James Oscar “Jim” Middleton
James Oscar Middleton was born October 31, 1906 in Helena, Arkansas. He arrived in Wyoming with his family late fall of 1910 by train. It was bitter cold and he had on a straw hat and was barefoot. Solon Clark traveled by team and wagon from Old Woman Creek, Niobrara County, WY to get the family. He had straw and blankets in the bed of the wagon for them to keep warm on the long journey back to the homestead on Old Woman Creek. His father Benjamin Middleton had come out ahead and built a 12 by 14 foot log cabin for them.
A favorite pastime in the winter was to haze wild steers out onto the frozen creek bottoms and watch the reaction, sometimes catching them by the tail and going for a fast ride across the ice. School was a long cold walk in the winter, some children suffering from frostbite. Water for the school was obtained by sinking an apple crate into the creek bed and waiting for the water to seep through and become clear. Oscar said he was lucky to have a lard sandwich to take for lunch at school.
Later he attended school in Lusk, Wyoming but his formal schooling ended in the 6th grade when his father died and he had to help support the family. He started work for Mike Ruffing herding buck sheep. He herded them for 2 months and 13 days before he had saved $ 30.00 to buy a horse. The horse was said to be 9 years old, but must have been 20 and had the blind staggers. Oscar rode on roundups working for Otto Hitchcock when he was 12 years old and the country was open range. He also worked for various other ranches in Niobrara and Weston counties.
One time when he was a young man and out of work, his brother, Frank, and him jumped on a freight train heading for Nebraska, looking for work. The engineer heard them talking and they thought they would get kicked off, but he let them stay and gave them a cherry pie. While in Nebraska they hadn’t eaten for three days or found work when he found a man who said if you dig a new hole for my outhouse I will feed you a meal, which he did and collected his meal.
James Oscar Middleton filed on a homestead north of Lance Creek, WY. He married Marie Daniels Feb. 18, 1929 and they moved to his homestead by horseback with all their possessions, bedroll, chickens, eggs, cats and some supplies. Water for the homestead was hauled from a creek on a sled drawn by a horse and the wash was hung on the barb wire fence, hoping the wind did not blow too hard.
Oscar said when he was courting Marie he would ride 100 miles just to get her and take her to a dance and then ride back home again. In 1938 they purchased the Daniels’ homestead on Middle Creek of Cow Creek, Converse County, Wyoming. Oscar and Marie spent the rest of their lives there raising seven children, one daughter died when she was nine years old.
Oscar and a neighbor, Earl Slagle, built many reservoirs with horses in the 30’s. They were paid 10 cents a yard and that was more money than they could make at any other job. Times were tough then. Oscar was on the soil conservation committee for a number of years. He also built several spreader dams in deep draws that soon silted in and grassed over making more grazing. He later purchased some land in the edge of the Laramie Mountains south of Douglas. He trailed his cattle back and forth each spring and fall for eight years. He then sold the land south of Douglas to his son Ben who had land nearby. The trail they took was about 70 miles each way.
One year he was cook and driver of a pickup and trailer that was used to camp in each night. His crew that year was all women; his daughter, Rita Russell, and daughters-in-law, Peg and Pauline Middleton. It took 14 days and it rained 11 days out of the 14. But they made it to the mountains with no bad mishaps. Every evening there was a card game, the losers had to do the dishes. Oscar rarely ever lost. You could tell when he had a good hand, he made a giggle and wolf noise.
Oscar spent his whole life working with cattle and horses, and was still living on the ranch when he became ill and died on February 21, 1986.