, his widow had sold it to the Metcalf Land Company of Iowa;  they had then bought the ranches of Ralph M. Friend and Hyrum Smith (the upper Spur), all of which had belonged to the Territorial Spur Ranch.  In 1922 Metcalf Land had leased these lands to James (Doc) Sims who used them as the headquarters for his sheep operation.  What irony time can create:  the Spur outfit were leading insitgators of the "sheep deadline" that had been layed across the Little Colorado Desert from the mouth of Fontenelle Creek to Farson north of which no sheep were to venture.  Sims, now, was running the Spur brand as well as his sheep.

Dad could raise only enough money to buy the Hy Smith place at this time.  A rancher at Opal, Algot Larson, bought the Lower Spur and "Doc" continued to lease it from Larson.  We moved from the Home Ranch after school was out in 1934.  That same year, Aaron got his degree from the University of Wyoming.  He leased the ranch of Howard Holden and started his Onen Diamond-H brand which he operated in common with Dad for a few years until he was able to buy the Holden place.  While none of the places were producing what you call a bumper crop for a few years, we did have enough feed to hold the herd together until the drouth ended.

 Aaron and his wife, Caroline, still make their home at the Holden ranch.  When their son, Myles, got married they incorporated their holdings, and Myles and his wife, Corby, have built their home there as well.  That corporation now includes the old George Whitman homestead and the Bondurant homestead on LaBarge Creek, fifteen hundred deeded acres of rangeland on the Coal Creek that empties into LaBarge Creek, the Joe Krall ranch in Fontenelle Basin, and the Reese place between the old Holden ranch and the highway causeway at the Fontenelle Lake.

It was in 1940 that Dad bought the Frank McGinnis spread.  When "Doc" Sims, in failing health, retired in 1944, Dad bought the old Reel Lower Spur from Algot Larson.  A nephew of  "Doc", Newt Sims, bought the Friend homestead which lay on the south side of LaBarge Creek and the sheep.

In 1938 Victor had married Dorothy Marx, and they were making their home at the old Home Ranch; by now the meadows had recovered from the conditions of that horrible '30s drouth.  He had started his herd under the Milliron M brand.

Dad was a basic individualist.  Now with his sons grown and with brands of their own, he opted to divide his property rather than incorporate.  Feeling that without the combined efforts of all he could never have expanded his outfit as he had, he set up the pattern by which each of his sons could go their independent ways.  In order to do so and to clear financial obligations, he then sold the Frank McGinnis home to Chrismans, and the upper LaBarge rangeland to Rube Fox and Doyle Twitchel.

During the second World War, while my brother Bill was serving with the army in Italy, Victor leased his ranch and cattle.  Then, before Bill came home, he bought the Rich Ranch on South Piney, and he moved his family from the Home Ranch to that property.  Later, he sold that ranch to Bob O'Neil and returned to the Home Ranch.

 When Clarence Brawley came back to LaBarge after spending the war years with the Navy in the South Pacific, we were married.  He found that his lungs could not adjust readily to the dry, cold winter air and the altitude of Wyoming after almost five years of exposure to the hot and humid air of that arena and two bouts with malaria.  We went to California for three years; each summer we would come home to help with the haying and the fall gather of the cattle.  When we came home in 1949, he was recovered enough that we stayed.  In May of 1950, we bought the Lower Spur from Dad and he threw in the lands he had above the old Horse Ranch.  Later, we also bought the Horse Ranch.

By now tractors and balers were beginning to replace horses for the haying.  And before the end of that decade, ranchers began the trucking of their beef cattle to the markets.  During the '60's electricity and telephones were finally provided to the outlying ranches, and the roads were greatly improved.  The "old days" were coming into the twentieth century for the ranch folk.

When Newt Sims died, Clarence and I bought that Dart of the Spur Ranch from his heirs; with it we got his sheep grazing rights, and to that we soon added the Minton, Jory, and Bertot acreages along the foot of the Hogback.

Meanwhile, Victor had retired from ranching and bought the Mercantile in LaBarge.  Bill had added the Home Ranch and the Wash Whitman places to his J-F spread and a homestead on the west side of Green River adjoining the Millison place and including range on Pine Grove Ridge.

To supplement our income, Clarence became involved with heavy equipment and a trucking business, and, finally, we sold our holdings and cattle to Bill in 1974 when he was incorporating his property with his daughter, Laurie (Latta) and son William J. (fourth generation).  So that he would not have to rebrand the cattle, I let the F Bench brand go with that transaction, and they continue to use it on some of the cattle.  The part of Uncle Frank's ranch that was in our grandmother's name, and which both Frank and Dad leased from her, came up for sale in 1887, at which time it was bought by the JF Ranch, and has come full circle back to a William John McGinnis, as have the ranches on Dry Piney.

When the doctors advised Dad that my mother's health was critical and that she would do better in a lower climate, he turned the Hy Smith ranch over to Victor.  He then took
Mother to California in 1965, and they bought a home in Banning, California; Mother died there August 26, 1968 and he in 1970, May 19.

 Victor then sold the ranch to Jack and Linda Sims (no relation to the Sims family mentioned earlier) in 1972. The following year the last of the Bar UF cattle went down the road. Recently, Jay tried to restart the brand, but, for some obscure reason,  the Wyoming Livestock Board denied his application.  I find this sad since he carries on the W.J. McGinnis name and tradition begun so many years ago at a little cabin on LaBarge Creek.

 After the F-Bench was sold to the J-F Ranch, Clarence bought a few head of cattle which he leased to Neil Lunde, and later to Alice Schaffer.  We run these cattle under the other Frank McGinnis brand,the Standard Ring.  Now that Alice has sold her ranch, we have leased them to Blaine Hoffman.  And so both Uncle Frank's brands are still in use.

 In this year of 1991 the ranchers of the Green River Valley face another drouth year that threatens to be as serious as that of the '30s.  But in this day ranchers have the means to cope with Mother Nature when she delivers her obstruent side to challenge their welfare.

Unfortunately, however, a far more insidious threat has reared its ugly head to test the moral courage and determination of the modern livestock industry.  There are human factions made up of people with a totally warped concept of the contribution the ranching community has made and is making to the welfare of the general public.  To survive against their venomous attacks, our people must launch an equal campaign--not just locally, but throughout the nation--to make our position better understood and recognized.

Here, where Clarence and I now live overlooking the upper Colorado River, we see what will be happening to Green River if the lower states are allowed to usurp its water.  These ranchers and farmers are in a battle to hold their water rights from the tributaries feeding into the Colorado.  And, already, they have lost many of their lakes to the demand of these "grabbers" and "despoilers".  Funded by the "joiners" these groups that claim to represent the Public soon oust the public after they obtain their objectives.  It must not happen in Wyoming!

You have good local representation in Cheyenne and Washington, D. C., but be ever alert to the pressures brought against them by the forces of a bigger representation from other states.  Wyoming is a minority in that group, and ranchers fall in the "endangered species" class.  Those "joiners" are funding organizations bent on destroying the very industry without which the economy of Wyoming would never have gotten off the ground.

Only now, too late, the "joiners" in this area are beginning to rue the dollars they have donated to make private playgrounds for the privilleged few.  They are being barred from their favorite fishing holes, riding trails, and camp grounds.  In the last year I personally know several who have been ordered to remove their boats from their preferred lakes.  Don't let it happen in Wyoming!