COWBOYS PAST, PRESENT & FUTURE book by Jack Brainard

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In his unique homespun cowboy vernacular, Jack Brainard traces the development and history of the American Cowboy. Jack begins by explaining the western expansion of America that followed the Louisiana Purchase. Acknowledging that the existence of the cowboy is due to the grass of the Great Plains, longhorn cattle and the mustang, he takes us from the great trail drives of the mid-1800’s to the life of the modern day cowboy. In between, he chronicles the origins and development of the longhorn and mustang, the big spreads, the men who built them and the cowboys who worked on them. Never before has the history of the cowboy been better defined.

From the Texas cowboy to the California vaquero to the buckaroo, we learn of their equipment, clothes, horses, habits, and abilities to adapt to a changing environment.

Throughout the book, Jack shares with us his personal experiences and encounters with men who helped make “Cowboying” a “way of life”. In his own masterful way, he combines history with a little bit of story telling that makes for easy reading.

This book is for anyone who has ever pulled on a pair of boots, is or wants to be a Cowboy, and for all who cherish this life style. It is a remarkable tribute to an icon of American culture, the Cowboy.

Larry Kasten, Professor

Department of Animal and Food Science

University of Wisconsin – River Falls



As I reflect on my past, I am convinced that no one has had it better. In my eighty-three years, I have been fortunate to pursue the activities I liked best. Only once did I have a job. And even on this assignment, I had lots of freedom. Best of all God has showered me with a myriad of blessings, my health being the dominant one.

Horses have been my means of survival, and I owe all the positives I have enjoyed to them. Nothing gives me more satisfaction, or sense of accomplishment, than that of developing a nice young horse. Fortunately, I have enjoyed some success in these areas, which only made me more avid about my work.

I was born in western South Dakota at a small village called Wasta. It is located on the banks of the Cheyenne River, west of Wall, South Dakota. This is on the edge of the Badlands, a little east of the Black Hills. My parents homesteaded there in 1909. My father grew into ranching, and it is here that my association with Cowboys began. When I was three they led me around on a pony, and as soon as I could solo, I trailed them everywhere. At seven, I could throw a rope well enough to catch small calves in the corral, and even a pet goat or turkey now and then. I roped a calf at a rodeo when I was nine off my Shetland pony, and my hat was pretty tight on my way home.

My father had some political aspirations and ran for County Commissioner. He was successful and moved us to Rapid City, the County Seat. Since roads were his main forte, he was soon acquainted with every farmer and rancher in the county. He stayed active at the ranch with a married couple feeding the Cowboys ect. I took my pony to town with me and was the envy of all the kids.

In Rapid City on 6th Street, one block north of Main, a horse trader had a set of pens along the railroad siding. Many ranchers who had horses to sell brought them here to sell or trade. Most of these horses were draft horses, and when the trader accumulated a carload, he loaded them and sent them east.

He had a large office, if we could call it that, and here all the ranchers loafed when they were in town. It was the ranchers gathering place with a huge coffee pot and lots of tin cups. All of the rural news was assimilated here. My father stopped here every day on his way to the Courthouse. I was with him as often as possible because Cowboys were my heroes, and I wanted to be one of them. Among his clientele were retired ranchers who had moved to Rapid City. They were always on hand to keep themselves posted on any rural happenings.

As I look at it now, this sets me apart from most writers on the Cowboy rancher subject. These old ranchers shook my hand, played with me, teased me, questioned me about my pony, and all called me by my first name. Believe it or not, I was one of them as a seven year old. Remember this was seventy-six years ago.

Since this book is predominantly old time Cowboy rancher lore, let me tell you about some of the men who conversed with me and bought me soda pop pretty often. I remember every one of these men, and I can write about them with some authenticity.

Two of these men, Gus Haaser and Bill Blair, were always on hand and their story worth telling. They were hired to go to Oregon and purchase cattle to be driven to South Dakota by Haft and Conrad, who were already ranching in the Black Hills. They had access to Eastern money. Gus and Bill left in 1880, taking the train to San Francisco then by boat to Oregon. They purchased 3500 cattle, two hundred fifty saddle horses, two chuck wagons and the help needed for the drive. They trailed them to the mouth of Box Elder Creek and the Cheyenne River, five miles from my birthplace. I’ll discuss the story of this drive later in these pages.

Gus also served as a scout for Captain Wells of the 7th Cavalry. He was carrying a message one day when he witnessed the Wounded Knee battle from a distance of six hundred yards. After the battle, he helped load the wagons with the dead and wounded soldiers to take back to Pine Ridge.

Later the government employed him as a brand inspector, and he also had a contract to deliver cattle from the railroad to the Indians at Pine Ridge. In 1885 while working in a secluded area during a round up, his horse fell breaking his leg. He fired his pistol into the air three times hoping that someone would hear. Luckily the other cowboys heard the shots and found him. They fashioned a travois, got him back to camp and then put him on a wagon for the trip to the doctor at Hot Springs, seventy miles away. Think about this trip in a bouncing wagon over rough country for two days with a badly broken leg!!! Gus lived into his nineties and was tough to the end.

Bill Blair was a close friend of my fathers and his ranch bordered ours. I could not wait to go to the Blair’s and ride with Ben, his son. My family often went to his house for dinner, and my mother gave my sister and me strict orders to keep quiet and by no means talk at the dinner table. This was hard for me to do since silence was foreign to us. Dinner at Blair’s was not such a big event with us.

Bill had encountered Indians and lived to tell the story. Bill was once persued by several Indians. He headed for some rough country to evade capture or death. Unfortunately his horse played out so he dismounted and hid in a secluded area where he felt he had a chance for survival. Luckily the Indians had given up the chase in the rough country. Once the coast was clear, Bill went back to his exhausted horse and found his way back to camp after dark.

His son Ben ran the ranch after Bill retired and moved to Rapid City. Bill often visited the ranch, where he stood around and commented on Ben’s ranch decisions.

Russ Madison was a regular and all knew his reputation as a bronc rider. He started at fifteen years of age, breaking horses on the big ranches, and he often started one hundred wild horses in only a few months. Buffalo Bill Cody watched him and immediately talked him into joining up with his show, which he did. He toured Europe with Cody and they became great friends. After his tour he returned home and started staging rodeos on his own. President Coolidge was Russ’s guest in 1927 at one of his rodeos at the ranch. He continued these rodeos for years, and became famous for his bucking stock. In the early days, bucking horses that were impossible to ride became famous, as did the riders. Wagers were made on both cowboys and horses. One year a great bucking horse called Black Andy was brought to Rapid City, and his owners took all bets that no one could ride him. Russ Madison appeared and bet all he owned that he could accomplish the feat. People gathered for miles, and the ride took place on Main Street in front of the Harney Hotel. Old timers maintained that it was the greatest ride they had ever seen. Russ spurred the horse through a great ride and collected a sizable bet.

Another of these characters who came to Rapid City as a youth was Pete Lemley who ranched at the mouth of Rapid Creek. Well known in the Black Hills area as the Badlands fox, many of his exploits were far from honest. As a youth in Iowa,, he had read of Calamity Jane who resided in Deadwood. He decided he was going to go see her and buy her a beer. He bummed a railroad ride to the Black Hills then rented a horse and rode ninety miles to deadwood. Here he found her in a saloon. He told her of his mission, and she happily drank a beer with him. Pete became a dominant rancher and ran cattle all over the Badlands. He once leased 60,000 acres of pasture from the tribe for $600.00. He too was a friend of Buffalo Bill’s and went to Chicago to ride broncs for him. He also had many dangerous encounters with the Indians.

Corb Morse was the Badlands biggest cowman. He also received Eastern money and shipped thousands of cattle each year. Found everywhere was his brand, the 6L. Corb bought ranches along with the cattle on them. In buying these ranches and cattle, the brand transferred to the new owner as well. It is said that Corb had over one hundred brands registered in his name. He bought thousands of cattle and resold them to ranchers who re-branded them before taking them home. Old timers tell of constant branding taking place at Corb’s ranch for months on end.

I feel that I am so fortunate to have had access to men such as these, even if their conversations at my age meant little to me. I surely didn’t forget about these men however, and as I got older my father constantly talked about them reminding me of their early day cow country activities.

My parents left South Dakota in 1934. A scorching drought covered the West River country, and the depression was at it’s worst. Cattle were worth nothing with no feed to winter them on. Ranchers mowed thistles for feed, and cattle were in starvation condition. Everyone would have left South Dakota if enough money could be found to get out on. Good ranchland could be bought for five dollars per acre.

Back in Iowa, my family settled on a farm that my mother had inherited from her father, a 49er, who luckily hit pay dirt and better yet, had kept it. He returned to Iowa and bought land. Here I became more engrossed into the horses, which was a disappointment to my parents. They hoped for a little more than a Cowboy. I still own the farm that my grandfather purchased in 1852. It is the only farm in the county still under the ownership of one family.

The Cowboy stigma stayed with me, and each summer I went back to South Dakota to stay with an older sister who lived on a little ranch in the Black Hills. The Cowboy world was dominant in my thoughts and activities. After high school, my first year of college was at the School of Mines in Rapid City. My father was determined that I was to be a Civil Engineer. After one year of this, I convinced my parents that Engineering was beyond my talent and interest. I transferred to Iowa State with a major in Animal Husbandry. This worked fine and I took along a horse to train and sell for payment of my tuition.

Then World War II came along. Drafted out of college, the Army had me for four years. This was the only time in my life where I wasn’t on horseback. I was discharged at Camp Hood, Texas, and while there, I visited at the Goodrich Ranch in Lampasas, Texas.

Here I became acquainted with Glen Chism, the horse foreman. Glen was the best cowboy I had ever seen and we became very close. After discharge, I went to the ranch and worked for several months. Here I learned cow work in brush country and my roping skills improved. Quarter Horses were becoming the popular item in the Cowboy horse world, and at the ranch, we had three mares that were among the first one hundred registered. I loved this experience and couldn’t wait to become a Texan.

After my return North, horses and Rodeo became my mainstay. I rented several horse training facilities and slowly progressed until I was able to buy one of my own. This one proved successful also. I formed a partnership with two other men from Tucson, Arizona, Mel Potter and John Snow. Our goal was to produce rodeos in the mid-west, and our partnership was called Rodeos Incorporated. Luckily we purchased the greatest string of bucking horses available. Feeke Tooke of Ekalaka, Montana, the all time leading breeder of bucking horses decided to sell his main string, and we purchased them. We instantly had credibility as Rodeo Producers, and our horses and bull were exceptional. Each year at the National Finals Rodeo, a silver halter was awarded to the best bucking horse, this being a coveted award among Rodeo Producers. We won this award four times. During our Rodeo tenure, every Pro Cowboy in America competed at one or more of our Rodeos, and needless to say, we became acquainted with all of them. With this in my background, I feel that I have the credibility to talk and write on the subject of Rodeo and the Rodeo Cowboys who I have watched for fifty years.

Since I have trained and shown horses all my life as well as judged horse shows for forty years, I have become even more embedded in the Cowboy world of horse ranchers. During these activities, I have always found time to go the Badlands for June branding. This was a true Cowboy experience. We covered lots of country and worked thousands of cattle. We did it the old way and it was hard work and fun! Best of all it was the true Cowboy camaraderie that showed up, unlike that of the Rodeo or Horse Trainer variety.

During my visits with horse and cow people, I often refer to old timers. I have known their experiences and situations. A constant response is, “You had ought to write a book on that.”

A few years ago in the Badlands, I was visiting with an old rancher of my vintage. A true character, his name was Lane Johnston of Interior, South Dakota. We talked about old Dakota Cowboys, and during our conversation, I remarked that I was considering writing a book about Cowboys. I asked Lane if he thought that I could get it done. His response was, “Hell yes, you’ve been around them more than anybody I know.”

Come to think about it, maybe I do have enough creditability to write a little on the subject. The problem now lies in the ability part of the creditability. When I read the writings of Dary, Weston, and Vernam it surely puts a whoa on any literary talent I think I might have. Nevertheless, perhaps I can in a crude way, bring out some facts, history, and happenings about the Cowboy that might be interesting. I do know that I can handle a horse much better than words, phrases, and punctuation.

One thing that I have learned is that the Cowboy would have been nonexistent without the Great Plains grass, the Longhorn, and the mustang. These were the pillars of the Cowboy’s existence.

So here it is, in rag-tag Cowboy fashion, a little about the American Cowboy. Hope you enjoy it.