Jimmie and Gloria Grieve together are a part of Wyoming’s ranching history; a cowboy and his wife; born of the land, raised on the joys and hardships of ranch life. Molded by their environment and lifestyle into true pioneers of Wyoming. Ranching as their predecessors on horseback and by many of the old ways, Jimmie and Gloria lived the lives of the cowboy from birth to death.
James Bennett Grieve “Jimmie” was born, WY March 4th 1917, at the Carl Lathrop hospital in Casper. Jimmie was a 3rd generation Wyoming Cowboy, born to James B. Grieve, Sr. and Nellie Bennett Grieve. His father and grandfather (a Scottish immigrant) were both Wyoming pioneer ranch men. His mother Nellie Bennett Grieve was also the daughter of Scottish immigrants. Jimmie was the “epitome of a cowboy”, a unique one-of-a-kind cowboy. He rode before he walked and often said “if it can’t be done on a horseback, it didn’t need to be done”.
He was raised on the JE Ranch west of Casper and attended a one room country school there. Those were rough times. High plains to rolling hills, below zero blizzards to scorching dessert like summer heat. He lost his mother when he was 11 at which time his father counted on him and his only brother, Benjamin “Bun” Grieve to do all that any adult could do. By eleven years old, Jimmie was cooking for a round up crew and driving, by horseback, herds of horses by himself to Powder River, Wyoming for shipment on the railroad.
Just after high school Jimmie bought his first ranch, the Dumbell Ranch on the Sweetwater River from his uncle, Robert “Bob” Grieve. Jimmie continued buying smaller adjoining ranches to create holdings of many thousands of acres and the Dumbell Ranch became one of the largest ranches in the area.
Jimmie was approached by the Wyoming Historical Landmark Commission in August of 1947 to secure Independence Rock from further vandalism. Jimmie was instrumental in getting Archie Sanford and Tom Sun to join him in deeding Independence Rock to the State of Wyoming and to fence it off, further preserving a Historic Landmark for generations to come.
Gloria Mae McCleary was born May 28th, 1925 to Raymond and Wyoma Posey McCleary also pioneer Wyoming ranch families. Gloria and Jimmie were married at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Casper on June 30th, 1943. Gloria was at Jimmie’s side till her death in December 1988. Jimmie died 1 year and 1 month after his beloved wife, Gloria, from complications of heart surgery. He had said prior to that surgery, you can’t fix a broken heart. Gloria was his heart, his right hand “man” his best friend and his partner.
Gloria rode and worked cattle alongside Jimmie. They survived the Blizzard of ’49, along with their neighbors, dozing trails in the snow, fighting the blizzard to reach the cattle, sheep, and other livestock to fed and water.
Life along the Sweetwater River in Natrona County was a rough one, again with blazing hot dessert summers, and long cold blizzard winters. Jimmie and Gloria braved the spring snow storms and dug calves and lambs out of snow drifts. Jimmie carried the frozen calves inside the house; Gloria put them in the bathtub with hot water and would literally breathe life back into them. She had a way with the animals, she seemed to be able to “will” them to live. She’d bottle feed the calves, keeping them warm and got them strong enough to go back to their mothers. At times there might be 10 or more calves in their living room.
In the early days they hayed with horse drawn mowers and bailers. Gloria brought water and food to the crews. On roundup, (that went on for 4 weeks and covered thousands of acres and was done on the open range, not in corrals) Gloria would ride morning circles (they might gather two or three “areas” or “circles” each day), go back and bring lunch to the hands, and then do a majority of the branding and vaccinating.
Together Gloria and Jimmie did what needed to be done to raise and keep their livestock alive and the ranches running. They butchered, skinned and cut up their own meat supplies of beef, venison, pork and poultry. There was no “man’s or woman’s” work, no women’s lib, the women worked beside and with the men, riding, haying, fixing fence, and branding. Often Gloria did all that alongside Jimmie, plus cooked, cleaned, and cut hair for the ranch hands.
They raised rodeo calves and steers, they introduced Shorthorn, Brahma, Scottish Highlanders and Longhorn cattle to the Sweetwater country when Herefords were the norm. This straying from breeding only purebreds was not a popular decision by the neighboring ranches. But eventually, the area ranchers saw the benefits of cross-breed cattle. Jimmie and Gloria liked color and uniqueness in their cattle and horses. Jimmie always rode and raised only the best horses. Together they put on ranch rodeos in their area that were well attended. Jimmie excelled as a calf roper and loved to show off his horsemanship kills.
Both Jimmie and Gloria served as officers for the Stock Growers and Cowbells. Jimmie was instrumental in getting the Rocky Mountain Paint Horse Association up and running and served as President for several years. Jimmie and Gloria were always givers. They lived a cowboy life their whole lives.
In 1963 Jimmie and Gloria sold the Dumbell Ranch holdings in Natrona County and downsized to smaller holdings in Platte and Albany County. Continuing, but on a smaller scale, without 10 to 20 hired men, down to only 2 and their girls. They raised three girls Ellen, Edna and Carolyn, who were also known as some of the best ranch hands and horsewomen around.
Jimmie cussed daylight savings time, saying the livestock didn’t go by a clock and “when you change a cow’s clock, I’ll change mine”. Jim Hageman, 2014 WCHF inductee once said of Jimmie “Jimmie has ridden more miles horseback than most people will ever drive a car”. Jimmie refused to buy 4 wheelers to gather cattle (or have them on the place), or brand calves in a corral. Brandings were held outside on the range. The help held herd, Jimmie roped calves by the neck and drug them to the branding fire. Gloria and Jimmie’s girls were taught to effectively “wrestle a calf” with skill and not muscle. They butchered their own meat, fixed fence and lived the life they had in Natrona County, just on a smaller scale.
The ranchers in Platte County did not quite know what to think of this family from the Sweetwater who branded in the open and not on a branding table, who used horses to gather, not motorcycles or 4 wheelers. Their new neighbors quickly came to love this “old time” cowboy and his wife.
Jimmie and Gloria’s ranch in Albany County was on Highway 34 between Wheatland and Laramie. The surrounding ranchers used the corrals as shipping headquarters as Jimmie and Gloria had some of the best corrals, chutes and scales around. Jimmie would use these times to mount his horse and meet the cattle being trailed in. He insisted the corral work be done horseback and directed the loading of the cattle. There were thousands of cattle shipped out of those corrals, and you could count on Gloria always pulling fresh hot cookies out of the oven or preparing a meal for everyone who was there. This ranch became fondly known by ranchers, truckers and highway patrol as the “half-way house” where you could always count on the genuine hospitality of Jimmie and Gloria with fresh coffee and a good tale of cowboy life.
The Grieve home knew no strangers and anyone who ever met them remembered them for their hospitality and good humor. The facts of their lives can be found in many books and articles of Wyoming, its history and people. Jimmie was a standout with his high topped colored boots, multi pocketed vests that Gloria made just for him and his horsemanship. Gloria was a great cook, seamstress, and all round ranch wife who always had a smile on her face. Together they were loved by all, and after their deaths were mourned by thousands, as Wyoming lost yet two more real ranchers. They were a part of a dying breed.
And, what is a cowboy? Where do they learn their skills? Cowboys are born, not made. They are born of and on the land. They live in the country and make a living from the land by raising cattle, sheep and horses. They learn to ride as others learn to walk. They learn their cowboy skills out of necessity. They do as their ancestors did, and improve some skills along the way as technology can assist in some of the tasks. They never work by the clock, but by the sun and 365 days a year. Their livestock is their life. If they are a successful cowboy, their ranch and their way of life is remembered and their legend passed down. They can be either male or female.
As ranches in Wyoming are broken up and heirs leave the ranches to make a living elsewhere, the day of the real cowboy is becoming legend. It’s not just the boots and chaps, the hackamore and spurs, the saddle and rope, the tepees and chuck wagons. It’s gathering livestock on horseback, the roundup on the range, holding herd, settling and mothering up to brand. No 4 wheelers, no corrals, no catering service, no motorhomes. Gloria and Jimmie were real cowboys who lived that time of legends past and became a part of Wyoming’s history.