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80 The Open Land serving from age nineteen to twenty-three. Considering the number of Texanswhobecame“colonels”afterthewar,“captain”wasamodestpromotion .29 SparksstartedbackinthecattlebusinessinTexasassoonastheCivil War ended. By 1868 he was driving and delivering Texas cattle to Wyoming . As mentioned above, he got his Wrst look at the Great Basin on a drive to northwest Utah while working for Colonel John Meyers. Sparks describedhimselfinthoseyearsas“employedbyothersandreceivinga very small salary.” He once delivered a large band of Longhorns from Texas to Virginia. He drove them Wrst to Memphis, Tennessee, a trip of nearly Wve hundred miles. There they were loaded on cars of the Memphis and Charleston Railroad and shipped to Alexandria, Virginia. The steers were unloaded at Bristol, Tennessee, for forage and water. When Sparks stopped at Bristol on the return trip, he was upset to Wnd local cattle dying from Texas fever contracted from his stock’s grazing area.30 John went to Wyoming after his trip to the East and remained there fortwoandahalfyears.In1872hereturnedtoTexasandmarriedRachel Knight,thedaughterofDr.D.J.KnightofGeorgetown,Texas.Duringthe sameyearheandhisbrotherTomdrovecattletoWyomingandsoldthem at a good proWt.31 Georgetown, Texas, was John Sparks’s home and operating base for many years. It was also the Texas base for the Snyder brothers. In later years,oneofJohnSparks’scowboys,TexWillis,wroteaninterestingletter to Fred W. Sparks, a professor of mathematics at Texas Tech University . The cowboy and former wagon foreman wrote that John Sparks did the same amount of work Charlie Goodnight did, except John made no noise. G. W. LittleWeld, Ike Rogers, Ed Anderson, Ike T. Pryor all worked on the trail to Nevada with “old John,” as they called him and swore he was the greatest cowman they ever knew or worked for, but knew little about him. John was a top member of Texas Frontier Battalion in 1861, along with Charlie Gray Ocean of Sagebrush 81 Goodnight. And in 1868, John Sparks got to California with his Wrst 4,000 Texas cattle, and was paid oV in an enormous amount of gold money for that day in time. Old John said simply, “You have to trail cattle where people have gold money to pay for them.” Intheearly1870sJohnandhisolderbrotherTommoved“fourgigantic herds of cattle.” Apparently, all the drives were proWtable. AccordingtohistorianJ .H.Triggs,TomSparks“wasinXuencedbytherichFort Hall bottomland to move to Idaho with his herd of 14,000.” Tom’s operation was later wiped out in the big freeze of 1889–90.32 In 1873 John Sparks bought a large herd in Texas and drove the cattle to Wyoming. He established a ranch in the Chugwater River valley and moved his wife and family to Cheyenne. The Chugwater River valley is aboutseventymileslongandthreemileswideandcoversanareaofabout 135,500 acres. The greater part of its length is bordered by high, rocky walls,anditsfertilebottomlandsarequitelowandlevel.Thewatersupply is suYcient for irrigation of the natural meadows.33 Hundreds of work cattle had been watered in the Chugwater River valley as early as 1852 by Seth E. Ward, a trader.34 Ranching had developed rapidly in Wyoming during the late 1860s. Nelson Story trailed Texas cattle to Wyoming in 1866; the Union PaciWc railroad reached Cheyenne in 1867; and by the fall of 1868, 300,000 TexasLonghornshadreachedWyoming.35 WhenJohnSparksarrived,in the early 1870s, Wyoming was swiftly changing. Settlers and their cattle were threatening the existence of the Native Americans there and the American bison on which the Indians relied. The government seemed to support the rapid extinction of the bison to end the independent existence of the Plains Indians.36 Wyomingpresentedamorearidandmuchcolderenvironmentforthe rangelivestockindustrythanTexas.Theaverageannualprecipitationat Cheyennewasroughlysixteeninches,versusthirtyinchesinWilliamson County, Texas. Both areas received 70 percent of the precipitation durTexas Cattle and Cattlemen 81 82 The Open Land ing the growing season.37 But aside from money used to purchase cattle, investmentintheseearlyWyomingrancheswasslight.Adugoutcutinto a hillside near a creek served as headquarters, with a similar dugout nearby for the horses.38 In 1873 the Chugwater River valley was stocked with 4,100 head of cattle; 2,700 of them belonged to John Sparks. One might expect the young, recently married cowman to settle down and develop his ranch. But in 1874 Sparks sold his cattle and land claim to the Swan brothers. This was the Wrst purchase by A. H. and Thomas Swan, who eventually assembled one of the largest land and cattle Wrms north of Texas. The purchase price was thirty-Wve thousand dollars; Sparks later told H. H. Bancroft that it was “the largest sale ever made up to this time in the West.” The Swan brothers paid Wfteen thousand dollars as a down payment .Achattelmortgageremainedonthepropertyuntilthebalancewas paid, an unusual arrangement at...


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