Life of a Cowboy

cheves_portraitThe image of a true cowboy brings to mind Pawhuskan Jack Cheves.

He’s a cowboy.

He has always been a cowboy.

He raised all of his children on ranches in Texas and Oklahoma. He worked on the Oxley ranch near Pawhuska for 28 years, until retiring a few years ago and moving closer to town. He was part of the buffalo drive at Tallgrass Prairie for about 20 years, until 2004. He missed the year that he had five bypasses.

Jack is full of stories, and loves to share them. Some of them he said he had laughed about for more than 40 years. Then he laughed. He also told a few secrets, that we’re going to keep tucked away in our minds and hearts.

Born in Oklahoma, Jack was raised and graduated from high school in Dill City, just southwest of Oklahoma City. Dill City lost the high school in 1993, when it merged with Burns Flat, where his wife, Barbara, graduated in 1953, two years after he did. It is ironic that their daughter, Jaclynn, has taught at Burns Flat Dill City for 23 or 24 years. She did her practice teaching there, was hired at mid-term, and just never left.

Barbara and Jack Cheves married “when we were just kids,” he said. “And then we had those three beautiful boys.” He was working on a ranch close to Archer City, Texas, and they lived there for 15 or 16 years.

“A side note,” he said, “is that Archer City is the home of Larry McMurtry, who is a novelist. “You know, McMurtry wrote Lonesome Dove.” It is also where Ben Johnson made “The Last Picture Show.”

Jack with eye patch“Ben was a good friend,” Jack said. “One time I asked him to autograph something for [his daughter] Sass and asked if he was tired of giving autographs. Ol’ Ben said to me, ‘Hell, when they stop asking for autographs is when I’ll be worried!’

“Yep. He sure was a good guy.”

The ranch where they lived was about 12 miles south and east of Archer City, and had registered and show cattle. When the owner died, the estate shut down the show cattle part of the business.  “I guess I just kind of moved along with the cattle when Oxley bought them,”  Jack said. After about seven years, Mr. Oxley shut down the registered business and went commercial.

“I just stayed with the commercial business because I just didn’t want to leave, I guess,” said Jack. “We liked Pawhuska, and we were pretty settled in. We’ve been there 46 years. We moved from Archer City on 8-18-69 and the boys started two-a-days (football practice) on 8-19-69.” Jack laughed, and said that he guesses he “had to move to do what was right for the family. But Rick, the oldest of three sons, was a senior when we moved, and that was probably hard on him.”

How many people met and did business deals with John Wayne?

In 1969, Jack traveled to Arizona to the 26 Bar Ranch for a cattle sale. The ranch was owned by two men, one of them John Wayne. He just happened to have pictures of himself, along with Mr. Oxley, John Wayne, and some other folks.

“Oxley paid John Wayne $50,000 for that bull. That was the same time that I met E.C. Mullendore. He was at the sale. That was in the spring and he was killed in the fall of that year.”

The sale program, tucked away safely in a gallon zip-top baggie, was autographed to Rick, David, and Jimmy—by John Wayne, of course. Jack said that Sass was kind of upset that it didn’t have her name on it too. “I just forgot about her,” Jack said. “I don’t know who will get that book someday. I guess I’ll let the boys worry about that.”

Pawhuska inherited some pretty good athletes from Texas when the Cheves moved to town.  Jimmy was an eighth grader, David was a tenth grader, and Rick was a senior. Sass, as daughter Jaclyn is called, was 11 months old.

“Yep,” he said, “Jimmy graduated in ’74, David in ’72, and Rick in ’70.”

“Ol’ Jimmy was the quarterback on the eighth grade team. He’d play for them, change his jersey, and then play quarterback on the ninth grade team.”

Jack at the FairJack is serious when it comes to his kids and said that he hates the way some things worked out for them. He said that Jimmy was “pretty darn good until he broke the end of his elbow off in the eighth grade, broke his foot in the ninth grade, and then had some shoulder problems later. That pretty much ended his football career.”

He said that David was a two-time Junior College All-American at NEO in Miami. He said that lots of people don’t know that, but David sure was a good football player, as was Steve Wilson, the father of the reigning Mrs. America.

“Man, they were good,” Jack said. “They should’ve won state that year. They beat Nowata early in the season. They beat them by 10 or more points. Nowata went on to win 2A state. “They sure would have won if Ol’ Steve wasn’t hurt up at Dewey and had to have surgery. It was too bad. That was lucky for Nowata.”

Rick started on the football team in Texas as a freshman. His letter jacket had patches for being All-Conference in Texas and again in Oklahoma. “I wonder how many people can say that they’ve done that in two states,”  Jack said. “He was a tremendous ball player. I sure did love those years when we watched the kids play sports. When David was at Kansas State, I guess we went to every home game. They were still in the Big 8 back then. Sass would always gripe that we had to get up so early to go to the games because she had to miss her Saturday morning cartoons. Aw, I would just stop by the donut shop and she’d be okay. I always grabbed some donuts to take to the boys. Those sure were some fun years. Barb was always known as the football mom back then.

“When we were in Archer City, they announced on the school PA that the Cheves boys had a new baby sister the day after Sass was born.”

Jack’s theory about why David could kick the football so far is another story. He said that one time when the boys were little, Barb was in the hospital. Jack bought David a little .22 rifle but told him to wait until he got home to shoot it. David didn’t wait. He went out on the porch and shot right through his big toe. Jack was mad when he got home.

They were going to visit Barb in the hospital the next day and he told David, “You better put that shoe on and not even limp when we go in to see your mom.” Barb found out, and he heard about that for a while.

“Boy, was she mad at me,” Jack slapped his knee and laughed. He said, “Yep, the air just whistled right through that big toe is why Dave was such a good kicker.”

“I still try to make all of the Pawhuska home football games, some of the basketball games, and wrestling matches. I hate it that none of my boys got to wrestle. They would have loved it. We just didn’t have it down in Texas.

“I like Coach DeMoss. He and Terry Young, I believe, used to go out hunting in the woods at Oxley and would get fleas and ticks on them. If hunting would have been like it is now, Oxley could have made tons of money. It was different then. Sass and Julie DeMoss started to school together. Yep, I sure do like him. He was a good coach.”

He laughed, and asked if if a reporter knew “Ol’ Ben Helmer and Gene Sells.” He said that the first year they were in Pawhuska they bought season tickets at the 50-yard line at the top, just where his season tickets are now, 46 years later. He said that Ben and Gene were pretty loud, and Ben liked to fuss at the officials. He said that the first game he wondered what in the world they had gotten in to, sitting next to those two guys. He chuckled and said that Sass sure did love Ben. He said that the last time Sass saw him, Ben said, “Good Gawd Almighty, Sass. Is that you? He was a good guy.”

Jack loves to reminisce and loves to talk about his family, sports, and his friends from Pawhuska, those who are alive, and those who are gone. He said that the Cheveses and the Wilsons go back a long ways. He liked Rodney Wilson: “He always had a lot to say.”

He is a humble man, who is satisfied with his life in Pawhuska. He attends the Methodist church. He likes to go to church, enjoy it, and then go on home. He said that he was raised a Baptist, and Barb was raised in the Church of Christ. When they moved to Pawhuska, the Murnans invited them to the Methodist church, and “the Methodist’s always just seemed kind of solid, so we joined the church.” After all these years, Jack is probably sitting in the same pew. He said that he can’t say anything bad about other churches in town: “My daddy used to tell me that there are two things that can sure get you in trouble. One is talking about someone’s wife, and the other is talking about someone’s church.”

Barbara passed away last year, leaving Jack lonesome after being married “62 years, 3 months, and 18 days.” He said that sometimes he misses her so much that he can hardly stand it. They were married during her senior year. “We were just babies,” he said, “but man, we had those kids and we just always made it work. We had those three boys and then 13 years later we had Sass. I don’t know how to explain that except that one January we got snowbound in Amarillo for a few days.” Was Sass born in September? He grinned: “September 25th, Honey.”

Barb was born in New Jersey, but her family moved to Oklahoma. Their schools were neighboring schools, kind of like Barnsdall and Avant, about seven miles apart. They met at a skating rink and “we just got married pretty soon. Yep, I sure do miss her.”

Walking through his house that is just west of Pawhuska, Jack Cheves had stories about every picture. There was a picture of himself as a child, probably about three years old. “I betcha’ didn’t know I was ever that young, did you?” he grinned.

There was a picture of him as a younger man, sitting on a horse, which could have been right out of a western movie. He pointed out that “if you look real close you can see the butt of a knife in my right hand. I had just cut a piece of chew.” There’s a picture of Jack that looked like “Rooster Cogburn.” He said, “No, Darlin’, that was taken right after I had that stroke.” Pictures of Jack and Barb are scattered throughout the house. One was of the two while they were on a cruise. “I think we went on about nine cruises,” he said.

Barbara had to be a bit spunky herself. Jack had another story about them going through some things to get ready to donate, and he mentioned to her that she had some things with the new tags still intact. He laughed and said, “She just said, “You shut up and throw them in the bag.” Jack said that Barb liked to shop, and like to buy clothes and shoes. He said that she would buy something and then buy two or three more of them, just for good measure.”

Jack can’t remember a day since Barb’s been gone that his son, David, hasn’t called him. Sometimes he calls two or three times a day.

“I sure do appreciate that.”  He said, “I’m right proud of my kids. I never had to get any of the boys out of jail. I brag about that a lot. Now, I can’t say that they haven’t needed to be in jail, but I just never had to bail them out!”

I asked Jack how his daughter came to be called “Sass.” He said, “Well, I don’t really know. I guess Rick and the boys hung it on her because she was so sassy. I’ll have to ask Sass about that,” he laughed. He recalled going to NEO to visit after Sass started there her freshman year. He couldn’t remember her room number at the dorm so he asked the lady at the desk which room Jaclyn Cheves was in. She didn’t know anyone by that name. Someone came by and said, “Oh, you mean Sass!”  She was already known at school by her nickname.

“You know that Jack is a nickname?” he added: His “real” name is Herbert Eugene Cheves, but no one has ever heard him called that, including Jack. He said that his grand-dad named him “Jack” after a “dog-gone” old mule they had, and it just stuck. He said that it has caused him trouble in his life, with everyone even the IRS.

Jack’s laugh makes everything bad in the world seem to fade away, for just awhile. He has four children, eight grand-children (five boys and three girls), and 11 great grand-children. He mentioned that he has a set of triplets and said that “when you get them three at a time, they add up pretty darn fast.” He can name them all and knows the month each is born in. The Cheves triplets are 2nd graders and their birthday is in October. They are all lucky to have him.

Jack and Barb moved to town in 1997 and re-did the house. Barb wanted to knock it down and start from scratch, and now he guesses she was probably right. “She always was right.” They built a big 20 X 40 “deal” on the back so their entire family would fit. He’s glad they did it, and enjoys having family around.

The violent death over Labor Day weekend of Rick Holt, a friend of the family, makes Jack sad. He was in the crowd when Holt won the state wrestling championship in 1986, and recall him bringing home gold in 1987, too.

As the sun sets in the western sky, Jack settles in at his house each evening. He has a couple of horses at the house. He walked outside, and they were grazing quietly, ignoring him and a visitor. “I know how I can get those dudes, I’ll just rattle the feed bucket,” he said. Sure enough, here they came. Jack is in his element with the horses, but he didn’t want to get on one for a ride. “I haven’t been on a horse since I was 75 years old,” he said.

“Honey, you know, I have had a good life,” Jack said. “If I die tomorrow, I can say that I have enjoyed my life. I’ve always had a lot of fun.

“We had some ups and downs, but we always made it over the crest.”

Spoken like a true cowboy.

 

By Elaine Wilson

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