John Lawrence Atkinson was born on February 9, 1935, in Cheyenne, Wyoming, to Day and Connie Atkinson. Connie had traveled to Cheyenne to stay with her father, John Ulrich, until Lawrence was born. After his birth they returned to the small cabin at Day’s 640-acre homestead on Sheep Creek located in the remote Marshall area of northern Albany County. It was here that Day and Connie were trying to survive the effects of the 1934 drought and the hard times of the Depression.
Lawrence soon had a brother, Eugene Day, who was born on February 29, 1936. The family was able to lease the Bridge’s Place located a few miles north of the homestead. This afforded the family a house with more room than the simple cabin, and the livestock was trailed back and forth. Lawrence attended the one room school at Marshall from the first through the third grades. This is the building that is located at the Laramie Plains Museum by the Ivinson Mansion. When Gene started school, they rode a horse called Blondie double to attend class.
For fourth grade, Lawrence and Gene went to Laramie and stayed with their Uncle Toots and Aunt Florence. About this time, a younger brother, James Felix Atkinson, was born on January 4, 1944. By Lawrence’s fifth grade year, the family had moved to the original Atkinson Ranch that was homesteaded by his grandfather and was adjacent to Day’s homestead. His mother would teach the boys for the next four years through eighth grade. After school, Lawrence was responsible for chores and helping with the livestock which included surviving the horrendous Blizzard of ’49.
In the fall of 1949, the family decided to board the cattle with Lawrence’s Uncle Merl, trail the sheep herd to Wheatland where they leased pasture for the winter, and Lawrence began high school. Gene was now an eighth grader and Jim would begin first grade the following fall. The family continued summering at the ranch and wintering in Wheatland until Lawrence graduated in 1953. While in high school Lawrence was active in sports, FFA, and broke horses for a local rancher. After graduation he worked at the home ranch and helped a neighbor who had a sawmill.
With the drought of 1954 and neither hay nor grass for the livestock, Lawrence’s father leased the Samuel’s Place southwest of Rock River where he and Lawrence spent the winter tending the animals.
In 1956, Lawrence enlisted in the Army. He completed his basic training at Ft. Carson, Colorado, and was then shipped overseas to Germany for his active duty. He was discharged in January of 1958, returning to the ranch until summer when he went to work for the Wiesbart and Boxer with holdings that adjoined the home ranch. This entailed the care of a large bunch of yearlings. After they were shipped in the fall, he worked at home until winter when he moved to Medicine Bow to help family friends run their grocery store. Come spring he returned home where he and Gene would build 5 1/2 miles of fence for their dad.
That same spring a man by the name of Dee Burns, general manager for the Pitchfork Land and Cattle Company based out of Guthrie, Texas, would ask a Laramie rancher, Oda Mason, to be on the lookout for someone to manage the 33,000 acre Flag Ranch south of Laramie that was one of their holdings. Garrett rancher, Frank Dobson, told Oda, ” I know of someone. You’ll think he’s too young, but he can do it.” Lawrence was 24 years old but had a lot of common sense and a strong work ethic due to his upbringing. Dee, Frank, and Harry Dunlap drove out to the ranch to meet with Lawrence. As luck would have it and no means of communication, they arrived only to find Lawrence gone for the day. Lawrence’s mother gave him the message when he returned, and he headed straight into Laramie to meet with Dee. Lawrence and Dee spent the next three days touring the Flag ranch, so Lawrence could gain an understanding of the operation and future plans for the place. Lawrence was hired as the ranch manager and he would hold that position for the next 50 years!
While working at the Flag, Lawrence began dating Carol Hanson who was raised on a ranch west of Laramie. They were married on August 7, 1960, and raised a daughter, Kimberly, and a son, Shawn.
Lawrence was a “working” ranch manager so, in addition to the paperwork, he was responsible for the livestock, ranch maintenance, haying, and winter feeding. The Flag was noted for their great fences and the various buildings were kept painted and in good repair. Lawrence would also releather and change oil in all 12 windmills each winter, so they were ready to go in the spring. Livestock included large numbers of steers, a herd of sheep purchased to help control the poisonous larkspur infestation, and eventually a herd of Angus cattle. One year the Pitchfork asked Lawrence to take a group of Hereford steers to the National Western Stock Show in Denver. They were the high selling steers in the carload sale.
In his early years on the job, Lawrence was invited to Texas to see the Pitchfork headquarters and ranch. Asked to help move some cattle, the hired hands decided to get a laugh and put him on a pretty broncy horse none of them liked to ride. Lawrence got the last laugh as he rode the horse with no problems. Lawrence had much experience breaking horses, had won the bull riding one year at Saratoga, won the cow riding at Valley Station, and, along with his brother Gene, participated in several wild horse races. Known for his tremendous strength, Lawrence was the “mugger” and Gene was the rider. On another trip to Texas in 1983, Lawrence participated in the 100th Anniversary of the Pitchfork Land and Cattle Company along with 700 other invited guests and employees.
Lawrence has always been well liked and respected by all his neighbors, friends, and the businesses he patronized. He worked the ranch tirelessly yet was always ready to help anyone in need. He worked for the Pitchfork from July 9, 1959, until November 1, 1993, when it was sold to the DeLine family. He would continue working the ranch, renamed the Monaghan Ranch, for the new owners until he retired in November 2010, marking over 50 years employment on the same ranch which had then increased to 42,000 acres.
Throughout his lifetime, Lawrence has received many recognition’s and awards. These have included: 1965 Albany County Top Hand; Honorary Chapter Farmer, Snowy Range FFA; Honorary Inmate Wyoming Territorial Prison (for assistance with various projects to open the park); President and member of the Albany County Stockgrowers; Harmony Volunteer Fire Department for 30 years; Basic Firefighter course completed 1994; Albany County Agribusiness Committee Person of the Year; Laramie Rivers Conservation District Range Conservation Award; University of Wyoming Advisory Board for Agriculture; Wyoming Rancher of the Year Award from Goodyear (including a trip to Arizona); Wyoming Society of Range Management Rancher of the Year; Outstanding Cooperation Award–Laramie Rivers Conservation District; and close to 20 years of playing community Santa Claus with appearances as the “skating Santa” at the Skyline Skate Ranch, two years as Laramie’s “Spirit of Christmas” and Christmas parade Marshall, and countless home visits each Christmas Eve delivering candy canes and good wishes.