Buford Ranch on OCCA Ranch Tour

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By: Roseanne McKee

Republished with permission of the Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise

The Osage County Cattlemen’s Association’s annual ranch tour, held each Father’s Day weekend, featured six ranches this year. This column provides highlights of the Buford Ranch, the fifth tour stop, which featured Hereford heifers and calves. Sam Buford was interviewed for this stop, which was broadcast on AM radio station 1500.“Originally, the Bufords purchased approximately 1,800 acres from the Craddock family, a neighboring Osage County ranching family,” Sam Buford said. “At the time of the original land purchase, the family also was able to lease approximately 9,000 acres from various other landowners. Over the past 77 years, we’ve been able to steadily grow the ranch to its present size of about 14,000 deeded acres and about 2,000 leased acres.

“Buford Ranches is the operating company that operates the ranches. It was formed by my brother, Stephen Buford, and my sister, Sharon Linsenmeyer and myself [Sam Buford] when our mother, D. J. Petit, and her brother, John R. Duncan, decided to retire from the ranching business.

“When we purchased the cow herd about 21 years ago … commercial cows made up the entirety of the ranch. Since that time, we’ve divided the ranch into about three different sections — one of which is still the commercial cow herd. And the commercial cow herd has always been the backbone of Buford Ranches.

“Since that time, we’ve added registered Hereford cattle, and they’re managed by the current manager of the ranch, Doug Branch. Doug grew up on a Hereford ranch south of Pawnee County.

“Then, in addition to that, we have part of the ranch reserved to take care of wild mustangs for the Bureau of Land Management.

“The registered Hereford cattle were actually started in Welch, Okla., at one of our other ranches. At that time we were partners with John Jones from Lexington, Ky. and we had registered Angus and registered Brangus cattle. After about four or five years into that partnership, Mr. Jones wanted to also try to acquire some Herefords, and we were able to find two cow herds in Cheyenne, Wyoming,” Buford said.

“At both of those ranches we were able to sort the cows we wanted, and, essentially, we got a big head start on our Hereford venture by being able to acquire the best genetics from two long-time, proven herds. Despite the genetic head start we got, … the Hereford program struggled for several years because, in all honesty, it took a back seat to our registered Angus cattle herd. In Welch we had always sold registered Angus cattle, and the people that ran the ranch up there — that’s where they had their experience.
“When we made the decision to move the registered Angus cows to Osage County on the Duncan Ranch and put Doug in charge of that program, we immediately saw improvements in weaning weights, yearling weights, cow confirmation, udder quality, disposition and just several other things that are hard to quantify. Over the past few years, as I steadily saw the registered Hereford herd steadily getting better and better, it made me want to do more for Doug. And so, we made a commitment to spend money on better genetics, and we’ve gone to the northern part of the U.S. in Montana and North Dakota, and we’ve revamped our herd bull battery. We’ve tried to buy the absolute best horn Hereford bulls that can be found anywhere. Those decisions have paid immediate dividends and the cow herd has improved the last two years than the previous five.
On the ranch the caravan of vehicles wound its way uphill to a red corral at the top where the tourists viewed a mature set of herd Hereford cows with spring bull calves born in late February or early March.

“We’ll pull them off their mothers in late October, and they’re going to average in the high sevens to low eights. We’ll have some bull calves that hit 850 to 900 lbs. The heifer calves are going to be about 50 to 75 lbs. back on those weights and we’re really not worried about pushing those heifers. We’re not having any Hereford-female sales right now. We’re just trying to slowly develop them in a manner that’s best for the Hereford females.

“After we wean those calves, they’re going to stay on the ranch for 60 to 90 days. We’ll get them good and straightened out. We’ll straighten the horns on up on the bull calves. We’ll sort which registered Hereford heifers we want to keep and put back in the herd. At that that point the Hereford heifers will stay in Hominy, and we’ll send the Hereford bull calves up to Welch, and they’ll go on feed with our registered Angus bull calves,” Buford explained.

Buford described their sale program.

“We’ve always sold 18- to -20 month bulls, so once the bulls leave Hominy, and the Angus bull calves come off the Angus mothers in Welch, we’ll develop those calves for ten to 12 months; then we’ll sell them as an 18- to 20-month bull calf either in the fall or the spring.

The grass in the pastures is important for optimizing the cattle’s heath and weight.
“As you drive through the ranch you’re going to be driving through native grass pastures. You’re going to be looking at a four-grass mix: big blue, little blue, Indian grass and switch grass,” Buford said. “Due to the terrain on the ranch, we’re forced to spray the ranch with either an airplane or a helicopter. We do quite a bit of spot spraying with a ground rig, but 95 percent of the land we need to spray through aerial means.
There are certain weeds that they work continously to eradicate, being mindful of their neighbors.

“We go to great lengths to try to be good to our neighbors to make sure that we don’t spray them, and we’re constantly watching wind direction and what kind of chemicals we use and how warm it is when we spray. We like to spray most of our pastures about every other year.

“Along with good grass, we’ve also tried to keep our money in roads and water. The cattle need good water. … We’ve spent a lot of money cleaning out ponds, building new ponds.

“In addition to that we’ve spent quite a bit of money on corrals and fences, and we’ve tried to make it that a cowboy can take care of a greater number of cows, but do a better job of it, even though the number of cows he’s taking care of keeps increasing.
Buford named the ranch cowboys.

“We’ve been so fortunate that we haven’t had hardly any turnover in the last 21 years. The longest tenured employee would be Carol Ray. He worked for our family for many, many years before we took over in 1997. He was our foreman until just a couple of years ago. Carol still works for the ranch.

“We have Jackie Joe Donaldson and John Holloway, and they run the west ranch about ten miles west of the Duncan Ranch and that ranch used to be called the Bledsoe Ranch. We still refer to the original owners, so we still call that the Bledsoe Ranch. We have two cowboys that work over there.

“We also have George Henry and Riley Holloway. “We have asked a lot out of all these cowboys,” Buford said. “They go to all of the other ranches in Adair and Vinita or Welch to help on projects up there or cattle working up there as well. And we also farm near the Arkansas River. We have a wheat pasture where we put our replacement heifers on wheat every year.

“We could not be in business without quality of the people that we have that work for us,” he said with admiration.

Tour attendees saw a set of black, baldy-bred heifers to be calved in the fall.

“There is a bull on them … we put a bull on them early summer to catch anything that didn’t bred to be a fall calver. These black, white face heifers are a cross between a Hereford and Angus genetics, and we believe that the baldy heifers make the best cows,” Buford explained.

“The ranch tour also showed a set of black-white baldy heifers, a set of mature Hereford cows with calves at their side and a set of yearling Hereford replacement heifers.

“These heifers are about 14-mos. old, and they should calve about the middle of next February. Buford’s sister, Sharon’s children, held cattle at one of the stops,” he said.IMG_9338

Buford is looking to the fourth generation of Bufords to continue the ranch.

“I also have two children, Audrey and Jacob. We think that among the six kids, there’s a great opportunity that the ranch can continue in the family in the future.”

Alred Ranch, Bluestem Ranch and Turkey Trak Ranch on OCCA 2018 Ranch Tour

Republished with permission of the Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise

By: Roseanne McKee

The Osage County Cattlemen’s Association annual ranch tour is a treasured tradition in Osage County. It’s an opportunity for ranchers to showcase their cattle operations. Interviews with the ranchers or ranch representatives are broadcast by the local AM 1500 radio station. The interviews are played at each stop. For the 2018 OCCA Ranch Tour, the following ranches were visited in this order: Thatcher Drummond, Alred Ranch, Lazy K Cattle, Bluestem LLC, Buford Ranch and Turkey Trak Ranch. In my previous column, I wrote about Thatcher Drummond’s Wagyu beef cattle operation. This week’s column focuses on three of the other ranches on the tour. Next week’s column will highlight Buford Ranch.
Melissa Alred spoke for the Alred Ranch, which featured two- and three-year olds.

“The Alred Ranch has always been a cow-calf operation. We breed and keep our own replacement heifers.

My husband’s grandfather came to the Osage in 1902 and established the Bar-6 Ranch in 1907. After his death, Ruth took over. She and her nephew, Charles, worked side-by-side,” Alred said.

“Ruth was inducted into the OCCA Hall of Fame. After Ruth’s passing, Charlie and the rest of the family continued on to operate the ranch with the help of our foreman, Brian Clark. The ranch will continue on for future generations.”
Jim Morris spoke for the Lazy K Cattle Ranch.

“I want to thank the Osage Tribe because they helped us on our lease with the Osage,” Morris said.

“We got into this business less than two years ago. We knew there would be ups and downs — probably didn’t know how much there would be. I mean we’ve dealt with everything from pasture fires, to contaminated water streams caused by leaking salt-water injection wells, to lower commodity prices … but like anything else, the thing that really ultimately makes the difference is people you work with.

“I wouldn’t say that cattle is our most profitable business, but I would absolutely say it is our most enjoyable business. Anybody that likes livestock, likes being outdoors, likes making a difference to improve the land, would have to like this business. We’ve been fortunate in many ways. We are certainly hoping that over the next several years, we’ll be able to continue to build the quality of our herd, and make sure that we truly have one of the highest quality herds of red Angus in this region.

“We have certainly found that the really good people in this business are willing to help each other. We’ve met a lot of great people, worked with a lot of great people and we really look forward to the future in this business,” Morris said.

The third stop on the ranch tour was at Bluestem LLC, which was purchased by the Osage Nation in 2016.

On the radio-broadcast interview, a Bluestem ranch representative shared that a board of directors had begun managing ranch operations in May 2017. Bluestem leases the grazing rights to approximately half of the ranch while utilizing the remaining acres for approximately 1,200 head of its own cattle.

In October 2017, the Osage Nation received its first herd of bison. In coordination with the Osage Nation, Bluestem Ranch has plans to establish a bison preserve on the ranch, the representative said.

“We have two cowboys working for us, Lee Chambers and Austin Holloway,” Ranch foreman Mike Alexander said. “We are a cow-calf operation” — spring and fall herd.

Alexander said that the cattle shown on the tour were a commercial Angus herd, purchased in Nebraska.

“This is their third [set of] calves. These calves are out of Buford bulls. The remaining herd is Angus and cross-bred cattle, and we are using Angus and Hereford bulls,” Alexander explained.

The last ranch tour stop was at Turkey Trak Ranch. Berry Keeler spoke for the ranch.

“My wife, Sharon and I would like to thank everybody for stopping by,” Keeler said. “We bought this place back in 1989. We originally bought a piece of land to kind of get away and we kept adding to it … here at the show barn we used to have a registered cattle operation. We did that for several years … [then] we converted to a commercial program, and we went with Angus cattle. We have about 1,200 cattle. About 800 are black Angus and about 400 are red Angus. Of course, people always ask why we got into red.

Their calving area, which has barns, was part of the tour.
“We calved 240 heifers. Both sons, Brandon and Matthew work there, and they both have their own cattle operations too. Brandon works full time and Matthew works part time. Brandon basically takes care of the farming and the south end of the ranch, and Matthew takes care of our ranch up at Burbank. … When they work cattle, they do it together. … I’m not allowed to do a whole lot, and I don’t think they need me anyway.

There is also a farming operation on Turkey Trak Ranch.

“I was raised on a farm and so I like it,” Keeler said. “It’s a tough business. You have to be about half mechanic to be a farmer. I think right now we’re farming about 1,300 acres, and we usually put in some crops to make us a little bit of money so we can survive from one season to the next — soybeans or wheat or something like that or wheat for winter pasture. The last several years, we’ve been converting some of it to Bermuda grass. We have 2,500 to 3,000 acres of Bermuda grass.

“We’re trying to farm for the cattle and not just farm per se. And so far that’s worked better for us. You know if you try to do everything, you can’t do nothin’ very good. … So, we’ve cut back on our farming. We have irrigation circles, that way the crops aren’t stressed. We have a lot of hay, alfalfa, millet for hay.

“It’s been an interesting 30 years, but I love the cattle,” he said.
On the tour were “some replacement heifers we’ve raised. We have them down here where we don’t have too many cattle — just enough not to have to mow it.”
Then on the second pasture: “some five-year olds and some babies … you’ll notice what you see is red Angus, but we have more black Angus than red.

“Hopefully, we can make a dollar or two and maybe we’ll all be rich,” he said jokingly at the conclusion of his narration.

Farm Credit provided the meal after the tour.

“Be sure to thank them,” Keeler said.

Next week’s column will focus on the Buford Ranch near Hominy, the fourth stop on the ranch tour.

Wagyu Beef Operation featured on OCCA Ranch Tour


Republished with permission of the Bartlesville-Examiner Enterprise

By: Roseanne McKee

From 9 a.m. to noon June 16, the Osage County Cattlemen’s Association held its annual Ranch Tour. A caravan of trucks, a few SUVs and one sedan, mine, left from the Osage County Fairgrounds and headed to six ranches in Osage County, where cowboys held groups of cattle for us to see.

For the next several weeks, my column will highlight a different cattle ranch operation from the tour. I hope these columns will provide a window into the world of cattle ranching rarely explored by those outside the beef industry, which is a significant economic driver in Oklahoma.

The tour was broadcast on AM 1500 with introductions by the OCCA President Shane Stierwalt and interviews with ranch representatives.

Thatcher Drummond described his cattle ranch operation.

“The pasture is primarily fescue with some Bermuda in it. I fertilize this pasture every year and weed spray it when needed. On years when we have a lot of rain, I will mow to approximately a foot tall. … I stock this pasture one cow per acre. The only way I can achieve this is by fertilizing and weed spraying. When it does get hot and dry … I will rotate the pasture just west of here. The pasture I would rotate to is straight Bermuda. Here my stocking rate changes. I try to give them three acres per head and also weed spray and fertilize that pasture,” Thatcher Drummond said.

“Currently, we are using Wagyu bulls on 50 cows in the spring and then turn around and breed 250 cows in the fall. We currently put one Wagyu bull to every 30—35 cows. We leave the bulls on the cows for 30 days and then pull them off and switch back and forth 250 in the spring and 250 in the fall.

Drummond introduced Cade Nichols from Sherman, Texas, who provides the bulls used to breed Drummond’s Angus cows. “We in turn sell the calves back to him, which he feeds out for 24 months before they are ready to go to market.”

Cade Nichols, who manages a 7,000-acre cattle ranch in north Texas, said that Wagyu cattle “may not be pretty in the pasture, but they’re pretty on the plate.
“Contrary to what you may have heard about Wagyu cattle, they are not massaged and fed beer. Actually, they’re pretty tough animals that you can turn out, and they’ll make a living for you.

“This breed was first brought to the United States in 1976 to Texas A&M University to research meat quality. The trade between the United States and Japan was halted until 1992 at which time Japan sent over the first female. Japan continued to send cattle over until 1998 at which time they halted all exports. In the United States, Japanese cattle are known as full-blood Wagyu. The American Wagyu Association maintains a registry of the full-blood Wagyu, which requires a three-way DNA parent verification to ensure the integrity of each animal’s pedigree is traced back to its original Japanese roots. There are many benefits to using Wagyu bulls on cows like the ones you’re viewing. First, Wagyu bulls have an extremely high libido and service more cows than any other breed. We regularly use one bull per 35 head for a 70 to 90-day breeding period. Also, these breeds will live longer than any other breeds. We typically use a bull until it’s 10 to 12 years of age. What this means for a rancher is he doesn’t have to purchase as many bulls to breed his cows and he doesn’t have to purchase them as frequently, which in turn means more money back in his pocket.

“Next, these bulls have very low birth weights. What this does for a rancher is he can confidently use these bulls on heifers like the ones you’re viewing and not have to worry about them when it comes time for them to calve. The average birth weight is about 54 pounds, but the average weaning weight is 517 pounds. Yeah, that weaning weight may be a little less than what you’d get on a Hereford or a Charolais bull but when you add a per pound premium to the calf, the producer actually comes about better. And all the while, [he] doesn’t have to be up all night checking heifers and possibly pulling calves.

Nichols said that at his ranch “using these bulls, we are producing over 95 percent prime beef and a lot of that is prime plus, plus beef. These calves, once weaned, will be brought down to our grow yard until they’re 12- to 14-months of age. Then we ship them to the Texas Panhandle to finish them on grain. We harvest these animals and sell them as boxed beef, mainly to Dallas/Fort Worth area restaurants.

“Another great benefit to these animals, in addition to the fact that they will improve beef quality when crossed with any other breed is the health benefits. Wagyu beef has a tendency to be more tender than most breeds and have a better flavor because of its fatty-acid composition. Wagyu animals are high in monounsaturated fatty acids, Omega 3’s and Omega 6’s.

“Most importantly to me is the fact that it tastes great and increases the value of the animal.”

Read my column next week about the cattle ranch operations of Alred Ranch and Lazy K Cattle Ranch.

Okla. CattleWoman of the Year Named

Republished with permission of the Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise

By Roseanne McKee
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Norita Martin has been named Oklahoma CattleWoman of the Year by the Oklahoma CattleWomen’s Association. The award was announced on July 20 in Norman at the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s annual Convention and Trade Show.

The Oklahoma Cattlewoman of the Year was recognition for being a spokesperson for the beef industry through many forms of leadership in beef advocacy. As a member of the American National CattleWomen, Martin has participated in state, regional, and national meetings developing beef promotion programs.

“I strive to encourage adults and youth programs to take part in the Masters of Beef Advocacy Program and the Beef Quality Assurance Program, which are both excellent free education opportunities. To assist with a national beef promotion project, I organized members to participate in customer discussions at a large grocery store over a period of six sessions for one of two locations in Oklahoma. As well as developing beef education booths for county and state events , I encourage our local association to develop new programs to support youth education in various areas of agriculture,” said Martin.

Martin and her husband, Russell, own Double M Farms, a cow calf operation located between Copan and Wann with pastures in Nowata and Montgomery Counties.
“It is a true honor to receive the Oklahoma CattleWoman of the Year Award, but I feel this honor is shared with the members of our organization, especially the team in our county,” Martin said. “In Washington County we work together to promote beef, youth and agriculture. It’s a wonderful, supportive group of friends of which I feel so privileged to enjoy.”

Martin is also serving a two-year term as vice president of the Washington County CattleWomen, which she has been a member of for 20 years or more.

Martin’s family has been in cattle ranching for over 100 years.

“My siblings and I each own a part of the ranch that was started by my Lucas grandparents in about 1917,” she said. “My grandparents raised registered Hereford cattle, but my father was a commercial herd man when he took over the ranch. My parents also owned the Dewey Livestock Auction at two different locations.”

Martin grew up in Copan where she was active in 4-H Club. A recipient of the state 4-H Santa Fe Leadership Scholarship and the Oklahoma 4-H Danforth Award, Martin graduated from Oklahoma State University with a bachelor’s degree in Voc Home Economics. She earned a master’s degree in Home Economics from the University of Missouri.

During her career, she worked as a home economist for Texas Agriculture Extension, as a home economics teacher in Bixby and Broken Arrow and as a social worker for the Oklahoma Department of Health and Human Services.
“Since retiring [eight years ago] I have been a gate opener, cow counter, cattle sorter, and anything else you can do on foot. We have some part-time help for feeding, haying, and gathering cattle — so then my main job is camp cook and bookkeeper,” Martin said.

Martin and her husband moved to their ranch 25 years ago, where they first raised registered Simmental cattle.

“After the kids went to college, we gradually shifted to a commercial herd,” she said.

The Washington County CattleWomen meet the fourth Monday of at least ten months of the year and membership is five dollars.

Most meetings are at 11:30 a.m. at on of the area restaurants. Watch for meeting announcements in the news.

For more information on them, follow the Washington County CattleWomen on their Facebook page.

Al J. Kester’s Childhood & Rodeo Days

By: Roseanne McKee

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Al J. Kester has a framed photo someone took of him riding a bull in jeans, not chaps, in Burwell, Nebraska, before he retired from rodeoing at the age of 21. Photo from Kester’s personal collection.


Al J. Kester, a resident of Bartlesville since the age of six, was born the son of a bootlegger, but he didn’t let that stop him from having a regular childhood.

“I grew up with Butch Donald Stern, known as Butchy. He grew up around the whiskey at my house. When he’d stay over at my house during the summer, we’d get up in the morning, and have to walk around baskets of whiskey to get to the other room. He knew all my dad’s customers just like I did,” Al J. Kester said.

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Although Al J. Kester was a bootlegger’s son, he didn’t let that stop him from having a regular childhood. Al J. Kester, on the right in a cowboy hat, is pictured with his childhood friend, “Butchy” Stern in the ball cap. “He was a football player and I was a cowboy…Around me he never acted like a big shot, but all the kids wanted to be his friend,” Kester said. Photo from Kester’s personal collection.

Describing Stern, Kester said, “[H]e was a little pit bull. He went to College High and played football. Bill Holbrook was the coach; when the coaches heard Butchy Stern was coming to College High to play football, they grinned from ear-to-ear. All the girls loved Butchy Stern. When he played football, they would flock. They would all be there to watch him to play… Around me he never acted like a big shot, but all the kids wanted to be his friend.”

“Butchy was a football player, and I was a cowboy,” Kester said with a smile.

Instead of playing football, Kester joined the Bartlesville Roundup Club and began bareback bronc and bull riding.

“I started rodeoing at 13. Bret Fowler, who was three or four years older than me, was the one who got me started.

Showing the bareback rigging he used when riding broncs, Kester said: “They made this for me when I was 12 years old. It was made by Dickson, which was one of the best rigging makers for all the champions. It was worth $500 in 1983, according to a letter I received from the Rodeo Headquarters in Denver. I don’t know what it’s worth now.”

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Showing the bareback rigging he used when riding broncs, Al J. Kester said: “They made this for me when I was 12 years old. It was made by Dickson, which was one of the best rigging makers for all the champions. It was worth $500 in 1983, according to a letter I received from the Rodeo Headquarters in Denver.” Photo by Roseanne McKee.

Showing photos, Kester said: “This is when I started at the Bartlesville Roundup Club. Here’s Cheyenne, Okla., that’s where I won this buckle. There’s my second horse in my life. I was 13. I won this in Hennesey, Okla. I won $27 and that was a lot of money then.”

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Al J. Kester bareback riding a bronc in Hennessey, Okla., at the age of 13. “I won $27 and that was a lot of money then,” Al J. Kester said. Photo from Kester’s personal collection.

Dewey, Okla., had a professional rodeo arena, but Kester was too young to ride there, he said.

“Butler Brothers got to be the biggest rodeo outfit in the world and it started at Dewey.

“Eddie Curtiss was such a great promoter that he got all the bulls at Dewey, Oklahoma. Then when they went to sign the contracts in Denver, all the rodeo committee men loved Eddie Curtiss. He would party with them from Cheyenne, Denver, Odessa, Texas, Vinita and Claremore, North Platt, Nebraska. He promoted all the rodeos for Butler Brothers.”

Al’s nickname in the rodeo circuit was “Cocklebur.”

“When I was 16, I was winning everything, and Curtiss said, ‘Cocklebur, it’s time for you to get in the R.C.A. (Real Cowboy Association). In Dewey it was called the Turtle Association, then it went into the R.C.A. In the 1950’s I was in that first bunch. I was the youngest professional bull rider in the world – didn’t go to school. I travelled all over the United States with these guys rodeoing in Albuquerque and South Bend, Indiana.”

The best bull riders became celebrities, Kester explained.

“Buck Rutherford was the first cowboy in the world to make $40,000. He lived in Delaware.”

In those days rodeo clowns were big celebrities too.

“Buddy Heaton was one of the top rodeo clowns and he got all the rodeo clowns for Butler Brothers. Buddy Heaton was a tall guy. He was the most feared guy in the rodeo business. You had to be a certain person to be able handle him. Everybody know better than to mess with him because he’d pick you up, put you in a slop can and put a lid on you. He was one of the great bull fighters. But Buck Rutherford and Andy Curtiss, whatever they said, he would do.”

Kester claimed that Heaton even made the cover of National Geographic riding a buffalo.

Kester was urged to continue his career, but decided to stop at the age of 21, when he was at the top of his game, and joined the family business.

No, it wasn’t bootlegging. The family also had a restaurant in Bartlesville.

“We had a restaurant for 25 years: 1954 – 1975 and boy we had the business! We had all the business. The restaurant, called The Log Cabin Drive-In, was located at the corner of Frank Phillips Blvd. and Comanche in Bartlesville.

Even after the restaurant closed, Kester’s family life was food-focused.

“We had big dinners on Sunday at my house for 40 years; we just quit about two or three months ago. We’re gettin’ old. This was for our family and friends. For 40 years we cooked Sunday dinner.”

At the restaurant, Kester developed his own, special barbeque sauce.

“I’ve been makin’ it for 50 years, but I didn’t know how to make it to sell it.

“I have a real good cowboy friend I gave the recipe to. This sauce a child can eat!”

After the restaurant closed, Kester took a job at the Bartlesville Hospital in maintenance, where he stayed for 13 years before retiring.

Kester showed a picture of a friend’s birthday party. Among the group was a man named Gene Wing, he said.

“Gene Wing was one of the great horse trainers of the world, but he was also a safe cracker. He would go to all the big cities and crack the safes. He did do time in the penitentiary,” Kester said.

“You might ask how could you be friends with these guys but not get in any trouble? Well, I didn’t go with ‘em. We were friends, but I didn’t go down the road with ‘em.”

Now 77, Kester credits his longevity to his decision to quit drinking and smoking in his 40’s.

“All of my friends who kept drinking and smoking are gone now,” he said wistfully.

Another of his good health practices is daily prayer and a dose of honey and apple cider vinegar.

Kester boasted, “I have friends who’ve taken this for over 50 years and they never get sick!”

These days Kester lives with his wife and family in his childhood home in Bartlesville on Cheyenne Ave., which he repurchased 20 years ago.

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Al J. Kester in front of his childhood home on Cheyenne Ave. in Bartlesville where he grew up. He repurchased the home 20 years ago.

The Bootlegger’s Son

AlJKester (2) Al J. Kester at his childhood home on Cheyenne Ave. in Bartlesville.

By: Roseanne McKee

Al J. Kester, a life-time resident of Bartlesville, sat down in his childhood home, to share his memories of growing up with his father — a prominent Bartlesville bootlegger during the Prohibition era.

Kester’s father, Amos Lovelin Kester, was born in 1903 in Kansas and traveled to Oklahoma on a covered wagon with some cattle and initially settled in Dewey, Oklahoma.

Amos Kester became a bootlegger to make ends meet during the Great Depression, when jobs were scarce.

“Before I was born my dad was working for the Sinclair Prairie. In them days people were lined up looking for a job. There were a hundred people there to take your job in case you did not show up or you didn’t want it. It was a hard time. People were hunting squirrels and getting rabbits to eat – raising a few hogs, chickens — so they started making moonshine whisky.

“In Washington County, there was a place out west if you drive west of Bartlesville and go in front of the Mound where the water tower is take the Mound Road and go north and there was a place called Straits Dairy. You turn left at Straits Dairy and go about two miles and there is a place where there is a great big hill.

“There was a place in the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s where they had these parties at a place called Chimney Rock. Well the road went on around that big old hill and there was a house back there and my dad and his brothers and a friend of his started making moon shine whiskey and they were selling it – trying to make a living.

“My dad got married and he decided to start selling bonded whiskey and stop selling moon shine whiskey, so he moved right down here on the corner of Santa Fe and First Street.

“My dad was the main bootlegger here. When I moved to this house, Prohibition was still going on and my dad was making moonshine whiskey. He decided to make bottled whiskey, so he started selling whiskey.”

In those days Hensley Street, the cross street with Cheyenne where he grew up, was called First Street, Kester said.

“Well, right there was a building and a house. My dad rented the house and he started selling bonded whiskey and he got a federal stamp from the federal government to sell bonded whiskey.

“As the years went by, there was a house for rent up here on Cheyenne. My dad rented that house, and started selling whiskey out of that house. When I was about one year old, they bought the house they had been renting here at 107 Cheyenne where I’m at right now.

“I bought the house by paying the taxes on it and moved back in several years ago. Glad to be here.

“Anyway, so he bought this house and moved over here when I was six years old and he continued selling bootlegged whiskey. The people liked him so well that his business grew and grew and grew.”

Kester named a busy private business club in downtown Bartlesville.

“I was a little kid. I would get in the car and go with my dad and he would pull up in front of the building at five o’clock in downtown Bartlesville, and people would be coming out and he would carry in little baskets of whiskey.”

Kester named three prominent business leaders of the era, who have since passed on, and said, “they gave him permission to take the whiskey down there because they really liked my dad.”

“My dad also delivered whiskey to the hotel and another club. He had a booming business,” Kester said.

Kester described gatherings of prominent local business men at his father’s kitchen table.

“They would come over and they would set around our table and talk and they trusted my dad and gave him power to sell his whiskey. According to Kester, these men even consulted Amos Kester about who to name as police chief and they listened. His father was the one who let the man know he’d soon be named police chief.

“The number one bootlegger telling the policeman, that he got the job and that he was going to be Chief of Police – that was something else,” Kester recalled.

His father even had a say in who became the Washington County Sheriff in those days, Kester said.

Amos Kester was not the only bootlegger in the region Kester said.

“There was a man who was a bootlegger who bought a farm on the Oklahoma Kansas line up by Coffeyville, Kansas. He would go into Missouri with his trucks and get truckloads of whiskey and take to this barn and unload on the Oklahoma side and then he would deliver the whiskey to all the bootleggers in Tulsa, Bartlesville, Claremore and all over the state and country and they had no bigger whiskey hauler. His name was Big Mack McCormick. He lived in Collinsville, Oklahoma. He always was wearing those big beautiful suits and wore a hat like Al Capone.

“There was another whiskey hauler named Johnny McCall. He looked like a movie star and talked like Frank Sinatra. Finally, he went over to Grand Lake and opened a store and got out of the whiskey hauling business.

“There was another little guy named Ralph Davis and he could have been a doctor, but he wanted to be an outlaw. His dad was a surgeon. Ralph Davis always wore beautiful suits and he would come into Bartlesville and go in with the rich people and get in the card games and find out where the jewelry was and where they kept their money. He was an outlaw deluxe – mafia connected I believe.

Things did not end well for all who took up the bootlegging profession, Kester recalled.

“One time Little Ralph [Davis] called my dad and said, ‘Amos, I got seven cases of Yellowstone.’ (Yellowstone was a type of whiskey). I’m out here on Virginia Road. In them days it was almost a one lane road out there going towards Oak Park, so my dad drove out to buy the seven cases of Yellowstone from him and he said, ‘Amos, the feds is after you and he had another guy with him and he was called J. Eddy. He said, ‘we got to leave the country.’ So time went by. Someone brought the newspaper over to my dad and it showed a photo of Ralph shot plum-full of holes.”

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Amos Kester, who lived to be 80, never did get caught. Al J. Kester, who is 77, decided to walk a completely different path as a cowboy and family man, but that’s a story for another day. Watch for an article about Al J. Kester’s youth and days as a rodeo champion, coming soon!

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.