Jesse York was a cowboy at heart. The morning he was born in Shawnee, Wyoming, his dad blew the whistle on the steam engine long and loud to alert family and friends that a son had arrived. Jesse’s older sister was already a homesteader. Brother Robert came along later to complete Tom and Myrtle’s family.
Jesse grew up in the Shawnee and Lost Springs areas. He worked on several ranches in Converse County in his early years. When he was 14 years old he worked for a relative in a coal mine north of Lost Springs.
It was a known fact that Jesse liked to fight. Jesse told a story about working in that mine. The mine had a little mule to pull a rail ore car out of the mine. Jesse’s relative was mean to the little mule and he didn’t like that. One day the mule spooked and jerked the car off the track, the relative took a short tug and started beating the mule. Jesse told him to stop and when he didn’t, Jesse whipped his relative fair and square. He lost his job in the mine, but he didn’t care because he didn’t like coal mining anyways. Jesse unhitched the mule and told his kin that he wasn’t beating that mule again because he was taking the mule with him.
Jesse was always the family member who loved to sing and visit with friends who came to visit. He loved music and dancing. He was a gifted roper. He won beautiful saddles because of his roping skills, but always said that his brother Bob, and cousin Donny York were better than he was.
Besides his love of team roping he liked to work the arena during rodeos and assisted the bronc riders to a safe landing. During one local rodeo in Lusk, Wyoming a bucking horse resisted going out of the arena. The arena cowboys thought they had their horses positioned to guide him through the open gate. After several minutes of the crowd groaning as the horse broke away and raced back around the arena Jesse York shook one out and raced his horse close enough to rope the bronc on the first loop.
To raise his family, Jesse went to work at Conoco Pipeline Company in Lance Creek, Wyoming. Gradually he learned many of the jobs and eventually was pipeline foreman. He laid pipeline through other states. One day he told us how much he disliked going through cities. He said that the traffic in Denver was so bad that it was hard to get any work done. At other times he took the crew through the desert southwest and the shifting sand made mapping extremely difficult hot and miserable. Even though he worked in the oil field he kept his ranch. All the time he was in the oil field he still ran cattle, sheep and horses.
Jesse loved training horses for ranch work and loved teams. He hitched up his team of horses to his haying equipment and wagons. There usually was good hay along the highway and Jesse used his spirited team to pull a wagon whose driver’s seat was many feet from the ground. One time his youngest daughter was holding the reins while Jesse was on the ground with his pitchfork tossing hay into the wagon. Something spooked the team and they ran away. Jesse shouted to Nancy to “JUMP”. Somehow, she managed to jump before the bouncing wagon threw her out.
Jesse broke and sold many saddle horses over the years as well as work teams. Jesse started a young light team one year (in January and February). It was cold and there was a lot of snow. Jesse took the team in the channel of Little Lightening Creek. The channel was deep with steep banks. They hitched the team to a stone boat and drove them up and down the channel, about a mile each way. When the weather broke, Jesse took them out of the creek and hooked them to a bronc cart. The team drove well and each day he could see improvement. Jesse had another team that he drove all over the country.
Bud Reed said that Jesse York was a mentor to him in his early years. Jesse worked for Bud’s parents off and on for ten years, starting in the early 1950’s. He usually rode a green colt he was breaking and would ride four miles to their ranch, ride all day and then ride back home. Bud said Jesse was a good hand horseback, outside or in a corral and as a young man Jesse would trail Lem Carmen’s bucking horses from town to town for rodeos. Bud rode many miles with Jesse and had a lot of fun. Bud and his cousins, Bebe and Walter always enjoyed riding with Jesse as he would sing “The Strawberry Roan” and other old western songs for them. Bud considered Jesse a good hand, and a very good friend of his.
Pat Miller had the pleasure of growing up around Jesse and knew him well. Pat said Jesse was a cowboy and if it couldn’t be done by horseback it couldn’t be done. In later years Pat and Jesse ran yearling steers together and Pat learned a lot about “Cowboying.”
Jesse liked every kid and every kid either knew Jesse or about him. Once in Douglas, Jesse was looking for Dave York. He asked a kid if he knew Dave York, and the little person said “No, but I know a Jesse York.” Jesse got quite a chuckle out of this comment.
In later years Jesse helped neighbors trail, brand, or ship. Whatever job needed to be done, Jesse was there. Jesse prided himself in being the first man on the job, wherever he went. He was an old-time cowboy and started cowboying a long time before horse trailers were invented. Pat Miller was riding with Jesse, Stewart Sides, and a group of younger cowboys gathering steers in Twenty Mile Country. A neighbor came along and told them there were steers on lower Twenty Mile, about 15 miles away. Jesse and Stewart Sides turned their horses and started galloping in that direction. Some of the younger cowboys started groaning and looking for the horse trailers.
Jesse was on his way to pick up a new team of horses and meet a favorite cousin and her husband. That morning his pickup went over a deep embankment in a fatal crash. Family and friends arranged the kind of funeral that Jesse would have wanted.