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
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.  

JJ wagon
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.
Jim Hagans headstone
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.

Bob Cotton Bulls
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.

John Layton the Carrizo Stockman
The Springfield Herald, Volume 26, Number 38, May 2, 1913

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