Life of Early Cowboy was Hard: JJ cowboy John Layton

As today, Dec 29, is the 140th anniversary of the incorporation of the Prairie Cattle Company I have compiled a couple of related items. The April 30, 1963 issue of the Guymon Daily Herald reprinted the autobiography written by my great uncle John Layton who was a JJ cowboy from 1901 to 1911ish. I have combined their intro with that piece written by Aunt Nora Layton and a few other tidbits and photos.

THE LIFE of a plains cowboy-in the Panhandle’s “early days’” was described by John Layton before his death May 15 1960 in Baca County Colo. His widow now living in Boise City has released his autobiography written shortly before his death  “Johnny typified the kind of cowman this country used to know.” Mrs Layton commented. “One who loved the outdoors and spent long hours in the saddle” 

The autobiography follows

 I WAS BORN in Kendall County Texas in 1881 I lived there until I was 13 years old coming to this country1895 with my family and an uncle and his family.   There were four covered wagons in our train and we were six weeks on the road In the spring of 1890 I got my first job. It was driving a team of mules hitched to a scraper digging a ditch. For this work I got my board and 50 cents a day. 

 Later that year I got a job on a ranch on the Cimarron River. They paid me some wages and sent me to school.

 It wasn’t until the spring of 1901 that I got my big job,  one I stayed with for ten years It was with the Prairie Cattle Company better known as the JJ’s with headquarters at Higby Colo.

AT THAT TIME the ranch had two wagons One was run by Billy Wilson the other by Jack Hardy. I worked about five years with Mr Wilson’s wagon. I got my board and $25 per month having to furnish my own bed roll, saddle blanket and bridle. The ranch furnished plenty of horses and ropes.

John Layton 1905

 I can remember the first mount that was cut out to me. The wagon boss said to me “Now if you can’t ride these horses there is someone else who can” and I knew he meant it and that I had to ride them or lose my job and there weren’t jobs everywhere at that time I had worked only a few months when my checks were raised to $30 per month (without asking for it) and later to $35 which was top wages for a rider.  

What clothes we took with us had to be kept in our bed roll. Mr Wilsow finally was promoted to range boss and my uncle Jim Herrin was made boss of the wagon but, I was called an outside man. Being the outside man meant taking my mount of horses (nine or ten) my bed roll and riding with the wagons belonging to other outfits around the country and gathering any cattle having the JJ brand

SOME OF the outfits I rode with were: Circle Diamond that ranged west of LaJunta and the F.D.W’s.  They ranged from the Cimarron breaks in Union County NM to west of Clayton.

I remember their wagon boss was Buck Miller whose daughter, Mrs Elnora Kuhns still lives in Clayton j I also rode with the Kreagh Brothers (Dick and Jack) wagon who ranged mostly south of Lamar Colo at that time on the Cimarron River in southeast Baca and others I was still with the same JJ wagon after Uncle Jim was promoted to another job and Jim Higgins took our wagon as boss.  

The headstone below is Jim Hagan’s from the Higbee Cemetery south of La Junta. The wagon photo was in an envelope of JJ Ranch pics my Granddad had. The wagon (above)is Jim Hagan’s. The man squatted down by the fire is my Great Uncle John Layton. The Layton Ranch was just a bit across the Colorado line north of Kenton, Oklahoma.
Here is one of my questions. I have wondered if the Jim Higgins listed in the autobiography and Jim Haggans above are the same person. I have seen many JJ references to Jim Haggans but not to Jim Higgins.

As I remember my hardest job was while I was with the JJ’s when the wrangler took sick and Mr Wilson asked me to wrangle. I found that job  included more work than just wrangling horses.  I learned how to stake down the rope corral, also to keep plenty of fuel for the cook be it wood or cow chips

MY LAST job with the company was during the winter of 1910 or 1911. Billy Corbin and I stayed in the camp at the Tubs in the San Canyon near the old Regnier Post Office.  We took care of and doctored a lot of mangey cattle that winter and in the spring of 1911 I went into partnership on a ranch with Bob Cotton.  He and his family moved to Springfield  and we were still in together when Bob died in 1917.  In 1915 I was married to Miss Nora Looney.  We had some mighty lean years here on the ranch but have had some real good ones too.

The Springfield Herald, Volume 29, Number 13, November 5, 1915

 I have sold my calves for $4 a head and I have sold them for $40 per cwt too.  I had a good life the 10 years I rode the range for the JJ and slept in my camp bed.  It was not bad at that time ard looking back now it was fun. Still it is now to me a grand life having a warm house to live in and someone to look after me.

 I STILL ride my horse at times and my jeep a lot and look after things.  But my youngest son still lives here on the ranch and does most of the work. 

 I have outlived most of the boys who rode with on the range with me.  I hope to live long enough to celebrate our Golden Wedding with our three sons and daughters – in – law and our eight grandchildren.

 Some of the boys I rode with for the JJ’s that I have not mentioned were: Claude Whitlock, Bert Crews, Luther Dennison, Jack Stephens, Billy Dude and Jesse Corbin Jim Brazlin, Dave Wright, John May, Claude Ashcraft, John Dabney, Bob Hadden, John Bock, Jim Higgins, Billy Landon,  Edd Warren,  Albino Martinis,  Charley Carson, Sant and Lew Shugart, Lon Case,  Heavy Oldem and Juan Romates, wagon cook.

The Springfield Herald, Volume 26, Number 38, May 2, 1913

Other Prairie Cattle Company Blogs:

Prairie Cattle Company Incorporated 140 Years Ago Today

Today is a day in history that may only matter to those of us in southeast Colorado, northeast New Mexico, the Oklahoma Panhandle and the Texas Panhandle. An event in in an office in Edinburg Scotland change the course of the afore mentioned areas, the American west and the American cattle industry.

You see, 140 years ago Dec 29 the Articles of Association for the Prairie Cattle Company Limited were signed.

Albert W. Thompson was the Sam Konkel (if you hang around this blog or the Plainsman Herald long you will hear the name Sam Konkel) of Clayton NM. He was editor and publisher of the Clayton Enterprise Newspaper. He wrote “The Early History of Clayton New Mexico” in 1933. That document is the equivalent of JR Austin’s 1936 “A Early History of Baca County.” His early writings also record much of a different part of the Prairie Cattle than we are used to hearing about in Baca County, but it gives perspective of how large the Prairie outfit really was. The Prairie had 3 divisions. Division No 1 was the headquarters at the JJ Ranch in Higbee Colorado. Division 2 at the Cross L in Clayton New Mexico and the 3rd at the Littlefield Ranch at Channing Texas. There is quite a bit written on the separate divisions of the Prairie, but not really a comprehensive review of the combined operation.  The Brand Listing below also shows the brands of many ranches the Prairie Company began buying in the early 1880s

Among the corporations launched in Scotland in 1881 was one known as the Prairie Cattle Company Limited.  The corporation had voted, raised, and appropriated for the purchase of land and cattle in America, no less than 650,000 pounds sterling, over $3,000,000 American dollars.  It was called the Prairie Cattle Company, Limited.  Its American headquarter office was located in Kansas City Missouri, its registered office and principal place of business, in Edinburgh, Scotland.  If indeed in 1881 you had cared to look up the gentlemanly directors of The Prairie Cattle Company Limited, some of whom had been knighted, you would have found them dressed in loose-fitting Scotch tweeds within Dowell’s Rooms, 18 George Street Edinburgh. 

To further break it down, a deed on record in Colfax County New Mexico, gives insight into the organization of The Prairie Cattle Company.  The deed recites in part that  John Guthrie Smith and James Duncan Smith solicitors before the Supreme Court, Scotland and William A. Clark, Muscatine, Iowa were trustees of the Prairie Cattle Company, Limited.  

Clark and a Mr. Underwood of Kansas City were bankers and established the firms based in Kansas City that operated under the name of Underwood, Clark and Company.  This firm during its early years was delegated almost unlimited power in the purchase of lands and cattle.  Their acts were approved by a board of directors in Edinburgh.  All of the general managers of the Prairie company, except one were natives of the British Isles.  The purchases of all the ranches in Colorado, New Mexico and Texas, however, was left to the discretion of the American’s, either Underwood Clark & Co., or their lieutenants.

That’s all for today. Here’s wishing you a great 2021.

Other Baca County History blogs connected to the Prairie Cattle Company.