Jack W. Graves, Jr. was born on January 30, 1945 in Blanchard, Oklahoma to Jack and Pauline Graves and he was the oldest of three boys. His first experience as a cowboy was when he was five years old and his Uncle Raymond and Aunt Ludie had a farm in Cordell, OK. They had some cows and they milked about 3 of them every day for their family. Jack’s chore was to ride an old harness mare named Bell who he rode bareback with a rope around her neck each evening down to the bottom of the milk cow pasture and bring them in for their evening milking. He always knew he wanted to be a cowboy, but from that point on Jack needed to be a cowboy because he loved it more than anything he had ever done.
Jack graduated from high school in Clarendon, Texas in 1963 and then joined the United States Army. He served his country honorably until 1967 and then he married Sue Kline and went to work in the oil field in Pecos, Texas to support his family. After Jack’s dad passed away in a tragic construction accident, he knew he needed to go out and follow his dream of being a cowboy. Jack and his wife ventured to Douglas, Wyoming where they had a friend working in the oil field south of Gillette, Wyoming around 1970. That is when Jack met and began working for Leonard “Lix” Apple who changed his life. Lix raised Beef master cattle, King and Blue Valentine Quarter Horses and Belgian Draft Horses on his Bone Pile Creek Ranch. During the day Jack would work in the oilfield and then he would work for Lix during his off time. They fed the cows with the draft teams and wagons or bob sleds and even though it was hard work in harsh conditions, Jack loved every minute of it. Lix taught him how to hitch a team, how to shoe horses, how to break colts, how to raise cattle and horses, and how to run a successful ranch operation. After losing his own dad at such a young age, Lix became important to Jack and he taught him so much about ranching and Wyoming life.
While working for Lix Jack met and became close friends with Floyd “Fats” Carter who ranched on Hoe Creek, south of Gillette a few miles from Lix’s ranch. Fats Carter was married to Cathy Brewer who was Bill Brewer’s daughter. Bill ranched down in Natrona and provided rodeo stock all over the country. Fats and Jack promoted several rodeos around Campbell County and they even helped build the Cowboy Bar and Rodeo Arena south of Gillette with Speck Hettinger and his brother Gib Lloyd. They put on rodeos for several years at the Cowboy Bar and even used wild horses that were caught off the Red Dessert near Rock Springs, Wyoming. Jack learned to team rope and he and his wife Sue won a couple of buckles together throughout Campbell County.
Jack became known around Campbell County for his dedication, work ethic and ranch hand abilities, so it is no surprise that he got job offers from many ranches in the area. During his time south of Gillette, Jack went to work for Buster Keeline on Harry Keeline’s Hog Eye Ranch. Jack remembers how one time Buster called for help to gather cows and he told Jack that he had plenty of horses so just bring a saddle. Well Jack got to the cow camp and Buster told him to ride Ole Hacksaw, so Jack threw his saddle on him while he noticed all the other hands just standing back and watching. Well, Jack was eager to work and ready to go, so he kicked Ole Hacksaw in the belly, spun him around a few times, and then jerked the cinch, pulled his head around and climbed on up. Hacksaw was fresh and had a mind of his own so he took off in a dead run, but Jack got the best of him and they didn’t stop for about five miles. Jack was the new guy and all the old hands wanted to see what he could handle. Jack made sure he was never the first one to a gate where he would have to dismount Hacksaw the rest of that trip, just in case.
In 1979, Paul “Hap” Stuart at Reno Junction offered Jack an opportunity to run some cattle of his own and so he began to work for him. Hap liked Red Angus cows and Simental Bulls and had a decent size operation southeast of Wright. While working for Hap, Jack and his two daughters did most of the riding. One time during a branding, Jack’s 8 year old daughter Stephanie was riding a 2 year old filly that they were just starting. Jack’s daughters learned early on what hard work was all about, but they too fell in love with being cowgirls just as Jack had as a little boy.
While Jack worked for Hap Stuart, the town of Wright was built and they asked Jack to help promote the very first Wright Days Celebration. Jack found some help and they built the arena in Wright and they also orchestrated the inaugural Wright Days Rodeo and Parade.
In 1984, Jack lost most of his cows in a spring blizzard that started on April 24th and went for 4 days straight. Snow piled up to the eves on the house and the wind blew so hard that you couldn’t see anything for 4 days. They were right in the middle of calving season and a neighbor, Earl Boller lost 800 sheep. Some cattle from north of Gillette wandered and drifted all the way south to Bill, WY. After the storm broke, some of Jack’s heifers were looking for water and walked out on the ice of a pond and fell through where 9 of them drowned. Jack and his family spent weeks gathering cows and his wife and daughters ended up feeding 21 bum calves by bottle. Jack also had a colt suffocate from a nose full of blowing snow. That winter was record breaking and heart breaking for many ranchers in Wyoming who suffered a devastating loss.
After an oilfield injury, Jack moved his wife and daughters to Big Horn County where he bought a small irrigated farm/ranch on the Greybull River between Basin and Greybull. During the day, Jack worked as a ranch hand for Val Nelson out of Burlington. He also guided hunters for Bryce Antley Outfitters, shod horses all over Big Horn County and cared for his own land, cattle and horses. Some folks around Big Horn County still had sheep herders out on the badlands so they would call up Jack and want him to go shoe their herder’s horses.
Jack never quite felt at home unless he was in the saddle, so in 1987 Jack sold his hay farm and took a job as the ranch hand for Otter Creek Grazing Association in Tensleep. Dennis Johnson was the foreman and Otter Creek had about 70,000 acres on the Big Horn Mountains and ran about 3,000 cows and 2,000 sheep. In the spring Jack would go to each member’s ranch to gather and brand new calves then turn them out to the badlands between Tensleep and Worland. Around the beginning of June, Jack would help gather them all off the badlands and trail them up Otter Creek all the way to the mountains and summer cow camp. Otter Creek had a set of pens at Bear Trap Meadows and several other locations up on the mountains where Jack would pregnancy test the cows in the fall and then trail them back off the mountain.
In 1990, Billy Bjornstead, a member of Otter Creek Grazing Association and who ranched on the lower Nowood River, asked Jack to come and work for him because his son was going off to college. Billy ran about 600 head of cows and would split them up between his Otter Creek allotment and some land he had down at Big Trails on the south end of the Big Horn Mountains.
He later worked for other ranches and served as a defense contractor in Iraq.