James Felix Atkinson was born to Day and Connie Atkinson on January 4, 1944. He is the youngest of three brothers, including Lawrence and Gene Atkinson, who were raised in the Marshall community along Sheep Creek on the family ranch that was settled by their grandfather in the 1890’s in northern Albany County.
From an early age, Jim loved everything about ranch life. While his family originally focused on sheep, and in fact Jim would help his parents run their sheep herd until they were sold in 1988, Jim had a passion for cattle, and hoped to be able to have his own cattle herd one day. He moved to Wheatland for first through third grade while his older brothers attended high school there. He would return home to the family ranch where his mom would be his teacher through eighth grade. He participated in the 4-H program in Medicine Bow in his younger years.
Jim went to high school in Laramie, where he was an active member of FFA, the national honor society and was a Junior Rotarian. He would participate in many activities, but excelled at livestock and dairy judging. He received many individual and team awards and had the opportunity to represent Wyoming at national convention for dairy judging. He would serve the as the Wyoming State FFA Secretary after graduating from high school with honors, and go on to receive his American FFA degree, as well as representing Wyoming as a national officer candidate. During the summers he would often help neighbors put up their hay after finishing at home.
Jim attended college at the University of Wyoming, where he was a member of the Farmhouse Fraternity. He continued participating in livestock judging in college. He participated in the ROTC program from 1962-1964, and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Ag Business. After college Jim returned home to the family ranch to begin what would be a lifetime career in the cattle business, building his herd from 15 head that remained after the 1954 drought. As his father’s health declined, he would take over more of the day-to-day operations until Day’s passing in 1977. From 1966-1972, Jim was in the Air Force National Guard, which allowed him to see part of the world when he wasn’t at home on the ranch.
As Jim began his ranching career and started building his herd of Angus cattle, he not only worked the family ranch, but also took care of the 14,000 acre neighboring Morgan Ranch from 1971-1983. Jim also sharecropped hay on neighboring ranches. He was named the Outstanding Young Farmer by the Laramie Jaycees in 1974. He would meet a young teacher named Catherine Reilly, and they married in 1976. In 1979, they would buy Jim’s dream ranch, located 12 miles east of the original family ranch on Antelope Creek in the mountains. A year later, they had their first child, Kacy Lynn, and a few years later she would be joined by their son, Colter Day “C.D.”
Jim’s greatest passion was teaching his children about ranch life. Many days were spent in the saddle, teaching them to ride and about cows. From before they could walk he was loading them up and taking them with him to share the love he had for ranching and the land. It’s a love that he would transfer to both of his children, as they began their own cattle herds and would grow up still wanting to be a part of the ranch.
Throughout his years, Jim participated as an active member of the community. He was a board member for the Laramie Rivers Conservation District, and was a 20 year member of the Medicine Bow Conservation District. He is still a member of the Albany County Stock Growers Association and the Wyoming Stock Growers. He served on the Albany County Road Advisory Committee, and is a lifetime member of the Mounted Cowboy Shooting Association and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.
At 73 years old, Jim is still doing what he loves most. He’s spent years in the saddle, caring for his herd of Angus cattle, and ranches on both the original family homestead and the ranch he and Cathy purchased when they first married. They have survived hardships that would have done many with less heart in, but they persevered. That heart, drive and perseverance allowed him to spend a lifetime fulfilling his childhood dream to be a cattle rancher. There is little doubt he will continue to do so, and will continue to share his love and spirit for the ranching way of life with everyone who is lucky enough to know him.