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Joseph “Rex” Wardell



Joseph Rex Wardell was the seventh child of nine born to homesteaders in the Green River Valley in Sublette County. The “Forks of the River” was where he grew up and learned to work at on the family ranch, which was known as a horse ranch and the boys had ample opportunity for breaking horses. The family earned good money selling horses to the Army during World War I.


Rex attended a country school on the neighboring ranch to age 12 or 13. When Rex was 9 years old, he earned his first saddle working as a horse wrangler for freighter Tom Connor. Prior to the 1920s, he worked on a ranch near Cokeville, Wyoming. That experience led him to swear off of raising pigs. Rex also worked for Abner and K. Luman in western Wyoming. He spent some time riding for a large ranch near Deeth, Nevada, but then he returned to Wyoming.


For many years his home was a cow camp with chuckwagon and roundup tents. His work on horseback covered from Opal, Wyoming, on the south to the Gros Ventre near Jackson and almost to Dubois on the north.


From 1923 to 1976, Rex was employed by the Upper Green River Cattle Association. He spent 44 of those years as foreman. Though he worked for the Association, he cared for all livestock he came aware of and saw that they were gathered and returned home regardless of ownership. He and his crew helped ranchers in neighboring grazing allotments when the help was needed.


Years of working with livestock on various ranches and trailing cattle to the railroad gained Rex a reputation of integrity. Rex had no children of his own, but he was a mentor to several generations of kids in the area who spent time working on the roundup with him. He was a living history book about the ranches and cowboys he’d grown to know through a lifetime of work.


His years working with the ranchers in the Association found him camped on the Little Colorado Desert the latter part of March preparing to distribute cattle over the range keeping them on good feed and water. As the summer progressed, he drifted the cattle north to the mountains moving the cavvy and camp as he and his crew pushed cattle to summer pasture in the Upper Green River Valley. Calves from on the desert were branded along the way. As summer turned to fall, the cattle drifted south and the riders back rode and headed them home to be worked and shipped by way of the railroad at Opal or the Winton stockyards north of Rock Springs. Rex spent the greater part of winter gathering strays and getting them home. For most of his life this work was done horseback stopping overnight at ranches along the way. They used no trucks or horse trailers.

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