Joe Campbell was born in 1933 in Hot Springs County, the first of two sons of Ralph and Hazel (Sneider) Campbell. Joe began riding with his mother at an early age. In 1947, when Joe was a freshman in High School, Ralph and Hazel purchased the Weststone place 30 miles west of Thermopolis. Their operation began with a small herd of Hereford cattle. Prior to the purchase of “the ranch” Joe and family helped many area neighbors with their ranching needs. The boys and Hazel were always ready for riding and working cattle.
Acreage and cattle increased with the expansion of the ranching business over the years. Joe and his family acquired the “Bridges Place”, North Fork and Rock Creek property bordering the Shoshoni National Forest in the Owl Creek and Absoroka Mountain ranges.
While in High School, Joe participated in a variety of activities including FFA, Boy Scouts, Honor Society, Class President, basketball, band, rodeo, calf roping, and football.
Joe attended the University of Wyoming earning a Bachelor’s degree in Animal Production in 1955. He was a member and president of the Sigma Chi Fraternity. Joe joined the Wyoming National Guard, served in the US Army, and was stationed at Ft. Knox, Kentucky from 1956-1958. He served as a Tank Recovery Instructor.
While in Kentucky, Joe met and married Barbara Jean Alvey. They returned to the family ranch in 1958. There they raised five children: Carolyn, Chris, Kathy, Connie, and Belinda.
From 1958, Joe took a lead role in the operation of the ranch. Cattle numbers fluctuated between 200-300 head depending on available feed. Joe introduced Angus cattle into his herd in the late 1960s and began using artificial insemination with Simmental and Limousin breeds in 1971. The Simmental breed proved to be a good match for the high altitude country with steep terrain. When Joe implemented the AI program he developed his own spreadsheet computer program to track the productivity of each animal. He was ahead of the ease of computer programs that are so common currently.
Joe has eye for quality stock & raised champion show steers for years. Still to date sells show calves from his double turkey track herd which always excel at fair.
Joe has worn many hats: cowboy, rancher, businessman, pilot, hunting guide for several years, and broker. Joe takes pride in being an active citizen of the Hot Springs County Community and this is especially true of his commitment to give back to the community. He has served on many boards taking key leadership positions on the boards and serving for long periods of time on most of the boards: REA (Hot Springs County President & Director), Farm Bureau (Northwest District President), School Board (Hamilton Dome & Hot Springs County), Owl Creek Water District, Tri County Telecommunications (Board of Directors and President), 4-H leader, Weed and Pest, Range Board, Wyoming Simmental Board (Director), GOP Precintman, Active in local GOP activities in Hot Springs County working on many campaigns, National Weather Service 50 years of dedicated services as a Cooperative Weather Observer, lifetime Elk’s member, and Roundtop Flyer’s (Treasurer). Most of these organizations have a direct contribution to the agricultural way of life.
As a cowboy, Joe has taught many family members and friends the skills of riding. Children, grandchildren, and now great-children enjoy being horseback. Many know the skills he possesses of not only riding horses but breaking and training them well. At 70+ years he said he was breaking his last horse and then broke another one in later years. When Joe crashed his plane and was in the emergency room his four daughters remember listening to the doctor explain to him about his broken leg and the recommendations for what needed to be done. One of the first three questions Joe asked was “Will I be able to ride a horse again?” The doctor asked “Do you ride a horse now?” Within less than 3 months he was back in the saddle.
Cattle are moved annually from the home place to multiple locations in the Owl Creek Mountains of the Absaroka Range, including deeded lands and summer grazing on the Shoshone National Forest. Sometimes it seems that Joe enjoys trailing cattle so much he just comes up with more places to lease in order to ride his horse with his kids and grandkids. The reality is that Joe Campbell is a great steward of the land and never overgrazes. This requires a variety of pastures especially during drought conditions.
Joe makes the best use of irrigation water as well. The legendary Anchor Dam sometimes stores water and sometimes does not, some years irrigation water is plentiful, and most years the most needs to be made of the limited water.
One year the family and friends moved cattle from the Jones ranch on Buffalo Creek secondary, across the reservation up to the ranch on Owl Creek, and on up to land bordering on Rock Creek. This cattle drive lasted nearly a week. After grazing a couple of months at Rock Creek, Joe and the three oldest kids trailed the cattle across from Rock Creek to the North Fork range. Trail rides such as this one and moving the cattle to the East Fork of the Woodriver required overnight pack trips. The “kids” still feel like they are on the “top of the world” when on the East Fork of the Woodriver (9000+ feet).
The mountain country that Joe has raised cattle on for more than 68 years always interests others to go help move cattle. It is such a rough and remote terrain that there are very few individuals that return for another ride. The family takes pride in and enjoys the ranching life helping Joe to continue his passion for the cowboy way of life. Mom has often said it is definitely in our genes. Children, their spouses, and the grandchildren put in long days in the saddle marveling how Joe can keep going at his age and still out riding everyone taking the steepest hill, moving his horse out in stride the best, and being the best hand at cutting stock out on the range.
With the purchase of a small plane in 1981, Joe has been able to see how the irrigation water is flowing over the pasture, check where the cattle are before the next day’s ride in order to save some riding time on the steep terrain, help neighbors locate missing cattle or horses, and in the past five or more years check for grizzly bear and wolf sightings/issues for his and neighbors herds.
Conservatism is the only way Joe knows. These practices have kept him in business when others have not been able to sustain through the lean years of ranching. Joe does not need a new truck or horse trailer, nor a tractor or baler. He does however require a great horse. Joe does some of his own veterinary work some of which includes: pregnancy testing his own cows, repairing a cow that prolapsed, general vaccinating, and more including building a device that hung from farmhand tractor for standing a cow for several periods of time per day. The device was truly physical therapy for a cow that was parlayed from delivering a huge calf.
Joe is always up first putting the coffee on for others at camp or home, wrangles the horse in, gathers and starts cows out of draws so there are less hours and work for other horses and riders, and he continues to put in long hours horseback. He is a highly respected horseman who has a knack of training horses to stride out and travel at a faster walk than any other rider. All the other riders are trotting beside him with envy asking how do you do that? Joe has trained countless horses that watch cows attentively and crouch down anticipating turning a fleeing cow. At the age of 81, he enjoys riding on North Fork and staying at the cow camp.