Note: James lived in Barton County, Missouri. James later moved to Raugely, Rio Blanco County, Colorado.
After his father's death, James helped support the family. He walked six miles on Sunday night to his job and then on the following Saturday night he walked six miles home to bring his weekly wage of three dollars to his mother. At the age of sixteen, James left his home in Barton County, Missouri, and went to Weatherford, Texas, where he spent the winter splitting rails. In March, 1876, James and a friend bought saddle horses and a pack horse and traveled to West Texas. They were hired by Tom Green, the owner of the L Double E Ranch on Middle Concho River. In 1884, James made the first trail drive of three thousand cattle which were brought up the Old Chisholm Trail for Tom Green.
On another drive, James brought three thousand head of cattle from Wyoming to the Douglas Creek area in Rio Blanco County, Colorado. He was afraid to return by horseback over the mountain passes in the late fall so he remained over the winter and decided to make northwestern Colorado his home.
In July, 1886, James took five hundred head of Lazy Y steers to Aspen and delivered them to the Reff and Nuckols packing plant there. While going through Glenwood Springs, Colorado, some of the steers "spooked" and one jumped into a hot pool. The cowboys managed to get him out and he lived, but he was a queer looking critter with "no hair."
After returning from that trip, James started for Trail City, Texas, with two men, Bill Whittaker and Squirrel Williams, and thirty head of horses. He again came up the tail with three thousand head of cattle. A deep, heavy snow caught them in Taylor Park, Colorado and he was forced to ship the cattle from Gunnison to Cavais, which was the old railroad station at that time located about one mile west of the present town of Mack, Colorado. The cattle were unloaded, scattered and left to graze from the Utah line to what is now Palisade, Colorado, until the spring of 1887. They were then gathered adn trailed to Douglas Creek.
At this time, James was put in charge of three outfits: Philadelphia and Conejos Cattle Company, Kansas Pool, and the Douglas Creek Cattle Company. Philadelphia branded a Cross on the right hip, Douglas Creek branded Lazy Y, and Kansas Pool had several brands. he was foreman of these three outfits with some twenty-three thousand cattle from 1888 - 1896. The cattle grazed from the Utah line on the west to the drop off of the Brookcliff Range at Rifle on the east and many cowboys were required to spend long hours in the saddle to cover this vast territory when it was time to brand and gather calves or gather beef in the fall to go to market.
The nearest shipping point at that time was Rifle, Colorado. James stated that in one of his best years, ten thousand calves were branded, for which he was paid one dollar per head. When the market was "topped" at shipping time, one received about $4.50. Quite a contrast to present day prices, but then, "top wages" were thirty dollars per month and "grub" for a good cowhand.
The Cross Ranch on West Douglas Creek was purchased by Rector and Peters in 1895, for four hundred dollars from William J Johnson. Rosa Rector later proved up on an additional "desert claim" to add to the acreage in the mid 1920's. The two Banta places and the Johnson place were purchased in 1902 and a homestead of forty acres was proved up on at the west end of the ranch, making the ranch number eight hundred forty acres.
In 1896, James purchased a half-interest with R G Peters in the Lazy Y cattle, paying twenty-five thousand dollars. At this time they purchased the Brick Ranch from Joseph Luxon for eleven thousand five hundred dollars for the home ranch of four hundred eighty acres, four hundred bushels of grain, three hundred ton of machinery and harness. Mr. Luxon had just built a seven room brick house of Queen Ann style with stone trimming. The brick was burned on the ranch to make the house and later, the huge barn. The home was one of the finest residences in that part of the country and was the overnight stop and meeting place of the men in both the cattle and other industries for many years. As down payment on this ranch, James turned over the Winchester Hotel in Rifle, Colorado, which he had owned for several years, to Joe Luxon. A brass cuspidor and a deer head from the hotel are still in the Rector family treasures.
James had met Rosa Myrtle McNew in Newport, Missouri, when shipping cattle to Kansas City and on visits to relatives in Lamar and Newport. The "Cattle King" quite took the "eye" of this young lady and they were married in 1899. They traveled by train to Rifle, Colorado, and by buggy from there one hundred miles to his ranch. James owned many fine horses, among them a span of buggy horses named Big Caesar and Little Caesar. These horses, hitched to a "buggy with the fringe on top", could travel from Rangely to Rifle between "suns."
Three children were born to this union. James Richard, Ruby Lucile and Myrtle Leona Blossom. A doctor was brought to the ranch and stayed up to three weeks from the birth of the first two children and a mid-wife, Auntie Fitspatrick from Missouri, attended when Myrtle was born.
The children had to go four and a half miles to attend school and Richard and Ruby attended this school for two months going with a girl who was hired to take them to and from school. With the approach of winter, it was decided to have a tutor in the home. This was done for two years, then Mrs. Rector and the children moved to Grand Junction.
The first teacher or tutor was Mrs. Mary Barnet who later married Robert Witmer of Vernal, Utah. She remained active as a teacher and later became County Superintendent of Schools in Uintah County, Utah. Miss Grace Eaton of Terre Haute, Indiana, was the second teacher while she was recovering from surgery. Both were life-long friends of the Rector family and visited many times in their home during later years. Both Rector girls graduated from Grand Junction High School and attended Western State College in Gunnison, Colorado. Richard Rector attended Wentworth Military Academy in Lexington, Missouri.
In 1908, when James and Mr. Peters dissolved their partnership, James kept the Brick Ranch and Peters took the Cross Ranch on Douglas Creek, the McNew place east of Rangely, and Hardaway's which alter became the George Knapp Ranch. James later purchased the Cross Ranch from Peters.
James was active in the early day activities of Rio Blanco County and served as County Commissioner from 1902 to 1906. He was interested in and instrumental in the development of both oil and gilsonite in the Lower White River Valley, and was a friend and counselor to the Ute Indians. Many gatherings and "pow wow's" were held at the Brick Ranch and the Indians truly enjoyed the steaks that were cooked for them. So many interesting incidents happened in relation to the Indians that, to relate all of them, would require a separate history but some will be told here.
In 1887, during the Indian troubles, James and a cowboy, Bill Terry, while riding for cattle down White River to the mouth of Evacuation Creek to their planned camping area on Wagon Hound Flat, found themselves surrounded by hostile Indians who were on their way to reinforce Colorow's Ute warriors who were being hotly pursued down the White River by the Colorado Militia. James and Bill didn't even unsaddle or unpack their bedrolls, but spent an anxious and sleepless night - guns in hand - with the war dance going on and the fires burning brightly in the Indian camp. At the break of dawn, a lone Indian signaled them to quietly follow him and he led the two cowboys through the trees and willows then up a long ridge for several miles to safety. This Indian was "Crippled Tim", they found out later, a staunch friend of James and an Indian that he had befriended many times. An Indian "always remembers", and his parting remark to the cowboys when he turned back was "Maybe so big fight today, Americans and Indians."
It was while on this trip that James picked up a large lump of what he thought was "shiny" coal, took it into camp, and threw it into the fireplace in their cabin to see how it would burn. It began to melt and ooze, creating a dense black smoke which put the cowboys out of the cabin for some time. Curious as to what it might be, James sent a sample to an assayer, but little was known about gilsonite. Nevertheless, he staked three claims for five hundred dollars each. One of the claims was the Rector mine near Dragon, Utah, which, when mined out had produced more than a million dollars worth of Gilsonite.
After purchasing the Brick Ranch, James found oil seeping from a rock ledge into the river at the lower part of the ranch. This prompted him to enlist the aid of nine other cattlemen who put up then thousand dollars apiece to purchase a Star drilling rig. Numerous shallow wells were drilled, many being "dry holes" but some producing a few barrels of oil. This was in the early 1900's and no further activity was continued at that time. In later years, Lodeman Jones bailed some of those wells by hand, constructed and operated a one-man refinery and "made money" in the gas business.
James was interested in people and was always ready and willing to lend a helping hand. No one who visited the ranch left without being "fed." His friends were legion, both whites and Indians, and whenever there was a new arrival at the Rector home, Indians were the first to see the "new papoose", bringing gifts of beads, moccasins, and even bringing Richard the measles when he was only three days old.
McCook, brother of Chipeta (Chief Ouray's wife), often visited the Rector family, even after they moved to Grand Junction. He enjoyed riding in the car but always referred to it as the "iron horse." At that time, he had donned "white man's" suits of bright purplish blue, but still wore his hair in long braids. There is a spring at the head of Philadelphia Draw named after this Indian.
James retired from the cattle business in 1939, after pioneering the industry in western Colorado. He and Myrtle moved to the Pamona District near Grand Junction and it was there that he passed away.
James is buried in Orchard Mesa Cemetery, Mesa County, Colorado.
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