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Across the Fence: David F. Cook and 'Indian Joe'

 

In the archives of the Texas Trail Museum in Pine Bluffs, Wyoming I came across a file labeled, "Cook, Dave." In the file are several copies of hand written documents written by David F. Cook of Cheyenne, Wyoming. One document containing seven neatly written pages is titled, "Early Day Ranches Cheyenne Vicinity" at the top of page one, in a different hand, is written, "Uncle Dave wrote this Feb 1991." Nowhere in the documents does it tell of Uncle Dave's age in 1991 but the cursive writing is strong, bold and steady. The list begins with:

"Warren Live Stock Co. JK-7XL Hdq. Cheyenne – From the Goshen hole on the North to thirty miles into Colorado on the south, and from twenty miles east to Laramie on the west, consisting of 1,000,000 acres in 1890s."

The document continues and lists more than sixty different ranches and their general location around the Cheyenne area. Swan Land and Cattle Co. and Wyoming Hereford Ranch top the list with many lesser-known ranches following. Page seven begins with the P.O. Ranch located on Pole Creek, north of Cheyenne and ends with; "Coble Ranch – John – Tom Horn. Laramie – Iron Mountain Country." Going through the list I had the feeling that Mr. Cook knew every owner, foreman, cowboy and herder on each outfit.

Another document is a mimeographed copy of a typed, four page, abbreviated history of one of the most well known Wyoming ranches. The document begins, "From the beginning until the end, of one of the largest and most progressive livestock operations in the West, an operation contributing vastly to the development of the country in and around Cheyenne, Wyoming. Starting with numerous small partnerships in the 1870s, Francis E. Warren consolidated, expanded and incorporated into the Warren Live Stock Co. in 1883."

The document gives high praise to the Warren Live Stock Company and outlines its early incorporation and growth through the 1880s and F. E. Warren's partnership with W. W. Gleason. Mr. Gleason was neither as progressive nor farsighted as Mr. Warren and the partnership dissolved when Warren's son, Francis Jr. was able to take over the management of the company. Under the new management the Warren Live Stock Company diversified and thrived until the companies liquidation in 1963.

Mr. Cook's brief narrative gives a strong indication that he was there when the company dissolved. He makes it clear that he faults the 3Rs, "Relief, Recovery and Reform" of President Roosevelt's New Deal for the ultimate undoing of the Warren Live Stock Company. He ends his account with these words:

"Liquadation [sic] of an operation which was a family tradition built under pioneering conditions and years of hard labor and pride of accomplishment was a painful decision to make. However, when your own government is firing torpedos [sic] at your ship, its time to take to the life boats. Sell the ship while its still afloat and let the other fellow salvage the spoils.

I look back to my many years association with such a remarkable company with much pride and satisfaction. To me there will never be another Warren Live Stock Co."

A handwritten note at the bottom of the final page reads, "Brief talk by David F. Cook 1977."

Another hand written document in the file gives a concise, first hand account of the livestock industry in the region. It is published here for perhaps the first time.

"A Tribute to The Stockman.

It is hard for you and I to vision the time when Northern Colorado and southern Wyoming were wide open spaces and very little else.

Then along came speculators who anticipated making fortunes by utilizing this vast range land as pasture land for livestock at very little cost. Large cattle operations financed in many cases by foreign capital were instrumental in the rush to take advantage of this wonderful opportunity. This wild scramble for early dollars expanded by leaps and bounds until a severe winter took its toll. (This would have been the winter of 1886-87) Which left many without shirts on their backs.

This caused future livestock operators to consider better methods of operation and better stock to meet the challenge. Many were of the opinion that sheep could survive vigorous winters better than cattle and with this in mind sheep were introduced. The coming of sheep in many cases caused a furor between the sheep and cattlemen. Which in time common sense and reasoning healed.

Most of the first sheep were small Merino type raised primarily for wool. Vast areas of open range led to huge sheep operations. Numbers not quality were given first consideration. Consequently for more wool and dollars many large outfits boasted of having over a hundred thousand. One such outfit the Warren Livestock Co. pastured and sheared many of their sheep in the Weld and Larimer counties of northern Colorado. With the disappearance of the open range this all came to a conclusion and quality replaced quantity.

Modern methods have kept pace with the times and sheep and cattle raising are a far cry from those we read about.

Far sighted operators with hard working cowboys, sheep herders who many times gave their lives while tending the flocks and countless others will go down in history as founders of the west."

David F. Cook was a foreman for the Warren Live Stock Co. The documents do not indicate the dates that he was there but his notes do contain brief glimpses into the life of one sheepherder known as "Indian Joe." Mr. Cook writes:

"Joe Smith better known as Little Indian Joe left his home in New Mexico with a military attachment and migrated to Camp Carlin in Wyoming. Joe knew nothing of his parents but claimed to be Indian, although from his accent and features it was almost certain he was of Spanish decent. He could neither read nor write and knew nothing of his age, but his sence [sic] of humor and happy disposition more than made up for his deficincies [sic]. His entire life was spent as a sheepherder. Fourty [sic] years were spent as such under my supervision on the Pole Creek ranch."

Indian Joe herded sheep for the Warren Live Stock Co. from age 15 until he retired at age 75. Mr. Cook thought that Joe had to have been nearly 90 when he passed away. Indian Joe really didn't know his true age nor his last name but guessed at his age and thought that his last name was Smith.

"In the morning when he took the sheep out on he range, Joe would carry a load nearly too heavy for a pack horse. When he reached the grazing area he would unload and upon returning at nightfall load it back up and pack it back to camp.

Among Joes sheep herding equipment was a heavy iron nut with a long heavy twine tied to it... he called it his 'rattlesnake gun.' He threw the heavy nut at the snake, if he missed; he retrieved it with the twine, repeating the act until the final kill.

His calender [sic] was a string he tied a knot in every day. He kept track of the days by the number of knots."

Mr. Cook's memories of Indian Joe prompted the writing down of this story:

"[Joe] enjoyed being kidded and was always ready for a little fun... One morning while sitting in the bunk house waiting for me to give the orders for the day, Joe who was sitting quietly almost half asleep, suddenly broke out laughing. 'What now?' I inquired, 'Have you lost your marbles?' 'No, I was just thinking.' Joe replied.

'Don't give me that.' I replied, 'You have to have brains to think!'

'By gosh Dave' he replied, 'I have got brains. I was just thinking that some day when I die and go to hell, I am going to come back as a ghost. I will lift up the covers and tickle you guy's feet. When you wake up and see who it is somebodys going to shout!'

Such a queer idea coming from this little old man right out of the clear sky gave all the ranch boys something to think about."

Mr. Cook ends his notes on Indian Joe with these words:

"Time marches on but so far the ghost of Little Joe has failed to make it's appearance. Little Indian Joe's ghost is still alive and will be in fond memories to all who were near and dear to him."

These had written notes are signed, "D. F. C."

The back of the photo of Indian Joe reads: "Joe Smith a true shepherd in every sence [sic] of the word. Who spent a lifetime on the job. In retired years, supervised the dog kennels. The bunk house favorite. Had a great sence of humor. Nick named 'Drag Foot.' Invested all his earnings in lots. (Lots of whiskey)."

M. Timothy Nolting is an award winning Nebraska columnist and freelance writer. To contact Tim, email: acrossthefence2day@gmail.com

 

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