There’s probably no greater compliment than to be called a good neighbor in that 42-mile community of friends “down on the creek,” Piceance Creek, that is. The people there are friends, supporters and hard workers – people who will do whatever is necessary to help each other.
By Hallie bluntSpecial to the Herald TimesRBC I There’s probably no greater compliment than to be called a good neighbor in that 42-mile community of friends “down on the creek,” Piceance Creek, that is. The people there are friends, supporters and hard workers – people who will do whatever is necessary to help each other. Pat Johnson has been a good neighbor to many since 1922. His family moved to Piceance Creek from Texas when Pat was only a year old. Now, nearly 90 years later, he is well-known for his business sense, his great knowledge of the cattle industry, his love of family and simply being a cowboy. Pat’s father began working for Mr. Magor on the PL, now called the MTW. His father was a hard-working man who put up hay for many ranches in the area. Pat began driving the team of horses and running the stack wagon for his father when he was just five years old and he never stopped working. “Dad always liked to work,” said his daughter, Sally Lou.He attended the Rock School and another rural schoolhouse near his home until the eighth grade when he went to Rifle High School to complete his education. In order to pay his way through high school, Pat worked at a Rifle pool hall before school. He played on the high school football and basketball teams. As a high school senior, his coach told the football team they needed to score five touchdowns in five minutes to overcome Glenwood Springs in a playoff game. And they did it.Pat returned to the Piceance Creek life he loved and went to work for Dick Magor on the PL ranch. He then worked for Charlie Brown, going in half with Brown to buy his current property.Pat met his wife, Mary Lou, at a dance at the Rock School. Pat was smitten with her at first sight and Waddy Love told him, “Pat you ought to marry that girl.” Pat replied, “Well, maybe I will.” He and Mary Lou were wed on July 10, 1945. They moved to their ranch on March 15, 1948. The two had a son in 1948, but complications took his life only 11 hours later. Sally Lou was born in 1950. Her mother would take her on a pillow in front of her saddle to ride along with Pat. When Sally was two-years-old, Walter Oldland gave her a horse of her own, named Wizard. She rode along with her parents. When branding started, they would find a place for their daughter to take a nap in the shade until the ground work was done. Then it was back in the saddle to finish the work. Work on the ranch was cherished. Like all ranchers, the spring gather and turn-out to summer camp was something they truly enjoyed. Sally remembers riding with the Brennans to help each other move their cattle to the summer ranges and the times they had playing cards, riding in the Jeeps and simply being friends. Summer camp was a place they all loved, perhaps Mary Lou the most.“Next to heaven, this place is it,” Mary Lou would say. Pat had a hard time getting her to come down from camp at summer’s end. Mary Lou was the brander for many years. “The brand inspector said ‘I wish everybody put their brands on like she does,’” Pat recalled.He took great pride in building a high quality herd of cattle and the “waddle” he uses to mark his cattle is known well for their strong breeding program. “I enjoyed going to buy bulls,” he said. He and his family traveled many times to Canada to buy the Hansen bulls and to LaSalle, Utah, for the outstanding Bray Arden bulls. The Johnson cattle they’ve sold throughout the county and beyond are examples of the hard work and knowledge they’ve put into building their ranch.Pat has two grandchildren, Ty and Andrea “Andi” and five great-grandchildren. Ty works with the ranch now as a fourth generation rancher and continues the legacy of excellence his grandfather and mother have created. Clinton Burke has been with the ranch for several years and knows the operation as well as anyone. The ranch has approximately 900 head of cattle on what Pat figures is 50,000 acres, more than 6,000 private and the rest leased and permitted. Pat remembers when County Road 5 was still a dirt road. Even after it was paved in the 1960s he still knew everyone who passed by. “I loved riding and having the wind blow down my collar,” he said. From running wild horses, to helping others, to building one of the longest and strongest cattle businesses in the area, Pat epitomizes the western cowboy. At 89, he still knows the ins and outs of his ranch and is one of the most respected cattlemen around.