Black Wrangler - Part One
Reminiscences of Lawrence Jackson 
Edited by Howard Hickson 

    Editor: In March, 1921, Lawrence Jackson came to Elko, Nevada looking for a job. He had left his Denver home when he was 15 and had wandered around the American West doing odd jobs for six years before heading for Nevada. For fifty years he worked on area ranches, mostly as a horse wrangler. Some of them were the big outfits in the heyday of the cattle business in northeast Nevada. 
Lawrence Jackson.  He was a proud man and his reminiscences seldom give any indication of racial bigotry he probably had to deal with from time to time. Anyway, Jackson's story is not a narrative of a black, but an account about the American West's buckaroo. He was not the fabled cowboy who drew his six gun with lightning speed, but was the honest-to-goodness rawhider who spent long muscle-bruising days in a hard saddle and got his guts mixed up every morning before his horse settled down to do a day's work. 
    Pay was meager and those leather pounders battled everything nature could muster - broiling sun, freezing nights, wind, rain, dust, snow, and mud. Add to that the burden of short rations, cantankerous animals, and a few men who were meaner than the critters they herded. There was always sand in the grub on a menu that didn't offer many surprises and a stint at night herding destroyed any chance to rest before tackling the herd the next day. 
     It is no wonder that a cowboy, when he finally made it to town after month's on the range, would often blow his season's pay in one night. He did this with same zeal he with which he chased cows. 

     He and his wife, Tressie, lived in Elko after he retired. Death tookJackson and his wife Tressie.
Jackson on May 18, 1979, just two years after this story was written. Physical problems caused by age, decades of riding cranky horses, and the hard life he suffered out on the range brought about his demise. Tressie, followed him on April 14, 1986. 
      A simple thanks to Lawrence Jackson cannot, in any way, show my gratitude for the gift of part of his life. Here is his story; it is low key, not revealing that some of the incidents were life threatening. He didn't think of himself as heroic but his story is full of dangerous adventures. It's his legacy and it's an important one.- Howard Hickson 

The above photographs of Tressie and Lawrence Jackson, taken by Jonas Dovydenas, Lenox, Massachusetts, are used with his permission.


     When I got my first look at Elko it looked awful bare. If the price of a train ticket had been in my pocket I would have boarded the next train leaving in either direction. But I didn't. There was a few automobiles around but the roads was still dirt. Horses was the only dependable means of transportation and the mail was still carried
to the rural places by horse stage. 


     I wanted to go to Tuscarora to look for a job, so I started there on Jess Snyder's stage. The stations was located so each team would have a ten or twelve mile run. The first change out of Elko was Eight Mile Springs. Our next stop was Dinner Station where a fresh team was ready to be hooked up to the buckboard. Tied to a hitchrack, the horses was champing at the bit, raring to go. Stuart Ranch, or Reed Station as some call it, was our third change before going on to Eagle Rock. When we came in sight of Eagle Rock the attendant was leading a fresh team out. It took about ten minutes to change horses and be on our way again. Then past Meadows Ranch to Ben Trembath's place in Taylor Canyon. Jess had a Model T truck there to finish the haul to Tuscarora, but the roads was too muddy, so he drove the team on through and we got into town before dark. Made good time for horses in those days. 

Spanish Ranch bunkhouse hands.

Three hands in the Spanish Ranch bunkhouse, c. 1910. Photo
courtesy of the Northeastern Nevada Museum, Elko.


     I phoned out to the Spanish Ranch for a job and the man that answered wanted to know if I was a buckaroo. I told him I wasn't, but had done a lot of ranch work. He told me to come out, that he would find something for me to do. 
     When I got there the first man I met was Kenneth Scott, a boy about my age. He told me where the office was and, when I got there, I met the biggest man I ever seen. He stood well over six foot and must have weighed over three hundred pounds. I found out later that he needed big horses and was a pretty good cowman, in spite of his
     He stuck out his hand and said, "I'm George Calligan. What can I do for you?" 
     I told him I was the Jackson that had phoned out for a job. 
     He looked surprised and said, "You didn't tell me you was a  Negro. I have some Southern boys here and they might object." 
     I replied, "I didn't stop to think that would make a difference." 
     He grinned and told me, "Young feller, I think you and me are going to get along fine. Put your stuff in the bunkhouse and Pete Eide, the ranch boss, will put you to work." 


     Pete was a big man too, almost the size of Calligan. He sent me to the IL Ranch, about twenty-five miles down the Owyhee River. Butch Wilson, the foreman there, put me to teaming hay and grain to the buckaroo camp at Devil's Corral on the Owyhee Desert. When I got my first look at the desert, I thought to myself that it was a
Godforsaken country infested with rattlesnakes, lizards, scorpions, coyotes, and bobcats, with only alkali water to drink - if you could beat the varmits to it. I guessed that, as far as the country went, if the other fellows could take it, I could too. 
     I didn't stay on the job long, only four or five weeks. It wasn't the Southern boys, it was the boss. Wilson was a sarcastic, overbearing sort that expected a man to look up to him like some sort of idol or overlord. I took it as long as I could and quit. 


     I went back to Tuscarora with the intention of going back to Elko. While there I met a man named Robert Caudill. He told me to call him Doby Doc or just Doc. Doc had two teams and was heading for the same country I just left. He was going to build a dam on the Little Owyhee. His teamster had gotten drunk and was still under the weather, so Doc hired me to drive one of the teams. Doc and Jake Reed had a good ranch site picked out, if they could get water to the place. Harvey Sewell was financing the deal. He and his brother, Abner, owned the mercantile store in Tuscarora. 
     We was getting ready to load up when Doc said, "Now, if I had a mine car and about a hundred yards of track to haul rock with, I would be set." 
     Abner spoke up and told him where there was a car and all the track Doc would need. 
     Doc said, "All right, Jack, go get your team. We can load up and be on our way in the morning." He always called me Jack. 
     We went north of town to an abandoned mine on a hillside. Doc was back in the shaft tearing up track and ties and sliding them downhill to me. I was busy loading when one of the horses snorted. I knowed he seen something.

     Next time: Lawrence Jackson talks about Constable George Gilmore, Doby Doc is bitten by a rattlesnake, building a dam, VN ranch, a shooting, mustangs, and a murder. 

     Note: This nine-part series comes from a piece I wrote titled Black Wrangler, Northeastern Nevada Historical Society Quarterly, Fall, 1977. I interviewed Mr. Jackson several times when he was 77-years old. His memory, stuffed with three quarters of a century's adventures, was sharp. This is readily apparent in the taped talks and more than one hundred hand-written pages of his experiences as a wrangler. His notebook was one long paragraph, without punctuation and capitals. My job was to put some order to his writing. More than once I would discover I had passed from one anecdote and was well into the next. This was before computers made editing a heck of a lot easier. 
     Jackson's story contains a few misspelled names and some grammatical  mistakes. They are his words and it's the story that counts. 

©Copyright 2000 by Howard Hickson. If any portion or all of this article is used or quoted proper credit must be given to the author. 

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