Graham family maintains ranch along river
Jeffrey City – Ever since 1892 the Graham family has lived and ranched north of the Sweetwater River near Jeffrey City in southeastern Fremont County.
“My granddad bought this place in 1892 after coming from Nebraska, near Creston, and he added some other homesteads to it,” says Jim Graham, who runs the operation today with his brother Tom Graham. Both brothers have houses at ranch headquarters.
“We met in high school, she was a year behind me, and we went to school together,” says Jim of how he met his wife Nadine, whose mother was born in Lander and whose great-grandfather worked at Fort Washakie as a carpenter when it was still a military base.
Jim and Tom have operated the ranch together since their dad passed away in 1989. “I was in the Army for two years, and I’ve been here ever since,” says Jim.
The Grahams have a cow/calf operation, selling their calves every fall. “We’re mostly Herefords, but that’ll change pretty quick,” says Jim of their switch to black cattle to coincide with the other families with whom they run in common. The allotment runs from Sand Draw to Riverton, east of the highway, clear around the rim, and encompasses around 275,000 acres. “We like Herefords for this country, but it’s pretty hard to keep them. We think they’re tougher cattle.”
“The neighbors are looking to switch, so we’re about forced to,” adds Tom. “We have to be off the federal land in October, and we winter them right here,” says Tom of the ranch’s cattle management. “Sometimes that’s good, and sometimes it’s not.”
“In the fall we gather beef, for those who sell their yearlings in October,” says Jim. “We don’t sell our calves until November, but we get them in with everyone else’s cattle.”
“The neighbors all help, and we all go together to gather,” says Tom. Jim adds that everyone pitches in to buy the food, divided among the families.
“We have a friend that’s gone out to cook for several years now,” says Nadine. “We split the expenses by our AUMs, and everyone pays on the groceries and the cook’s wages.”
When it comes time to sell, the ranch markets calves through order buyers. “There’s getting to be fewer of them around anymore, but we’ve been selling to the same ones for quite a while,” says Tom.
The Graham family owns a set of scales, which most of the neighboring ranches use each fall. “Most everybody from around here brings their calves here, and it works pretty good,” says Jim. “We installed them in 1969, I think, and it’s still the same set, and they’re inspected by the state every year so they stay up to certain standards.”
Another roundup is held in the spring, at which the Grahams brand their calves. “The neighbors brand before turning out, but we brand all ours on the roundup,” says Jim.
“If they turn slicks out after they’ve branded they usually mark them, so they know what they are and we don’t have to mother them up,” says Tom.
As for predators, the Grahams say they have the usual coyotes. “I suppose it’s a matter of time before the wolves get here from South Pass,” comments Nadine.
“Anymore, everyone in the country hunts coyotes, trying to keep them under control, and the ones we see now are going wide open,” says Tom.
Jim says he thinks there are plenty of sage grouse on their place. Tom adds, “Everyone says there’s a shortage this summer, but if you go out in the hills, the grass was high and there was water everywhere, so they didn’t have to come in. We could stir big bunches up.”
The Grahams’ ranch does have hunter walk-in areas. “It’s worked out pretty well, the problems we have the most are the gates some people don’t shut. That gets a little bad, like one year hunters let a whole lot of wild horses in up here, and it was three or four years before the BLM got them out,” says Nadine.
“A horse never quits eating,” comments Jim. “If he’s awake, he’s eating. And if someone goes to stirring them up they tear more fence down than an elk herd.”
“It’s a good way to live. We don’t make much money, but it’s a good way to live,” says Jim of ranching in Fremont County. “My son and his family are here, with two kids, and he works in the oil patch nearby. I hope he’ll stick around, and his kids do pretty good helping on the ranch, when they can.”
“He’d be here on the ranch, if we could figure out a way to all make a living,” says Nadine, adding, “Our granddaughter will be 17, and she really likes the ranch. Our daughter-in-law runs a gluten-free store in Riverton, and they help her quite a bit.”
“I like it here. There are times I wanted to leave, but usually the road was closed,” says Nadine with a laugh. “We can get good snow, but last few years have been pretty open. This has been a good year, but we had about 10 years of very dry weather.”