Historical Details

Agnew, John, Personal History

Courtesy of Our Heritage: Niobrarans and Neighbors, 10/19/2020


by Mrs. Roy Chamberlain

John Wood Agnew was born in La Rayes­ville, Penn. in 1874 at the home of his parents, William and Lydia Wood Agnew. He had an older brother, Grant, and a younger sister, Mayme. The family moved west to Nebraska in 1889, to Hemingford and later to Chadron, where John attended high school, playing on the school football team.

After high school, John went into ranching business with his father and brother on a ranch near Marsland, Nebr. where they ran sheep. In 1895 he and his brother, Grant, went to Casper, Wyo. and bought a band of sheep which they trailed all the way back to the Nebraska ranch.  It was at that time that John became interested in Wyoming, and in 1902 he returned with his brother-in-law, Robert C. Ord, to look for a ranch where the two of them could go into business together.   They purchased the Rawhide Buttes Ranch, 20 miles south of Lusk at the foot of the little Butte, from Mrs. Russell Thorp, Sr. and her son, Russell Thorp, Jr.  Russell Thorp, Sr. had owned the Cheyenne Black Hills Stage Line and had used this ranch at Rawhide for his head­quarters.  Buffalo Bill and Calamity Jane and other noted characters of the Old West often stopped at this stage station for rest and refreshment.

John Agnew was a fine looking young man in his late twenties at the time of this new venture. He and Robert Ord made a wonderful team.  John liked to do business, make deals, and to go to town to trade.

Robert Ord was the scholar, the surveyor, the one who liked to supervise the ranch projects, ride, raise the garden, and look after the ranch in general.  John had a buck board and a fast team of horses and would load the wagon with supplies and keep the sheepherders outfitted, or take a quick trip to Lusk for more needed supplies.

After 1914, when the partnership of Agnew and Ord was dissolved, and the ranch divided, John Agnew took the south half and started into the new era of the homestead­ ers alone. Before this time, the rancher used many acres of government land, free, but now all this land was filed upon by homesteaders, and each rancher had to fence his deeded land.   Mr. Agnew bought out the homesteaders who were willing to sell after proving up on their land.  Thus he increased his acreage until he owned almost a township. He was fortunate in having wonderful men to work for him, and he was able to spend his time buying more land, cattle and sheep as well as in supervision of the ranch projects.

John Agnew was one of the first in the Lusk area to own an automobile, an Apperson. From that time on, he was always in a car, and his business interests began to extend beyond the confines of his ranch and Niobrara and Goshen counties. He owned farms near Torrington, a ranch near North Platte, and was interested in various business ventures in Omaha where he lived after his marriage to Miss Jessie Callander 1916. She was the daughter of H.N. Callander, who at that time was president of the Bank of Lusk of which John was a director. John was doing very well, financially, during these years and spent much of his time riding the Pullman on the Northwestern train from Lusk to Omaha and Chicago where he had interests in the livestock commission business.    At that time his sister, Mayme Ord, was also living in Omaha, and his three nieces and nephew, and also his mother.  He loved to take them out riding and to the parades in his new black Cadillac.

Mr. Agnew became interested in the oil boom at Lance Creek and was one of the organizers of the Tom Bell Royalty.  He continued as treasurer of the company until a short time before his death. He was also a direc­tor of the Buck Creek Oil for many years.

John Agnew was interested in building up Lusk and had hopes of making it an oil city. He was one of the men who formed a company to build the Ranger Hotel, and also the Silver Cliff.  When the boom died out in Lusk, he moved the Bungalow Hotel to Torrington and retained an interest in it for a number of years.

The large barbecue picnics at the Raw­hide Ranch were memorable occasions. John invited his friends from Cheyenne, Omaha, North Platte, and of course, Lusk and Torrington, as well as all the neighboring ranches.  A specialist was engaged to barbecue a lamb and a fat steer.  These barbecues were held along the Rawhide Creek below the ranch house in the alfalfa meadows and under the big cottonwood trees, one of which was so big that it took three men to reach around the trunk.

Like many others in this area, John Agnew suffered severe losses when the oil boom died out and also the cattle prices fell in the late twenties. In the early thirties, John leased his ranch and took a job with the government Reconstruction Finance Corporation, inspecting loans.    He was always a strong advocate of free enter­prise, and many appreciated his sage advice.

Perhaps, no one was better qualified for the job with R.F.C. than he, for he understood the rancher and his problems and knew the value of Wyoming land. This job meant
driv­ing hundreds of miles over the state, but he was free to do this, as he and his wife were legally separated. He gave her the home in Omaha, and cared for her all her life, although he saw her rarely. The depression of the thirties found him re­trieving his fortune and buying more land for his ranch.   During his long life, he made and lost several fortunes, and at the time of death was well to do, in spite of the fact that he had given away much of his property.

John Agnew had many friends among people of all walks of life, among the poor as well as the wealthy and influential.  He was never too busy to do a favor for a friend in need.

During World War II, John Agnew served as chairman of the draft board of Niobrara County and performed his duty fairly and honestly.

John Agnew was the first initiate of Harmony Lodge #24, A.F. and A.M. in Lusk. He was a member of the Wyoming Consistory A.A.S.R., and also the Shrine.

During his later years he lived in the Ranger Hotel in Lusk, which at that time was owned by his niece's husband, Roy Chamberlain. He liked to help at the desk and talk with guests, many of whom he had known for years.  Later he lived in the home of his niece and nephew, Roy and Gertrude Chamberlain, and with his niece, Jeanette Sager.   At the time of his last illness, Gertrude and Jeanette cared for him until his death in September, 1965, at the age of 91 years.

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Related/Linked Records

Record Type Name
Obituary Agnew, John (03/03/1874 - 09/30/1965) View Record
Historical Historical Agnew Ranch Sells Thursday View Record
Historical Agnew Family History View Record