Joseph Black Chrisman was born September 14, 1916, on the Chrisman place up North Piney Creek in a two-story house to Chester Fredrick “Chet” Chrisman (1882-1957) and Edna Black Chrisman (1892-1939). He had the following siblings: Bill Chrisman, Barbara McMyer, Edna Mae Simpson and Marion Huddleston. They lived on North Piney where the old Mason Post Office was located at the old Charlie Ott place. This is where Joe started to school. The only four students attending school were May Ott and Barbara, Edna and Joe Chrisman. During that time, they had four teachers who lived with the family.
Going by team and wagon, Joe and his family moved to the “Home” ranch by Opal when Joe was going on eight years old. He attended school there and later attended high school in Kemmerer. After high school, Joe went to Pinedale where his mother and little brother were living.
He started working on ranches there and in a span of seven years, worked at a lot of places. He stacked for Mrs. Kelly and worked at the Sommers place when Carl and Martha Hittle were there. He wrangled horses for Rex Wardell on the Green River Drift, packed horses for Stan Decker at the Green River Lakes and worked for Bill Todd.
Joe went to Idaho and Oregon where he chopped hay and topped beets. He didn’t like that job, but the pay wasn’t bad for those times. He came back to Wyoming and worked for his cousins Chetty D. and Chester B. Chrisman and then went on to work for James W. Chrisman. Joe then moved to Piney and worked for Art Homer. He was at the Gene Noble place when Mrs. Noble and her brother, Joe Pence, passed away.
Joe Chrisman worked for young Joe Pence, who was the heir, until he joined the Armed Forces and served in World War II. Joe left Pinedale in November of 1941 and was sent to the 3rd Armored Division. When they shipped overseas, Joe was a tank commander with the rank of sergeant in the European Theater of the War. He spent a winter in England with the rain and nightcrawlers, later went to Omaha Beach in Normandy in July, got hit outside of Stalburg, Germany on September 18, 1944, and shipped home from England. Joe was sent to De Witte General where he received his medical discharge. He was awarded the Silver Star for outstanding heroism in action and served four years.
Joe came back to Big Piney and went to work for Buss Fear. He worked thirteen summers for the Big Piney Roundup Association and was with it until they split it up. He would cowboy until Christmas riding the fields for ranchers and then he would feed for Fears on Cottonwood or the Reardon place. Joe then worked for Fear Ranches, Inc., for 37 winters. In 1983, he went out on his own as a contract cowboy.
When moving cows from one place to another, Joe was very good at keeping the cows mothered up the entire time they were trailing. It was very important to him to make sure all the cows were mothered up when they reached their destination. Joe was also conscientious about making sure the cattle had good water and feed in the pasture they were grazing. He always knew what was going on with his bunch of cows. It didn’t matter what Joe was doing on the ranch, he always did a good job.
Joe was very good at calving time. He could usually take care of a difficult birth such as turning a calf around inside the cow with not much problem. Even with fencing and irrigating, no one ever had to go back and check to see what kind of job Joe had done and if anything needed to be fixed. It was always done right. If Joe had a long day riding or feeding with a team and the horses were worked hard, the horses were always taken care of before Joe went to the house and took care of himself. When Joe harnessed a team, the harness had to be a perfect fit and was adjusted so it would not sore the horses. It always looked perfect. The collar had to be a fit, and he always tested the fit with his fingers between the collar and the neck of the horse. When working four head of horses, Joe always hooked the chain for the lead team to the knees under the sled and the wheel team to the roller, so the teams would not pull the roller out. Joe taught Ken Fear how to drive a team by talking to them and little use of the lines.
Joe was always good with kids. He would take three or four kids every summer to the cow camp at the Beecher Place and work with them all summer moving the cows and taking care of them. Joe taught Ken Fear many things while he worked for Fears over the course of 37 years. There was not a thing that Joe taught or told Ken that did not do Ken a lot of good in life.
Joe spent four winters at the Beecher Place feeding cows for Fears in the deep snow. The year Ross and Emma Meeks bought the Silver Spur Bar in 1947, Buss Fear and Joe helped open it and then the next morning they started for the Beecher Place with a bunch of cows. The wind got to blowing so bad the riders could hardly see the cows trailing and where they were going.
In 1948 when Ken Fear was 10 years old, they were taking the cows into the Beecher Place for the winter and Buss Fear put a quarter of beef and other groceries in a sleeping bag, zipped it up and put the food on the hay sled, which Buss was driving. Joe and Ken were in the lead of the cows and going down the last draw when they saw Buss’s team had played out. Joe told Ken, “Lad you just sit here, and you won’t have any problems holding the cows.” Buss’s horse, Sneaks, was being driven with the cows, so Joe drove Buss’s horse past the sled. Buss took down his rope and roped the horse around the neck as it went by. The horse took off running and jerked Buss off the sled. The horse was pulling Buss through the snow, and the snow got so deep from bunching up in front of Buss the horse couldn’t pull him any farther, which caused the horse to turn and face Buss. Buss got on his horse, and they took the cows on to the Beecher Place. They got another team, went out and brought the sled to the corral and the food had frozen in the sleeping bag.
In 1964 the first year Fears owned the Cottonwood Place, Mickelsons had left 20 cows and 19 calves of Fears at the Winkleman Place. Joe and Ken Fear went to get them. They drove to Ball Lane and then could not go any farther. They went into Balls and called Frank Fear to come with his 4-wheel drive pickup. He got them farther up the road and got turned around with the trailer. When Joe and Ken were going off the Nichols Dugway, the snow drifts were up to the point of Ken’s four-year-old old bay gelding’s shoulders. Ken’s horse broke trail to the Winkleman Place. The next morning, they started at daylight. Joe went in the lead and the cows and calves followed single file with Ken in the tail. They made it to Ball Lane where the county had plowed the road. They continued to Fear’s place, and it was dark by the time they got to the corrals. They had a hard time getting the cows to go in the corral in the dark. This was December first, and they started feeding everything the next day.
Joe was past commander of the Piney and LaBarge American Legion Post. Ross Meeks, Buss Fear, Edward Carr, Junior Fear, Bob O’Neil and Joe Chrisman started the Sublette County Roping Club. They were the first officers. Joe was a member for 20 years. Joe rodeoed some and showed a few horses at the county fair. Joe would always lend a helping hand to anyone who needed help. This brings up one story known to few. Joe was out helping John Chrisman and due to a lack of cattle Joe was out in the corral on his horse, working pigs and ducks. He always took a lot of pride in and was very dedicated to his horses. Joe never liked to wear ear muffs and he nipped his ears in the freezing cold several times.
Joe married Velma Kouri on January 30, 1978, at the V.F.W. Post in Pinedale. They spent their early married years summering on the Beecher Place. It became a home away from home for local kids. Joe loved kids and was always ready to share his horses and teach children how to rope and ride. Kids loved Joe. Joe was one of the first to start the Sublette County Roping Club and became a charter member. He was a lifetime member of the Disabled American Veterans and the VFW. He and Velma were also awarded a lifetime membership to the Green River Valley Cattlemen’s Association.
“Cowboy Joe” will be missed by the young as well as the old. Joseph B. Chrisman died August 17, 1989, at his home in Marbleton, Wyoming.