John “Jay” Moody was born January 14, 1928, in Farmington, St. Francois County, Missouri, to Jackson W. L. and Oma Caudill Moody, the youngest of five children. His father was a horse trader and Revival Preacher, who travelled Missouri and Oklahoma following his occupations. As horse trader, he found ample opportunities to buy unbroken or spoiled horses. These horses, both saddle and draft, he brought home for his three boys to break and or bring them out of their bad habits. As soon as John was old enough to hold a lead rope, he was expected to join his older brothers in the task of working with the horses to turn them into saleable merchandise.
Life was harsh for the Moody family in those mid depression years. When John was four years old, his mother was killed in an automobile accident. From that point on the children’s responsibility for maintaining the home and the farmland and caring for the animals continually increased. It was understood that care of the animals, including the training of the constant incoming number of horses, was the job of the young boys.
The family always had around 30 head of cattle, and the horses were used daily doing the work of maintaining the farmland and handling the cows. Jackson was a hard man who expected his boys to put full attention to the tasks of training the horses. Play, when opportunities were found, was a part of the horse training. John and his older brothers became expert bareback riders, and under the strict tutelage of their father learned the techniques for getting horses to do what was expected of them. Through their constant close contact with the horses, they developed a keen sense of understanding of the behavior of their horses and became exceedingly capable of anticipating responses and calculating how to achieve a positive result with each individual. John remembers particularly one horse his father brought home who when ridden away from the home pastures, stampeded on the return ride. John and his brothers worked with that horse daily. When they were ready to return and the horse started his run, they would simply turn him around and ride the opposite direction until the horse tired. After many days of that routine, the boys’ persistence paid off and the horse came to realize that he got to go home sooner, and less tired, if he simply walked homeward. This experience, and many others young John had in those years were carried forward as tools in his successful horse training and cattle work.
At some point, Jackson gave John a horse in payment for his work with his father’s horses, and in the spring of 1940, the year he turned 12, John mounted his horse and left home. In leaving home and the unpleasant memories, he also left behind his given name which he had never liked, and chose instead to be known as Jay. Jay’s path away from home and an early adulthood took him to some acquaintances in Osage County, Kansas, where he spent until early fall of that year working for that family for room and board. With the coming of fall, Jay left Kansas on a trek that took him to southern Texas where he found employment with a Mexican who made his living rounding up wild cattle in the mesquite country and selling them. Jay’s job was to flush the cattle out of the mesquite into openings where the Mexican could rope the animals. Jay was impressed with the accurate throw of the Mexican’s 75 foot lariat which met its mark over and over again with single throws. From that experience, he took forward into the rest of his cowboy career the belief that a good roper was one who could make his loop count without the whirling of the rope over and over attempting to find the perfect opportunity. Jay stayed with his Mexican employer through that winter and into the spring learning more about what it meant to earn his living with a horse and cattle. At the beginning of the following summer, Jay moved on to New Mexico, where he found a job taking care cattle on a ranch’s high mountain summer pasture. When summer turned to fall and the cattle were brought off the mountain pasture, Jay again moved on, this time back to Kansas.
He arrived in Kansas in the early winter 1942 where he would remain until January 1946. During these years in Kansas he worked winters for the wheat ranchers caring for cattle on winter wheat pasture in the regions around Elkhart and north of Richfield. When the storms came, the cattle drifted south into the Cimarron River drainage, and Jay’s responsibility, after the storms wound down, was to gather them and bring them back north onto the wheat pastures. During the summers, he worked the wheat fields and broke horses which he purchased from the wheat ranchers and in turn sold as saddle horses to the government which was buying them to use in the war effort.
In January 1946, after reporting to Wichita for his army physical at age 18, Jay began his hitchhiking trip north with his saddle, tack, and a satchel. His eldest brother Lee was employed in Wyoming by the Upper Green River Cattle Association and Jay’s destination was now Wyoming. He arrived in western Wyoming in early spring and hooked up with the Green River Drift, where he was first employed helping calve on the Red Desert. Since the Association included cattle of many separate owners and fences were essentially nonexistent and there were no branding corrals, the brandings were done in the open with the cowboys holding herd. In this setting, Jay once again saw how the accurate steady hand of the roper was used to quietly rope the calves without the commotion caused by a rope whirling in the air. If a roper did whirl his loop, he was pulled off roping duty and put on the ground as a wrestler. Jay was reminded of his early experience with his Mexican employer in Texas. He stayed with the Drift moving north on to the mountain pastures at the head of the Green River for the summer. When winter came, he stayed on with Pat Dew in the butte area north of Cora, where he fed cattle through the winter.
Early spring 1947 found Jay on the move again to the Thermopolis and Owl Creek area where he found work with Tom Sanford. His job at the Sanford Ranch was to care for a herd of yearlings in the Coal Creek drainage. In May the yearlings were trailed down to the Big Horn River and across to the east side of the river where they would remain on through the summer. At this point Tom Sanford’s son Norman took on the yearling herd, and Jay made his way west to Cody.
In Cody he walked into a bar and told the bartender he was looking for work. The bartender said that Henry Larsen on the Wood River near Meeteetse was looking for a hand. Jay thought that would be a good opportunity and the bartender made a phone call to Henry. On the 20th of June, 1947, Henry came to Cody to hire and pick up his new hand. They met at the bar, and Henry asked Jay where his gear was. Jay replied that it was at the jail. Henry queried as to why his belongings were at the jail, to which Jay responded, “So they wouldn’t get stolen.” That day began a bond with Henry and Helen Larsen, their family, and ranch that would last for decades.
At the Larsen Ranch, Jay spent the first years primarily caring for the cattle with Curtis Larsen on the ranch’s Gooseberry Creek range. He also worked on the home ranch on the Wood River as a hand in the hayfield and whatever else was required. In the fall of 1947, Henry sold Jay 10 head of yearling heifers which would be the basis of his own herd that he would run on the ranch with Henry’s cattle as well as those of Curtis, and Henry’s younger son, Ralph. From that point on, Jay worked side by side with the Larsen brothers in all aspects of the operation of the ranch. In December 1949, Jay married Henry and Helen Larsen’s daughter Ethel.
The year 1950 brought significant changes to Jay’s life. As a married man, he now had his own home at the “Bennion Place” on the ranch, and his son Jay R. was born. That year he also broke a team of work mares, Nell and Sadie. Through the ensuing years he broke numerous saddle horses and at least one other team of draft horses which were used in the ranch’s cattle work. Curtis Larsen often said that he had never known a man who had a more natural talent with horses than Jay, and this ability was not limited to horses, he also trained and employed as his helpers several dogs, German Shepherds, a Kelpie, and a Border collie. In the early years on the Wood River, he took on the responsibility of calving the ranch’s two-year old heifers, a job he did and loved for some 32 years. In 1961, Henry formed a corporation to hold the ownership of the ranch and Jay and Ethel, joined Ethel’s brothers, sisters in law, and parents as stockholders in the newly formed company. Now one of the owners of the ranch, Jay would continue to be active in the daily work, which included managing the lower Wood River portion of the ranch, until early 1983 when he and Ethel sold their interest in the Larsen Ranch.
From 1983 until 2000, Jay followed his love of cowboying at the Antlers Ranch on the Wood River and as a cowboy and horse trainer at the Pitchfork Ranch on the Greybull River west of Meeteetse. During his years at the Pitchfork, the ranch was involved in an extensive horse program which included the breeding, training, and sale of registered saddle horses. This opportunity allowed Jay to combine his longtime cattle managing experience with his natural talent with horses in a way that he had never before been able. He was very proud to show the result of his training work in the ranch sale ring.
In order to focus attention on the care of his wife Ethel and due to his own health challenges, Jay retired from his life of cowboying in 2000, ending a varied and far ranging career that had spanned more than 60 years. In 2005, Jay and Ethel moved from the Wood River to Cody, where Ethel passed away in 2006. Jay continues to live an active life in Cody sharing stories of his cowboy life with his three grandsons and his friends.