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“The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) organization was founded in 1919, and this year the New York Farm Bureau celebrates its 100th anniversary, and the AFBF celebrates more than 50 continuous years of increased enrollment,” says retired AFBF Director of Membership Development and Managing Director Mike Stanton of the many reasons the organization is celebrating in 2011.
During WWI, one out of every four doughboys was from  a farm, and those fortunate enough to return home found organized bureaus put together by fellow farmers who were happy the war had ended, but also fearful that the farm prosperity it had brought might end, too.
“The first local Farm Bureau (FB) started in 1911 in Broom County, New York. It started with the assistance of the USDA, the local chamber of commerce and one of the big railroads of the time – Lackawanna,” explains Stanton. “In 1914, the Broom County FB became independent of the chamber of commerce and the USDA, although in some states the FB and cooperative extension service continue to maintain very close relationships.”
A video entitled “Farm Bureau, Our History, Our Times” says the USDA liked the relationship developed by the Broom County FB and extension so much that the agency developed a motion picture about a fictional elderly resident of a county known as Pleasant View. Determined not to be outmatched by a rival county next door, the main character showed how to successfully organize farmers and other rural residents and form a Farm Bureau.
The organization was viewed as more rational than the farm union and less ritualistic than other organizations, and rural Americans flocked to the growing organization for a membership fee of about three dollars per year.
By 1919, hundreds of county FBs created federations in a dozen states, and in November 1919 leaders from 34 states gathered in Chicago, Ill. to form the AFBF.    
“Five hundred members got together, in a meeting, and put together the constitution, the first resolution for a policy book, and elected the first president – a man by the name of James Howard of Iowa,” adds Stanton.
“If I were to state, in a single sentence, the underlying issue of the earlier years, it would be this: To establish, for the farmer, through his organization, the collective freedom of speech and infliction of equality that is guaranteed to all citizens under the bill of rights by the Constitution of the United States,” stated Howard after being elected.
“The reason FB gained influence very quickly in the legislatures was because it was able to put together an alliance of Midwestern grain producers and southern cotton, rice and peanut producers, which became known as the farm bloc.
“The FBs encouraged that, because if it was good for the Midwest, you could get those lawmakers to support southern objectives and the southern lawmakers would support Midwestern objectives,” explains Stanton.
While the 1920s were roaring in cities, life out in the country proved to be anything but equal. The video notes that farm prices plunged, as many had feared. Low prices, surpluses and limited opportunities for credit also remained.
Stanton adds that during this time the AFBF formed a women’s committee, was a key player in getting the Capper-Volstead Cooperative Act passed and, in 1923, began working on a way to get electricity to rural parts of the country. During the early 1920s, they also put together an office for public policy advocates in Washington, D.C.
In 1925 President Coolidge failed to meet the standards of the organization when he addressed their meeting, and Illinois farmer Sam Thompson was elected president of the AFBF to lead a more aggressive fight to improve rural life.
“Every AFBF member has reason to be proud of the record of achievement in carrying out the high purpose of the organization, during the most perilous times ever experienced in America,” stated Thompson during his term.
As the Great Depression hit, farm prices tumbled 50 percent between 1929 and 1932, net income per farm averaged about $450 a year and FB lost nearly half its membership.
Alabama farmer Ed O’Neil led the fight back as the newest AFBF president, warning against panic and rallying support for federal intervention to cut farm production in return for cash payments to boost farm income. O’Neil, and his Midwestern vice presidents, forged a bond between cotton and corn that proved invaluable in Washington, D.C.
“In 1933, President Roosevelt called on the AFBF, working through its states, to come up with a plan that would stabilize what was going on at the farm. That first bill, the Agricultural Adjustment Act, has morphed over the years into what some people now call the Farm Bill.
“What it did was allocate $2 billion to lower loan rates, and to stop bank foreclosures. It worked, and was one of the first achievements of the AFBF,” notes Stanton.
By the end of the decade, the FB’s many legislative victories, continued extension work, creation of cooperatives and insurance services for members, and the popularity of farm women communities and youth programs had farmers and ranchers smiling, and signing up enough to triple the organization’s membership.
“From every sector of America came representation of 450,000 organized farmers to attend the 20th anniversary convention of the American Farm Bureau Federation, now the nation’s most powerful farm organization,” states the video of the AFBF’s 1929 convention.
“American farmers are used to big orders. They got one, special delivery air mail, on Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941,” says the video, adding that FB members joined the line for the war cause. Meanwhile, demand for food and fiber skyrocketed and prices jumped, while the war drained farm manpower. Despite these obstacles, those deferred from military participation piled up new production records for the war and post-war recovery.
In 1944 a young people’s committee was formed, and that became what is the Young Farmers and Ranchers today. Stanton said this committee came about as the leaders looked at ways to ensure FB stayed strong, as their more experienced leaders moved on to different things in their lives.
In 1946 the organization celebrated victory at its annual convention in more ways than one. The war had ended a year earlier, prices for crops and livestock remained stable, and the organization reached its long-sought goal of one million members.
Over the second half of the 20th century, the AFBF continued to fight for rural farmers and ranchers across America. This included utilizing new media outlets, such as the TV and computer, helping farmers integrate into a world marketplace and dealing with the farm debt and high interest rates in the 1980s.
“While you may look at this as history, I look at you as the people who will shape our history. You’re making the decisions that will enable all of us, 50 years from now, to say, ‘Boy, what a strong organization we had,’” says Stanton to those who watch the video.
Stanton presented his information, and showed “Farm Bureau, Our History, Our Times” at the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation legislative meeting, in Cheyenne on Feb. 15. For more information, or to request a DVD, contact Kerin Clark at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Heather Hamilton is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Across Wyoming, 4-H continues to have a widespread impact. However, the history of the organization reaches back to the turn of the century. 

4-H was formed as the result of dedicated, forward-looking people interested in youth education.

In 1902, A. B. Graham, an Ohio school superintendent, organized a boys’ and girls’ club with a home project based on corn. This became the first 4-H club. 

By 1913, the University of Wyoming College of Agriculture had 125 boys and girls enrolled in 4-H.  The initial objective of the clubs was to influence the farm and home practices of their parents. 

Extension staff outlined project work.  

In 1917, the first full-time boys’ and girls’ 4-H club agent was hired in Sheridan County to work with the 74 rural schools in the county.  By 1919, there were 96 clubs across Wyoming with an enrollment of 1,562 members, growing to more than 3,000 youth in the 1930s.  

Work was being carried out in eight project areas, including corn, potato, home gardening, canning, poultry, pig, sheep and sewing.    

The University of Wyoming 4-H Youth Development Program continues to fulfill its mission, which reads, “4-H empowers youth to reach their full potential, working and learning in partnership with caring adults.”  

County 4-H educators partner with 2,579 adult volunteer leaders to provide opportunities for youth to reach their full potential through UW 4-H.  

As 4-H grows, the types of projects change to reflect new youth interests and support programming in science, technology, engineering and mathematics; healthy living; and citizenship. 

Today, there are 621 4-H clubs where almost 7,000 youth enroll in more than 50 4-H projects.  Projects with the highest number of youth enrolled include shooting sports, swine, horse, photography and sheep. 

While the majority of youth enroll in the 4-H club program, many youth also participate in camping, afterschool 4-H programs and school enrichment. 

Do you have other 4-H history or photos that you would like to share? Do you have more information about one of the photos that appears here? Email photos, stories and information to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

This article was contributed by University of Wyoming Extension.

Casper — “I bought my first plane for $1,000,” recalls 88-year-old Cactus McCleary from his home on the family ranch southeast of Casper. “My first plane was a Veronica Super Chief. That’s what I learned to fly in. I ended up with a Cessna 180.”
    Like many other ranchers who used planes in their ranching operations, McCleary was a member of a group called the Flying Farmers. The Wyoming Chapter of Flying Farmers has since been regionalized with Nebraska’s chapter and those from other nearby states. A few Wyoming “alumni” and stories, however, remain.
    “I must have joined in about 1957 or 1958,” says Douglas rancher Gene Hardy, who maintains membership by belonging to the present-day International Flying Farmers. Hardy says he joined shortly after learning to fly at Natrona Air Service in Casper.
    John Dilts of Douglas, who first got his pilot license in 1946, says he’s also maintained his membership in the Flying Farmers. “That was 63 years ago,” he says of the time he spent taking lessons at the Douglas airport. Flying has become a Dilts family tradition with John’s sons also utilizing both airplanes and helicopters in their ranching operations.
    Fly-ins, gatherings arrived at via airplanes, were a mainstay for the group. “We picnicked, just gabbed,” recalls McCleary. “Fly-ins were held all over. Sometimes they were at the ranches of people who had a landing strip. We’d fly-in for a Saturday afternoon. One time I went to one in Calgary. There were 50 or so planes.” McCleary remembers the Wyoming events averaging about 20 planes carrying families and their picnic baskets.
    Hardy remembers the Fourth of July fly-ins as some of the largest. “One year we had a get together at Lander and all went to the Lander rodeo on the Fourth of July,” he recalls. “We usually had one or two a year at Douglas when the old airport was still in use. It’s the racetrack today. We’d have fly-ins for breakfast. I remember flying into Gillette for a pancake breakfast. Most of them were one-day deals.”
    Hardy also says he attended a fly-in at McCleary’s ranch. “Cactus flew in those days and had a strip up at the ranch. We had a big fly-in there and a meal.” Unique to that event, Hardy says he dropped a load of skydivers off and they floated down into the get together. “I loaded them at the airport,” he says, “flew out to Cactus’ ranch and then I landed at the strip.”
    Skydivers weren’t the only items the Flying Farmers would drop. “We’d have flour sack bombings,” recalls Hardy. “You’d fly over targets on the runway at about 500 foot in elevation. You had a one-pound paper bag of powder, flour. The idea was that whoever could drop that the closest was the winner. You’d have two or three bombs and make several passes.”
    Hardy also remembers cross-country races. “It was not a race of airplane against airplane,” he says. “It was a race of the pilot’s planning of how long it would take him to cover the race course, usually a three-legged race. We’d estimate time and fuel consumption and the one that estimated the best was the winner.”
    Yet another of the contests — spot landing. “That was who could come the closest to the mark on the runway without using any power on the approach,” says Hardy. “It was making a landing without using power to compensate for your position. It was a skills contest.”
    “We’d meet a lot of interesting people at different places,” recalls Dilts of the fly-ins.  “I haven’t been to one in 20 or 30 years.”
    “People quit when it got so expensive, when airplanes began costing $20,000 to $30,000,” says McCleary. “I flew for 15 years. I learned to fly in Casper at the airport in Evansville. I had a hangar and kept my plane here at the ranch.”
    Gene says the last fly-in he attended was probably sometime in the late 1970s. “We had a convention every year,” he says. “We’d pick somewhere in the state and get together for a two- or three-day Flying Farmer convention.” Hardy says they’d honor an operator of the year and elect a queen. While most of the dues were used for recreational purposes, he says the national organization lobbied for those things beneficial to the aviators.
    While not associated with the Flying Farmers, an event hosted by the town of Glendo is helping preserve the history. According to Glendo City Clerk Brenda Hagen, the event is held on a Sunday each August. This year’s dates haven’t yet been set.
    “The event starts at 7 a.m. with a free breakfast,” says Hagen. It ends with a free BBQ. Throughout the day pilots compete in several events similar to those from the days of Wyoming’s Flying Farmers. However, Hagen mentions another contest called “balloon busting” where pilots try to bust helium filled balloons with the nose or wings of their airplanes.
    Last year’s fly-in at Glendo drew 23 contestants and between 300 and 400 spectators. “Pilots generally come from Wheatland, Douglas, Chugwater and the surrounding area,” says Hagen. “Last year we did have a pilot from Phoenix, Az., but generally they’re from within 150 miles.” Hagen says cash prizes are awarded in the contests, but also for the oldest plane, the newest plane and the pilot who traveled the greatest distance to attend.
    For those who don’t have a full-size airplane, Hagen says there are also contests for remote control airplanes and helicopters. “We offer prizes in the remote control area as well,” she says.
    Do you have a Flying Farmer story or photograph to share? Call Jennifer Womack at 307-351-0730 or e-mail us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Johnson County – Johnson County was the site of a variety of colorful characters and events in its early years as a settled territory.
Many of the current residents are descendants of homesteaders who survived the early years, and they enjoy retelling the stories passed down through the generations.
The people
“In the late 1800s the railroad ended in Montana. A lot of thugs and undesirables from back east were given a one-way ticket to the end of the line, and Montana filled up with unsavory characters. The vigilantes came to be up there because there was no law, and a lot of those robbers, thugs and thieves ended up down here,” explains Johnson County rancher John Hanson of how some of the more notorious people arrived in the county.
“Some people walked here to get away from the vigilantes, and they settled down here, also. The true homesteaders and settlers were just people trying to make a living the best they could. They had to get along with the less desirable characters – if they didn’t they’d be killed. Many furnished fresh horses, and a lot of people would wake up to a bunch of worn out horses in their herd one morning, and all the fresh horses, which had been left previously, would be gone,” adds John.
“Our family had a post office in their cabin from 1894 to 1898, and that’s where the Hole in the Wall gang, and a lot of other people like that, got their mail, so the family knew all those guys,” says Brock Hanson.
“Flat Nose George was our family favorite, and would come by and help out on the ranch quite a bit. Butch Cassidy was okay, and sorry to say the Sundance Kid and Harvey Logan were mean, and no good,” he adds.
“Flat Nose George is probably who put together the Wilcox train robbery, and he and Harvey Logan and the Sundance Kid came north from that robbery and Harvey Logan killed a sheriff down on Castle Creek near Midwest. At that point the posse got between the outlaws and their horses, and the outlaws had to walk the rest of the way up to this area. They got horses from John Nolen, where Kaycee is now, and were eating supper at his place on the south side of the river.
“On the other side of the river the posse was eating supper at the Potts’ house, and neither side knew the other was there until a kid came over from the Potts’ house to trade some baked goods for meat. The river was high, so the kids had a wire strung across it and they would stand in a washtub and pull themselves back and forth.
“John Nolen asked the kid if his mother had company, and the kid said yes, it was the ‘sheriff and his posse.’ At that point the curtains were drawn and the lights turned down and they got their horses and got out of there,” explains Brock. Today’s Hanson family notes this incident may have occurred after a different robbery.
The war
“Lots of people have the misconception that the Johnson County War was between sheep and cattle men. Well, it wasn’t. It was between absentee landowners, or investors, and settlers. It was a grass and water war. The big outfits were stealing grass and water, and in some cases the little outfits were stealing cattle to survive,” says John. “The thievery wasn’t nearly as rampant as some think.”
“It was a property rights issue, with a lot of politics involved, just like today. The press was completely controlled by the big outfits, and sympathized with eastern and foreign interests, also much like today. The newspapers had everyone believing that the people in Johnson County needed to be killed without trial by jury,” adds Brock.
“The war finished here in the barn,” notes TA Ranch owner Barbara Madsen.
“Two years after a big party at the TA Ranch, with all the neighbors and homesteaders there, they were all shooting at each other, right back at the TA Ranch. Three hundred homesteaders took on 50 invaders for three days,” adds Brock.
“When the invaders were rescued by U.S. troops out of Fort McKinney, they were hauled off for trial in Cheyenne. Johnson County was not allowed to keep jurisdiction over them,” notes Barbara.
“They were eventually let go for lack of funds. Johnson County went bankrupt because they kept filing proceeding after proceeding to delay the trial of those men. That was accomplished because they had a power base out of Cheyenne defending them. They deliberately broke Johnson County so those men would never stand trial,” adds Barbara’s daughter Kirsten.    “The attorney for the Cattlemen’s Association was Van Devanter, and he was later rewarded for the outcome by being appointed to the United States Supreme Court. Information on the trial was wired all the way to the President and the Secretary of the Interior. In those days it was a very big deal,” adds Earl Madsen.     “We’ve never trusted Cheyenne since,” quips Brock
“If anyone was caught in the middle of the war, it was the homesteaders. They tried not to take sides in our family’s case; they had friends on both sides. We also had close neighbors and a relative killed during the war,” notes Brock.
“After that, our people started raising cattle. Prior to the war the easterners held power, and people had to go through them to get a brand. If they didn’t have a brand, they couldn’t take part in the roundups, and that all changed with the end of the Johnson County War,” adds John.
Heather Hamilton is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Hyattville — The Guardians of the Range recognized historic family ranches during the National Day of the American Cowboy and 100th Annual Hyattville Old Timer’s Day in Hyattville on Saturday, July 25.
    The group acknowledged seven ranches owned and operated by the same family for at least 100 years within the area the Guardians serve – the Big Horn Basin, Big Horn Mountains, and surrounding communities.
    Recipients included the Mullins family ranch at Manderson, the Clear Creek Ranch at Buffalo, Paint Rock Angus Ranch at Hyattville, the Larsen Ranch at Meeteetse, the 91 Ranch at Cody, the Bennion Ranch at Meeteetse and the Diamond Tail Ranch at Shell.
Paint Rock Angus Ranch, Inc. of Hyattville
    Before homesteading near Hyattville in 1886, Asa Shinn Mercer led a fascinating life as a surveyor, and served as president of a university and as Commissioner of Immigration for the Washington Territory. In the 1860s, with public support and private funding, he enlisted “New England school marms” to venture west for marriage in an area with a nine-to-one ratio of men to women. The ladies became known as “Mercer Girls,” and were the subject of the ABC TV show “Here Come the Brides” aired in 1968 –’70.
    Mercer married one of the young ladies and raised a family. He worked as the editor of newspapers in Oregon, Texas, and Wyoming, where, he saw the Wyoming Stock Growers Association’s treatment of cattle rustlers as underhanded, and wrote scathing accounts of events unfolding on the range. When he revealed his view of events in the book, “The Banditti of the Plains,” the cattlemen boycotted his paper. His newspaper offices were burned, and copies of the book disappeared. Mercer escaped to the Big Horn Basin to homestead, raise cattle and hay. Original ranch buildings include the house, blacksmith shop, bunkhouse and draft horse barn. Today the ranch is owned and managed by Asa Mercer’s grandson, Tom, and his wife, Mary, and great grandson, Martin, and wife, Kelli, who raise registered and commercial Black and Red Angus cattle.
Clear Creek Ranch of
Buffalo
    Ed Lawrence was foreman of the Murphy Cattle Company, and after the Johnson County War, he purchased the ranch. While riding to Buffalo, Ed and his son met the attorney riding out to tell them the Murphy brothers had agreed to their offer, but would only accept cash. Ed Lawrence reached into his pocket and pulled out a wad of bills, but fearing a hold up, the attorney refused to accept the cash in the open. The trio traveled into town, where, at the Van Dyke Clothing Store, Ed paid for the ranch, and the attorney issued him a receipt for payment in full.
    Today the cattle ranch is owned and managed by Chuck and Dottie Lawrence, who celebrated 64 years of marriage on July 25, and their family. The ranch includes the original ranch house built in 1891, and a homestead cabin.
Bennion Ranch of
Meeteetse
    John Edward Bennion was seeking more land than was available in Utah in 1898. He came to the Big Horn Basin to investigate after hearing reports of good soil and abundant grass. He homesteaded on the Wood River and built a two-room cabin before returning to Utah for the winter. The following spring, the Bennion family journeyed to Wyoming with a wagon train of five wagons, two buggies, six milk cows, five horses, and 19 people. Part of the family later moved to Canada, having a skirmish with the Indians on the way, and later to Oregon, before returning to Wyoming. Today, the Bennion Ranch is owned and operated by John Edward Bennion’s great grandson, Clifton Bennion, and his wife Wanda, and their family.
The Mullins Family Ranch of Manderson
    In 1899 Richard Mullins, a Nebraska craftsman and engineer designed and built the Jordan Flour Mill in Jordan, Wyo., a small community about four miles east of present-day Manderson. Mullins built the mill using native materials and no nails. Upon completion of the project in 1900, his employers could not pay him the promised amount, but instead offered him land. Richard and his young family settled in the area, where they have continued to farm and ranch for 109 years. Richard and Elizabeth’s grandson, Cecil Mullins, now owns and operates the ranch, raising cattle, sheep, swine, and hay, and is working to keep it operational for future generations of the Mullins family.
91 Ranch of Cody
    In 1903, Louis Graham Phelps purchased the 91 Ranch, originally started in 1891 by “Dad” Pearce. Phelps acquired the Z-T, Pitchfork, Pickett, Ashworth, and other ranches, operating his cattle empire under the name Pitchfork Ranch. After Phelps’ death, and the death of his son, Eugene, the 91 passed to Eugene’s widow, Helen Phelps. The ranch is now owned by Helen’s daughter, Elizabeth “Betty” (Phelps) Thomas Mills and her daughter, Helen Hassan, and family. The ranch continues as a working cattle ranch despite heavy bear and wolf predation, and an extensive elk herd that resides on the ranch much of the year. The Thomas-Hassan families raise Black Angus cattle and alfalfa hay.
Diamond Tail Ranch of Shell
    After an unsuccessful attempt at staking a claim in the Oklahoma Land Rush, sea captain’s son Arthur Flitner purchased 160 acres near Shell and the diamond tail brand, in 1906. The family lived in a log house built during the 1890s, while raising cattle and crops, and owning the grain elevator and several other businesses in Greybull. Their son, Howard, later expanded the ranch and served in the Wyoming legislature. Howard’s son, Stan, and wife, Mary, and their son, Tim, and wife, Jamie, now own and operate the cattle and horse ranch, and an outfitting business.
Larsen Ranch of
Meeteetse
    At the age of 13, Henry Larsen left his Wisconsin home and headed west. He worked his way through Nebraska and South Dakota before crossing the Big Horn Mountains in 1896. He worked on a couple of Wyoming ranches, and did discovery work on mineral claims in the gold mining town of Kirwin. He homesteaded, sold the homestead, and in 1909, Henry married and purchased land on Wood River, which became the foundation of the Larsen Ranch. He continued to purchase old homesteads, and even filed on an additional homestead on Middle Creek in 1924. The ranch passed to Henry and Helen Larsen’s sons, Curtis and Ralph, and daughter, Ethel. Today, Ralph’s descendants and Curtis still own and manage the family ranch, raising Black Angus cattle, hay, and grass.
    Guardians member, and retired Thermopolis area rancher, Frank M. Rhodes initiated the Guardians’ Historic Family Ranch Award program.
    “Wyoming’s family ranches, and federally managed grazing lands, are vanishing at a disturbing rate,” says Echo Renner, Co-Chair of the Guardians of the Range National Day of the American Cowboy committee, and coordinator of the Guardians’ Historic Family Ranch Award program. “The Guardians work tirelessly to keep these ranches operating within the family over time, so it makes sense that we recognize time-tested family ranches who have reached this historic milestone.” She adds, “Ranching is part of our rich history, and a part of our future.”
    “Ranchers produce livestock and crops for human and animal consumption, contributing to the economy of the Cowboy State and this great nation, as well as feed people all over the world. Ranching and livestock production is a way of life, but more importantly, we provide a safe and healthy food supply for billions of people world-wide,” Renner comments.
    “Most people eat beef and lamb, but they don’t realize beef and sheep by-products are in items we use everyday, like soaps and deodorants, toothpaste and cosmetics, pet food, dry wall and paint, photo film, printing ink and high gloss for magazines. Beef by-products are even used in asphalt and automobile tires, industrial cleaners and fertilizers, yogurt and Jello, as well as clothing, insulin, and a wide range of pharmaceuticals. Sheep by-products – aside from meat and wool - include tennis balls and tennis racquet strings, baseballs, yarn, upholstery, footwear, carpet, felt, woolen products – even chewing gum.”
    She adds, “Ranchers also maintain open spaces, and provide food, water, and shelter for wildlife – things most folks take for granted. As ranches are sold, weeds and subdivisions cover the landscape, diminishing precious wildlife habitat.”
    The Guardians of the Range is a non-profit organization dedicated to keeping ranchers on their grazing permits managed by the Cody and Worland Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Resource Management Areas, and the Shoshone and Bighorn National Forests. For more information, contact Echo Renner at 307-868-9232 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or log onto www.guardiansoftherange.org.