Part II: Jack Short’s life in the 1940’s & 50’s — cowboys, rodeos, Ben Johnson & More

In a series of interviews recently, Bartlesville resident, Jack Short, who was born in 1939, tells of his life growing up in and around Washington County, Okla. His long-time friend, Al Jay Kester also attended the interview.

“I was born in Copan, Oklahoma,” Short said. “We wanted to be cowboys, you know … I had a bareback riggin’ just like Al did, and I’d put it on, the work mules, the milk cow. I bucked ‘em all out. I rode ‘em all.”

“I’d ride the hogs too. I was a kid rider from the word go,” Short said. “My dad had a cattle buyer come out one fall to buy steers and stuff and while he was there, I was two or three years old. The guy was waitin’ for my dad to get ‘em drove in and I said ‘do you guys want to see me ride that hog?’ That guy said, I don’t know, you might get in trouble.’ I said, ‘no, I do it all the time.’ The hogs slept along side the fence and I’d bale off and ride ‘em as long as I could and, of course, I’d get my ass beat every time – comin’ back dirty and scroungy,” he explained as Kester laughed.

“We had a milk cow that we milked morning & night. She had a bell on her and we let her out during the day,” Short said. “At night, she didn’t want to come in, so my dad and me and his horse named Red went after the cow. A few nights later, we was waitin’ for her to come in and I asked if I could go after the cow on Red, so he set me up there and handed me the reins and said, ‘Get her Red.’ A few nights later, we threw the reins on Red and dad said, ‘get her Red’ and the horse went after the cow on his own and brought her back!” Short said that he thought he’d been responsible for bringing the cow back but this showed him that the horse was so well trained by his father, that he knew what to do on his own, even without a rider.

“We had a separator that separated milk from the cream. We lived the old-fashioned way – the Cherokee way. It was the happiest time of my life. Years later I asked my mom if she’d like to live back out there again. She said it was the hardest time of her life – scrubbing the clothes on the washboard, making lye for hominy and soap out of wood ashes.

His father, Lewis Hubbard Short, known as Hub, took a job for the Co-op Oil Company as a pumper in Chautauqua Kansas, taking the family with him.

Short described his childhood during these times: “When I went to the oil fields, I had to fight in every new town I moved to. I was tougher than hell though. One story — we moved to Chautauqua, Kansas. The second day I was there me and my sister, we was goin’ to town. I asked my dad if we could go out and pick some wildflowers and he said, ‘yes.’ There was these two boys named McCorkle. They didn’t have no mom and their dad worked on the highway. The kids just made it on their own. So me and my sister was pickin’ these wildflowers. The McCorkle boys came along and said you can’t do that this property belongs to somebody and they don’t want you pickin the flowers. They belong to this guy that owns the land. I said, no they don’t they’re just growin along the road here. Then I had to fight both of em and I whopped both of them. They were the bad boys of town and no one messed with me after that,” Short said with a smile. “They didn’t realize I’d apprenticed in Copan and I was tougher than a boot.”

As a teenager, Short became interested in rodeo competitions, where he rode bareback.

“I rode at the Cavalcade when I was 14 and 15,” Short said.

“We’ve also got some cowboys in our family,” he said, showing a picture of a saddle won in a rodeo.

“All my grandsons are cowboys and I have four grandsons.”

Growing up in the 1940’s and 50’s, Short knew some well-known cowboys in the area.

Short told a story about a cowboy named Gordon Hapdean. “This guy was a cowboy deluxe. I stayed on his ranch when I was 12.

“Hap made spurs. He made saddles. He could do any kind of ranch work. He was the manager of other ranches. I stayed on the ranches with him. His sister and brother were old maids. I turned 14 when I was with them and his sister made me a birthday cake in the old wood stove. Back then they didn’t have too many decorations, but she iced it and put ‘Jack’ in jellybeans on the top.”

He recalled an incident involving Hapdean and Ben Johnson: “They were at the steer roping in Pawhuska — Ben Johnson Memorial in Pawhuska. This was a long-time ago. Hapdean was a competition cowboy back in his day. Before the roping started, they were meeting. They made moonshine in these days. Hap’s wife had been drinking. Ben Johnson walked up and she said to him, ‘You’re not a cowboy.’ Ben Johnson said, ‘Yes, ma’am, I know that.’”

Short said, “Compared to Hap and the other guys, he was a movie star.”

Kester spoke up for Johnson: “Ben Johnson was a saddle bronc rider. He got in the movies and they thought he would get hurt, so he stopped. He was better known as a roper. In roping he was a World’s Champion. He won an Oscar and a Roping World Championship!”

Short’s adult life included three years in the Navy, marriage, the birth of his two sons, his wife’s death in a car accident, raising his two sons alone, saddle-making school in South Dakota, a stint as a saddle maker, followed by a successful career in construction as a carpenter.

He still enjoys restoring vintage saddles. Two saddles from the 1880 to 1900 era, which sit in his living room, were restored entirely by hand, he said.

These days Short, who has become an avid gardener and canner, is retired, and lives in Bartlesville with his son, Mark Short, and grandson, Kent Short.

Jack Short, who attended saddle-making school in South Dakota, is shown with two of the saddles he restored by hand, both for range horses, which require a higher horn. Shown left is a 1900 era saddle with the high horn made from leather he cut and stamped with a saddle stamp and stitched by hand with brass-covered stirrups. Shown right is an 1880 era saddle with a slick fork, covered dees, high horn, high back, slotted seat and brass-covered stirrups. Modern saddles are broader with lower horns.

Jack Short, who attended saddle-making school in South Dakota, is shown with two of the saddles he restored by hand, both for range horses, which require a higher horn. Shown left is a 1900 era saddle with the high horn made from leather he cut and stamped with a saddle stamp and stitched by hand with brass-covered stirrups. Shown right is an 1880 era saddle with a slick fork, covered dees, high horn, high back, slotted seat and brass-covered stirrups. Modern saddles are broader with lower horns.

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About Roseanne McKee

Journalist who enjoys reporting the community events/news of Pawhuska, Okla. Pawhuska has a rich culture as the home of the Osage Nation. Cattle ranching, the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve and the oil industry are all located near Pawhuska. The people are warm, generous and unpretentious. I love Pawhuska!
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