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RANGELY I Few people can claim they still live in the same place they were born, particularly after 78 years. Jim Steele lives on Foundation Creek, up Douglas Creek, where his parents homesteaded 90 years ago.
Jim was born in 1934 on the family homestead ranch. He had six sisters and one brother. His parents, Milton and Doris Steele, came from Wyoming via wagon in the early 1920s seeking a better life. Times were tough and the opportunity for free land and a chance for success lured people to the area, but only the toughest could handle the way of life and the effects of the Depression. People were forced to leave their land for next to nothing, and the Steeles enlarged their original land from 160 acres to 600 acres. The price on land then was 25 cents an acre. The land remains in its entirety in the family.
The story goes that when Jim’s parents first arrived near their homestead, the road was washed out and his father went to work for the county fixing it right away. Jim attended school in a rural school at the mouth of Wilt Canyon for his first two years, his mother taught him and three of his sisters at home for four years during the war and he started attending school in Rangely when he was in the fifth grade. The family had a house in town during their school years and when the oil boom hit Rangely, Jim’s mother taught for the schools.
He played four years of football and anyone who remembers him playing remembers the competitive, tough grit with which he played.
“I enjoyed being in town during sports but come summer I was ready to be back on the ranch,“ he said. He graduated from high school in 1952 and went into the United States Army in 1953. He served for three years and returned home. He lived in Bonanza for approximately a year in 1963, beyond that he has remained where he began, on the ranch up Douglas Creek.
Jim remembers the first rodeos ever held in Rangely, in fact he rode his horse 35 miles to participate in the events.
“I tried to rope, and after the service I rode saddle broncs and a bull or two.” His brother Bill, several years his elder, also rode saddle broncs and qualified for the finals in Madison Square Garden. The competitors in the saddle bronc event were known for their toughness and the Steele boys fit the mold. A sport prided on true cowboy tradition: the type that had to ride to the rodeos to ride in the rodeos.
When asked what has changed the most in Rangely, Jim said, “The roads that have been built.” All the roads were dirt in the early years and weather conditions could make them very difficult at times. He also talked about the oil boom and the activity it brought to town. Anyone who remembers that time remembers the influx of people, the lack of housing, and the lights of the oil rigs.
Currently Jim runs about 70 head of cattle on his ranch and a permit. He is content living where he was born. There is truly something so intriguing about the concept of finishing where you started. The perseverance, consistency and toughness it took for a family to endure 90 years on a ranch 35 miles from town is amazing. These are the stories that make our small communities so special, and Jim is another example of a remarkable life, yet so modest about his story.