Wednesday, May 7, 2014

52 Ancestors #17: James Robert "Jim" McCoy

James Robert McCoy, age 21
This post is super late because last weekend was spent celebrating my husb-
and's & my 17th wedding anniversary. Before I knew it, time slipped away. For-
give me, it happens to all of us!

If there was ever anyone who was the epitome of the cowboys of yesteryear, it was my great great grand uncle Jim. He was born in Burnet Co., Texas on 9 Aug 1862 to Hugh & Harriet Farquhar McCoy. The McCoy family originally migrated from Fayette Co., AL to Burnet Co., Texas in 1852 & in those days, the county was only sparsely populated & indians roamed the countryside.  The McCoys had eleven children & Jim was their sixth child & fifth son. He left home at the tender age of 15 (apparently kids grew up quicker then) to follow the great cattle drives of the 1880's, where you spent weeks on end in the saddle looking at the rear ends of cattle.

When Jim wasn't riding herd, he was fortunate enough to see the famous geysers of Yellowstone before it ever became a national park. He swam the salty waters of the Great Salt Lake in Utah & spent some exciting time in Dodge City. He spent the famous killing winter of 1886 & 1887 that inspired the painting "Waiting for a Chinook" by Montana artist Charles H. Russell in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The severe blizzards that winter decimated cattle & Jim eventually arrived with more to replenish the herds.

Jim worked as a foreman on many ranches in Northern Montana before settling in as cow boss on Colen Hunter's YT Ranch south of Havre in Hill Co., MT. He found himself a wife to take his name when he married Wilomena "Mina" Dowen, daughter of Nicholas & Elizabeth Harrison Dowen, on 2 Nov 1896 in Fort Benton, Choteau Co., MT. The Dowens were new arrivals to Fort Benton from Michigan. Their home on the YT was the first in the county to have a wooden floor instead of the usual dirt variety. They had one daughter Elizabeth in 1907 who became a teacher & married Warren Grover Murphy in 1941 & eventually moved to AR.

Marriage license of Jim & Mina Dowen McCoy
Like many of his contemporaries, he was a man of few words, but he was known to tell a good yarn or two (perhaps he got this from my ggrandfather William Riley McCoy who was known to be a master story teller back in Burnet County) when he got the urge. He never grew a full beard, (saying a lot of facial hair tended to be too warm & house too many varmints) but did sport a long handle bar mustache. He preferred striped pants held up by suspenders & perhaps because he was a stock inspector for the State of Montana, he carried his nickel-plated Colt low on his right hip long after most cowboys had long since forsaken the practice of going about armed.

His position as stock inspector took him all over Montana. He & Mina eventually bought a house in Chinook & settled down even further, with Jim serving as Blaine County Treasurer in his twilight years. His wife Mina died in 1935. A true cowboy until the end, Jim rode horseback until shortly before his death. He was nearly eighty years of age when he died on 23 Feb 1943 with his daughter Elizabeth at his side. Jim was inducted posthumously into the Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame in 2008. His pistol, gun belt & many personal effects are on display at the Blaine County Museum in Chinook, Montana.

"Montana, County Marriages, 1865-1950," index and images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 08 May 2014), James R. Mccoy and Mina Dowen, 02 Nov 1896; citing p 382, cn 310, Ft. Benton, Choteau, Montana; FHL microfilm 1902873.
James McCoy obituary found in The Havre Daily News, Thursday, February 25, 1943
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