Cowboy longevity is the simplest way to describe Jimmie Barr.
Yet, that’s far too easy, because an appropriate description of this Flint Hills cowboy is much more complex.
In his 87 years as a cowboy, Jim Barr of Cottonwood Falls has just about done it all and continues active today. It’s a trait he got from his forefathers, and he’s passed it on to his children and grandchildren.
Still often called Jimmie, Barr is a Gold Card member of the Professional Rodeo Cowboy’s Association.
That’s sufficient enough to qualify him to be a legitimate cowboy, according to anyone who knows the stringent criteria needed to meet that signification.
However, there’s much more. From the days looking after cattle that came on trains from Texas for summer grazing on the Flint Hills to his diverse rodeo career to being a rancher, horseman, auctioneer, spur maker-collector, outdoorsman and family man, Barr has had a diverse cowboy life.
His grandfather, Frank Barr, moved from Indiana to Diamond Creek in the community by the same name on the Morris and Chase County line before the turn of the century. His dad, Carl Barr, continued the ranching and farming operation Barr was born into.
Riding horseback by the time he entered the one-room, eight-grade Miser School, Barr recalled,” My first horse was a 14-hand black gelding called Ginger. We raised him out of a mare we got from a Wild West Show that came through the area.”
Big, thin four- and five-year-old Longhorn steers were shipped to the railroad stockyards at Diamond Springs. Barr helped move them to pasture, looked after the cattle during the summer and then assisted to gather and load the grass-fat animals for shipment to eastern packers in the fall.
Many hours were spent in the saddle throughout his early years. “I wasn’t ever really in the breaking business,” Barr admitted. “Yet, I’d start a colt in the spring, and he’d be a pretty good horse by fall. Those wet saddle blankets every day is what does it.
“If there’s one person who I’d say was a major influence on me as a cowboy, it had to be Slim Pickering,” Barr credited. “He went with the Clyde Miller Wild West Show as a pickup man during the summer and then stayed with us several winters.”
Engaged in every aspect of working cattle from horseback, Barr remembered that the longest cattle drive he experienced was when he helped Orville Burtis move a cow herd from Hymer to the Aye Ranch at Manhattan.
Never a competition roper, Barr could hold his own or better when it came time to rope and doctor cattle in the pasture.
The industry changed when cattle started being shipped by trucks instead of trains, and the stockyards at Diamond Springs, Hymer and Wilsey were shut down. Younger, higher quality cattle were summer grazed and then typically went to feedlots for finishing, as is the custom now.
“My younger brother, Gene, and I continued custom grazing cattle for eight-10 years even after our Dad died,” Barr recalled. “Then, we decided to get more into farming and expand our own cow operations.”
Because Barr’s young life centered on horses and cattle, rodeo came naturally to him.
“I competed in bull riding and bareback riding at a number of rodeos throughout the Midwest,” Barr remembered. “I never was too good, but I was lucky enough to win at some.”
For his knowledge of the sport, the contestants and the livestock, Barr was soon called to announce rodeos, too. “That worked out real well,” he evaluated. “I’d announce the rodeo and also compete. That way I could generally always about break even on my expenses.”
Additionally, the all-around cowboy participated in the wild horse race at some rodeos, including Strong City. “I was on the winning team in two go-rounds there one year,” Barr noted.
Competing in and announcing the “home community rodeo” at Strong City are especially fond memories for Barr.
“Emmett and Ken Roberts were the stock contractors at the Flint Hills Rodeo, and Emmett was also the pickup man ,” Barr related. “Their bucking horses were some of the best in the business.”
One of several scrapbooks on Barr’s desk has a Strong City rodeo program from the early ’40s listing him as a contestant in bareback bronc riding, bull riding and the wild horse race.
It is noteworthy that future world champions, Ken and Gerald Roberts, along with their brother, Howard, and sister, Marge, were also contestants, with dad, Emmett, listed as a pickup man at that rodeo. Beutler Rodeo Company was the contractor.
“I was good friends with all of the Roberts family, but I never was their caliber in competition,” Barr recognized.
As if he wasn’t already diverse enough, Barr also had a crossbred Brahma trick bull that he performed with as a contract act for a couple of years at area rodeos.
“I’d ride Ole Toughie, and he’d do several tricks,” Barr said. “But, that booger got so he’d buck me off sometimes. Actually, Toughie ended up being quite a competition bucking bull himself after I sold him to a contractor.”
While announcing a rodeo at Washington one time, Barr was also entered in the bull riding. “I drew a top bull, but it was really muddy,” the cowboy reminisced. “I made the comment, ‘If I can’t ride that bull in this mud, I’m going to quit.’ Well, he bucked me off, and that was the last time I got in the bull riding.”
Looking back, Barr critiqued: “I had a lot of fun at the rodeos, got to know and compete against some of the top rodeo contestants.
“But, I wish I’d gone to college. I’ve always been sorry I didn’t do that,” he declared.
Scrapbooks are filled with pictures of Barr and his cowboy acquaintances competing in the rodeos.
He’s quite proud of his Number 508 Gold Card membership in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and has obviously had a very successful and diverse career as a real life professional cowboy.
In the mid-’60s, Barr moved to his present ranch on Buck Creek in Chase County. “I always had a cow herd and farmed the land,” he commented. “I sold my cows a couple of years ago, and I still miss my cows everyday now.”
A graduate of the Mason City, Iowa, Auction School, Barr conducted auctions over a wide area for many years. “I had my real estate brokers license for more than 40 years, and I just recently let it elapse,” he stated.
A map on the wall above Barr’s desk in his den shows dozens of properties throughout the area that he’s sold in his career. “I sold one of those tracts three different times,” Bar related.
Horses have always been a key part of the cowboy’s life, and he continued looking after pastures and assisting neighbors in day work on horseback until just recently.
“My last Doc Bar gelding died just over a year ago,” Barr shared. “I do use a 4-wheeler now looking after some cattle, but I’d buy the right horse if it came along.”
At one time, Barr also had a team of Belgian mares. “I bought them down in Arkansas and put together a covered wagon that I hitched them to and drove in a lot of parades,” he informed. “I raised a pair of real nice colts out of those mares. I ended up selling the team to a fellow in Texas. Then, I sold those colts, too.”
Indicative of his diverse interests and talents, Barr even restored a 1927 Model T Ford. “I don’t ever want to do that again,” he contended. “However, I bought it for $150 and ended up selling it for $5,000.”
Fishing has always been a pastime for Barr, and he has many pictures of large catches.
Walls in his den reveal his prowess at hunting as well. There are several picturesque mounted turkey tail-feather spreads. “I called those big toms in and shot them with my double barreled 16-gauge. That is a real sport,” he verified.
Likewise, several buck mounts and trophy antlers that he quite-appropriately shot right on his Buck Creek ranch add to the impressive display. “I bought a kit and made this black powder rifle that I shot one of them with,” Barr displayed.
After putting another log on the stove fire, Barr enthusiastically talked about his spur-making trade. “I’ve made about 85 pairs of spurs,” he calculated, while showing a couple of pairs he built for himself.
“I will make about any kind of spurs somebody wants,” Barr added. Pictures of many of those he’s made indicate a wide variation.
“I usually get $150 a pair, but some spur makers sell theirs a lot higher,” Barr declared.
Additionally, Barr collects spurs made by others, and he has a vault filled with them. “I got them from a lot of different places. Some of them are pretty valuable,” he tallied.
Leatherwork is also among his talents, and Barr has crafted many purses and billfolds.
Without a doubt, “He’s very artistic,” insisted Darlene (Likes) Barr, his wife of 59 years.
“She’s really the talented one,” Barr countered. “Let her show you some of the quilts she’s made.”
Several dozen of the quilts that Darlene has sowed by hand are neatly stored in two old-fashioned wardrobes.
“My Mom made quilts, too. I just make them for my own enjoyment for my family and friends and displaying at quilt shows,” Mrs. Barr indicated as she explained some of the intricate stitching.
Her entries have claimed the “Best of Show” title several times in the quilt division at the Kansas State Fair.
The Barr’s have three children who are married with families including five grandchildren.
Their sons, J.C. and Frank, have followed in their dad’s boot steps, both competing successfully in rodeos and are also active auctioneers.
J.C. lives in Oklahoma, is in the real estate business and has purebred livestock auctions as well as land sales.
Frank lives at Hutchinson, but works in the aircraft industry at Wichita, and he also conducts auctions, specifically motorcycle sales.
Their daughter, Anne Shaver, is a nurse at Emporia.
Having seen many changes in his lifetime cowboy career, Barr claimed one of the biggest is in commodity values. Sales slips from when his grandfather sold cattle in the late 1800s indicate they brought as little as $4 a head.
“Wages have really changed too. I used to get $50 for shucking corn all winter, and I thought that was a lot of money,” Barr affirmed.
“Cattle might seem high now, but they aren’t really compared to the cost of everything else,” he analyzed
Bottom farm ground on the ranch is now rented out, and Barr doesn’t own any cattle. “I still look after cow-calf pairs and grazing cattle for my renters,” he remarked.
Obviously, there’s never an idle moment around the Barr Ranch with the couple’s diverse talents, their close-knit family, good health and enthusiasm all tied to the cowboy way of life.