*Mary Naomi (Willard) Brooks
Relationship: BB Brooks Wife
Date of Birth: 6-10-1864
Date of Death: 2-6-1948
Hometown: Casper, WY
Years of Cowboy Experience: 62 years
Parents: Judge Lockhart Dickman & Olive Hester (Clark) Willard
Ranch Name: The B.B. Brooks and Company, the Banner Ranch, and the Buzzard Ranch.
Family Occupation: Rancher
*Lena Natrona (Brooks) McCleary
Relationship: BB & Mary’s 3rd daughter
Date of Birth: 10-16-1890
Date of Death: 6-10-1974
Hometown: Casper, WY
Years of Cowboy Experience: 79 years
Parents: Bryant Buttler “B.B.” & Mary Naomi (Willard) Brooks
Ranch Name: The B.B. Brooks Company and the Banner Ranch Company
Family Occupation: Rancher
*Marion Wilson McCleary
Relationship: BB & Mary’s 3rd daughter (Lena’s) husband
Date of Birth: 2-9-1887
Date of Death: 10-15-1979
Hometown: Casper, WY
Years of Cowboy Experience: 74 years
Parents: Wilson Glen & Lenora “Laney” (Young) McCleary
Ranch Name: The B.B. Brooks and Company and the Banner Ranch Company
Family Occupation: Rancher
*Bryant Bascum McCleary
Relationship: BB & Mary’s 3rd daughter (Lena’s) son
Date of Birth: 10-20-1921
Date of Death: 1-16-2013
Hometown: Casper, WY
Years of Cowboy Experience: 87 years
Parents: Marion “Mike” Wilson & Lena Natrona (Brooks) McCleary
Ranch Name: The B.B. Brooks and Company and the Banner Ranch Company
Family Occupation: Rancher
Bryant Butler Brooks was born February 5, 1861 to Silas Newton and Melissa Minerva “Burrows” Brooks in Bernardston, Massachusetts. Around 1871 he moved with his family to Chicago, spending his summers working on a farm near Brooklyn, Wisconsin. After graduating high school in 1878 and attending a business college in Chicago for a short time, he made his way to Wyoming working on his future wife’s family farm in Alexandria, Nebraska.
Our family’s Wyoming legacy began when Bryant Butler (B.B.) Brooks arrived in Cheyenne at the age of 19 in April of 1880. He had a strong dislike for life in the city and yearned for wide open spaces. He tried his hand as a cowboy and trapper for the first couple of years, starting with N.R. Davis in Cheyenne. He picked up a Collins saddle and a buffalo robe for a bed roll and was sent with a dozen more experienced cowboy’s to Idaho to gather up a few thousand head of Oregon cattle that had been brought at Fort Hall and turned loose along the Snake river for winter. They traveled to Idaho by train then picked up their horses, gathered their herd and headed back to Wyoming ending their journey east of present-day Lusk on the Circle Bar Ranch. This began Bryant B. Brooks’ career as a real cowboy. In 1881, he followed his old foreman Archie Faulkner to the Deer Creek area outside of Glenrock where he was employed by Major Wolcott’s VR ranch. Here he partook in several more round ups along the Platte River, the long hours were fatiguing and grueling, but the life was intensely interesting gaining experience from some the best cowboys in the country. He deicide the work as a cowboy was too hard for too little pay, so he quit with the boast that he would only work for himself in the future.
Fall of 1881, he began his trapping career in the Deer Creek area and wintered in some abandoned cabins in Deer Creek Park, between the two mountain ranges SW of Glenrock. He learned that wintering in the mountains was trying as the snow depths were much more significant than the Platte river valley, and he struggled with the isolation. He retreated a short distance below him, and on his 21st birthday February 5, 1882, he traded six #4 traps and a sack of flour to Pat the Trapper for his cabin on Muddy Creek. This became the home ranch of the B.B. Brooks and Company or the V – V in July of 1883. It was a family venture entered with his father Silas from Chicago and his brother John of Boston. Traveling to Chicago to meet with them and then onto meeting Tom Alsop in Wisconsin, his friend whom he had work for growing up. The two traveled around Green County picking up 80 yearling heifers to start his ranch in Wyoming. Returning to Rock Creek station with his two cars of cattle Bryant unloaded, found a discarded V iron and branded his heifers with a V-V and headed them to his home on Muddy Creek.
B.B. Brooks lived his life as a cowboy, trapper, lumberman, stockman, oilman, and banker according to his memoirs and even invested in ship building in Bath, Maine. He was as an active member of city, county, and state government throughout his life. He helped form and establish Natrona County in 1890 as an appointed commissioner, in 1893-94 he served as a legislator from Natrona County, and served as Wyoming’s Governor from 1905 – 1911.
Bryant married Mary Naomi Willard of Alexandria, Nebraska on March 11, 1886. Mary was the daughter of Judge Lockhart Dickman and Olive Hester “Clark” Willard born June 10, 1864 in Washington Courthouse, Ohio. The day they wed according to him, she pledged her life to him and her faith in Wyoming as a home. Arriving in Wyoming via Union Pacific Railroad at the Rock Creek Station, then taking a stagecoach through heavy snow to Fort Fetterman the nearest settlement to his V-V outfit, and they finished their last forty miles traveling on a buckboard to his primitive cabin on Muddy Creek. Here they built their life on the B.B. Brooks (V-V) Ranch. They had five children, four daughters, Jean (Lathrop), Abby (Nichols), Lena (McCleary), Melissa (Spurlock), and a son Silas. Mary balanced her life being a wife, mother, First Lady of Wyoming along with being engaged with all the activities on the ranch from cooking, managing cowboys in Bryant’s absence, to riding, etc… As daily life would arise, she took on any challenge thrown her way with grace. She lived her life with the philosophy of, “doing the thing at hand and not worrying about tomorrow.”
Mary was educated at a young age in Nebraska, at 13 she attended Riverside Institute in Lyons, Iowa. After graduating from the Institute, she went to teaching school in Thayer City, Nebraska. As she came to Wyoming her education and her experience as a teacher, along with her independence, strength, and courage helped forge her new life in the central Wyoming Territory. Music was an important part of her life she brought with her and passed down through future generations. She was a firm believer in education and women’s participation in politics.
Both B.B. and Mary were active in many organizations which helped shape and strengthen the community in which they lived, this in turn made their ranch life successful for five generations now. To name a few, Bryant was an active member of the Masonic Lodge as a 33-degree Mason, Knights Templar, Casper Rotary Club, Elks Lodge, as well as the Odd Fellows Lodge. Mary was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution as a founding member of the Fort Caspar Chapter, she served on University of Wyoming Board of Trustees, during World War I she was active in the Red Cross , after the war she helped organize the American Legion Auxiliary, and she also served as a Republican National Committee woman four times.
As for Bryant’s ship building venture from Bath, Maine, once again his brother John was involved in the business opportunity. Together, they found investors from Wyoming to back two wooden schooners. The first a five masted ship named the Governor Brooks and the day of the launching flying just below the burgee was the Governor’s cattle brand the V-V. The flag puzzled many of the spectators the day of the christening, some thought it was possibly a Masonic symbol of sorts. Bryant and Mary’s second daughter Abby were the ship’s sponsor and christened her on October 22, 1907.
Over Bryant and Mary Brooks’ life times, they owned and operated several ranches in central Wyoming. The first being the B.B. Brooks and Company which they incorporated in 1905, then adding the Stroud Ranch which was operated within the B.B. Brooks Ranch, the Banner Ranch Company, the Buzzard Ranch Company and later the old C-Lazy-Y Ranch also operated within the B. B. Brooks Company. On these ranches both cattle and sheep were raised. Through the years, they made many improvements which brought the ranch success, such as starting in 1886 when Bryant began cutting and storing hay along Muddy Creek to feed his cattle through the winter. Following were improved irrigation and meadows for better reserves for the harsh Wyoming winters. Much of their time on the ranch was spent in the saddle, in the early years the cattle grazed on open range. In the fall huge round ups in which the stockmen would gather to hold and sort the livestock by brands of each outfit. These roundups would start north of Cheyenne at Horse Creek and stretch back to central Wyoming. B.B. Brooks was said to be most comfortable in the saddle, throughout his life. He had the privilege to ride alongside President Teddy Roosevelt during the Cheyenne Frontiers Day Parade in August 1910.
Bryant B. Brooks passed away December 8, 1944 at the age of 83. At that time Mary, took over many of his positions including maintaining their beloved B.B. Brooks ranch. They lived their lives working together to build a life style of an American cowboy in central Wyoming, every aspect to create a stable community to better their lives and those around them. Mary died February 6, 1948 age 84.
In July 1905, the Brooks’ purchased the Banner Ranch from Harold Banner. It was known as the Banner Headquarters of the V-V Ranch and was tucked down in a creek bottom surrounded by tall hills and rim rocks, sheltered from the mighty Wyoming wind and harsh winters. This is the only ranch that remains in the family today and how our story continues to unfold.
Lena Natrona Brooks was Bryant and Mary’s third daughter born on October 16, 1890 at the home ranch of the B.B. Brooks and Company, where she was raised and began her life as a cowgirl. She attended school close to the home ranch. The Brooks’ had a one room school house built on the ranch and employed a teacher from Nebraska to begin their children’s education. Later Lena would attend another rural school not far from the home ranch and graduate high school in Cheyenne after her father was elected Governor. The Brooks family was the first family to live in the newly constructed Governor’s Mansion. The Brooks girls picked the room closest to the carriage house to be near their horse they had brought from the B.B. Brooks Ranch. The fall after graduating she attended Dana Hall in Massachusetts, during this time she was honored as the sponsor of the largest wooden sailing vessel ever built. It was named the “Wyoming” as her father B.B. Brooks and other investors from the landlocked state helped make the endeavor possible. Lena christened the ship at its launching into the Kennebec River December 15, 1909 and the people of Bath, Maine marveled at the young cowgirl from Wyoming. Her time was short on the east coast though, she missed Wyoming’s wide-open spaces and the wind, returning to the University of Wyoming where she graduated with her teaching degree. She would teach until meeting her future husband.
On September 21, 1919, Lena eloped in Grand Junction, Colorado to Marion “Mike” Wilson McCleary. Marion “Mike” was born to Wilson Glen and Lenora “Laney” (Young) McCleary on February 9, 1887. Mike was raised on a farm and educated in Wayne County, Illinois. Mike worked his way out from Noble, Illinois as a young man at the age of 15 or 16, first cleaning steam locomotives in Chicago, then working threshing crews across the Dakotas, and working at a sheep outfit near Midwest, Wyoming, following siblings to the area. His time on the sheep ranch proved how tough he was, as he was camped out with a band of sheep during winter in a canvas teepee tent and an old sleeping bag a storm passed through. After it cleared, he rode to town for supplies surprising the shop keepers. They feared someone would find him froze to death as temps had fallen far below zero unknown to Mike. Later in life he would say he could guarantee his sleeping bag to 60 below. He began his life in Casper helping construct the Standard Oil Refinery and later becoming a cowboy at the B.B. Brooks Ranch. Lena would nurse him back to health, after a team of horses ran away with him and a disc severely damaged his leg. It was shortly after this, they made their way to Colorado to marry. Here they ran a 160-acre farm for a short time.
Mike and Lena returned to Casper in 1920 in a buckboard wagon loaded with the piano that was a wedding gift from her mother Mary and leading a milk cow, to manage the Banner Ranch for Lena’s father B.B. Brooks. The ranch was incorporated in 1921. They later bought it from the Brooks’. Mike and Lena had three children, two daughters Marian “Mickey”, Lenora ” Babe”, and a son Bryant “Cactus”. They spent their life time making the Banner Ranch into what it is today, starting with the original 680 acres to a combination of just under 20,000 deeded and leased acres. Both Mike and Lena took out homesteads in the area and proved up on them. On April 17, 1925 the Banner Ranch picked up the Open A L (an open A centered above the L) brand for their livestock and then added the PV brand on November 19, 1946 from Steve Tobin it stood for Pleasant Valley. Over the years the ranch went from mainly a sheep business to strictly cattle in 1947. The fall in wool prices, shortage of herders, and predator control being the reasons. During the sheep years in the spring, the herd would be moved from North of the Platte river to the mountains south of the home ranch of the Banner Ranch Company and moved back in the fall. (approximately 30 miles one direction) Once the ranch was only cattle the north sheep country (called the Wicken Camp) was sold, making the yearly trek back and forth between the winter and summer range a more manageable 20 miles one direction.
Lena spent most her time in the saddle, and much like her father it was said she was only at home when she was in the saddle. When she was not working with Mike, she was known for one of her favorite pastimes, riding miles with her pack of grey hounds hunting coyotes, wild cats, and bears. Lena picked this up as a young girl riding with her father, who enjoyed the same pastime.
Together they were well known for managing their livestock, but Mike especially took pride in modernizing the ranch gaining the first iron wheeled tractor making farming easier. As they raised their family and made improvements, the kids worked a long side them. Just as she was raised, Lena insured her children were educated first at the ranch, then at the country school on Muddy Creek, and music would continue to be an importance.
Mike and Lena were also active in social and civic organizations within the community. Mike was a member of Wyoming Stockmen’s Association and local lodge of the Independent Order of the Odd Fellows. Lena held a position on the Natrona County School Board.
Lena passed away June 10, 1974 at 84 years of age and Mike died at the age 92 on October 15, 1979.
The only son of Mike and Lena and his Grandfather’s namesake Bryant (Cactus) as he was called for the majority of his life, lived his entire life on the Banner Ranch born October 20, 1921, passing away there at 91 on January 16, 2013. He married twice and had four children. Lynn Kouri is his daughter from his first marriage to Karen Hale. His second wife Barbara Jane Carr was the daughter of Stephen and Elberta (Rosecrans) Carr born November 20, 1927. They were married June 1, 1961. Three children were born in this marriage Mike McCleary (his grandpa’s name sake), Wendy McCleary and Shelly McCleary Trumbull. Through Barbara he also gained three step-children, Floyd, Larry and Sue Svrko. He lost his wife Barbara on October 27, 2003.
His young life was spent helping family on the ranch and attending country school. Bryant (Cactus) would tell about riding during the early day round ups. Holding the cattle on open range while they were being sorted for each outfit and the calves branded. He would get bored just sitting, so occasionally, he would let a calf out, so he could chase it back. There was also the time he was riding home from the little red schoolhouse on Brooks’ flats. The kids would cut across Muddy creek on their horses and hit the lower ranch meadows to follow what is now Negro creek back to the house. Bryant (Cactus) spotted a bobcat sitting atop a post at the Jack Hammer stack yard. He took his rope and made his best attempt to catch it, learning when he got home that it was a good thing he had missed because the bobcat would have probably followed that rope right back to him and his horse. He moved to town and lived in Kathleen Hemry’s boarding house to attended Natrona County High School graduating in 1940. Cactus took on his nick name in high school, but never disclosed how he managed to get it.
A talented young man there was not a stringed instrument he could not seem to play, he and three friends started a band the “Whiskey Mountain Four”. They played rural dances from Deer Creek to the Sweetwater country and were very popular entertainment throughout the rural communities. Cactus enjoyed crawling on saddle broncs and continued to ride them into his mid-40’s around central Wyoming. He had a short stint at University of Wyoming, where he became a member of the ATO Fraternity, and helped in founding the first rodeo club at the University in 1940 and ’41. In 1941 at the first rodeo they hosted in Laramie the team purchased the lumber to build the arena, tore it down afterwards, and returned the lumber the next day. With the arrival of World War II, he was sent home to help with the wool production and took over the sheep portion of the ranch.
In 1947 he bought his first plane, learning to fly out of the airstrip in Evansville, Wyoming in 1946. Cactus used his plane to check the ranch and could set down almost anywhere. He would not only check his own stock but would check on rural neighbors and their livestock as well. As a pilot he became a member of the Flying Farmers Organization, the family would host and attend fly ins at numerous ranches and airports across Wyoming and northern Colorado. Once he and Barb flew to Canada with other area ranchers to tour the Regina, Saskatchewan farm country, attending a Flying Farmer International Conference.
Cactus served as a Natrona County delegate with the Wyoming Stock Growers. He was an avid supporter of 4-H and the FFA, supporting agricultural youth for many years in both Natrona and Converse counties. Following his grandfather and dad he was also an active member of the Fraternal Order of the Odd Fellows Lodge.
Through his years on the ranch he saw many changes as progress took hold of the agriculture industry. As the two generations before him employed large crews to get the daily operations done, modern technology helped to mainstream work for smaller employment. Herefords have been the main breed, with some black angus used on the younger heifers in recent years. The ranch is a cow/calf operation, holding the market calves to yearlings before selling. Cactus always enjoyed being horseback, as well as working with his farm equipment. In his elder years, when he could no longer manage riding his horse he bought a Honda Rancher 4-wheeler and in less than 5 years he tallied over 30,000 miles as he continued checking his livestock and overseeing the ranch. His last year helping in the hayfield was in 2010 at the age of 88. Cactus stayed an intricate part of the Banner Ranch and its management until the day we lost him.
Cactus grew up learning the practices of both the Banner Ranch as well as the Brooks Ranch. Being only three miles apart and both in the family, made working and helping at the two ranches a common practice. He spent his life as a working cowboy herding, shearing, branding, lambing, calving and doctoring he was an experienced livestock man who enjoyed life in the saddle. He liked sharing his passion for agriculture with all who were interested and passed along his knowledge for the future generations to carry on the family legacy at the Banner Ranch Company.
With 133 years agriculture experience in Wyoming among the three generations, and 118 years living and working on the Banner Ranch in Central Wyoming , they set forth our family legacy and our ranching way of life. Today Cactus and Barb’s son Mike (his grandpa’s namesake) and daughter Shelly (Trumbull) live and work on the ranch with their families. Keeping our way of life, heritage, and family legacy alive is important to us, as well as paying tribute to those who lead the way to our path in Wyoming agriculture.