HARRISON — Those who knew Bob Jordan will tell you about his seemingly supernatural affinity for horses. The stories about him are as numerous as the horses bearing his Triangle J brand — many of which can still be found across the United States today.
In early April — just a few weeks shy of the 12-year anniversary of his death and what would have been his 90th birthday — the announcement came that Bob is to be inducted into the Nebraska Sandhills Cowboy Hall of Fame this summer in Valentine. Bob will join the ranks of fellow Sioux County cattleman and longtime friend Melvin Nation, who was inducted in to the Hall of Fame last year.
When Moni Hourt, Melvin’s daughter, interviewed Bob in the summer of 2006, she videotaped their conversation and asked Bob a seemingly innocuous question.
“Do you think throughout your life you’ve gotten along better with horses sometimes than you have people?”
“Yes... ,” Bob said, with a stern look on his face.
“... because a horse won’t lie to you.”
In that instant, the seriousness melted off his face and with a twinkle in his eye, Bob let out a big laugh. It was as though the thought he’d just put into words was a surprise — even to him.
“He’ll tell you pretty much the whole story,” Bob said, still chuckling. “And people are kind of deceiving — some of ‘em. Heck of a way to put it, aint it?”
Bob was the oldest son of Allen and Mary (Doyle) Jordan, and was born in Crawford, on April 25, 1929. He died at the Rapid City Regional Hospital on April 17, 2007, eight days short of his 78th birthday.
He grew up on the Gayhart place on Montrose Road in northern Sioux County with his two sisters, Shirley Phipps, (who now lives in Glenrock, Wyoming), and Rita DeHaven, (who lives in Chadron). That family ranch, situated south east of Ardmore, South Dakota, was where Bob would spend most of his life.
In the 2006 interview, Bob said he got his affinity for horses at an early age while helping his grandfather, Daniel Jordan, trail cattle from the Jordan homestead in the valley northeast of Harrison, out to pasture in Node, Wyoming. He learned to drive horse teams while helping his uncle, Thomas Doyle, who had a logging operation in the pine hills of the West Hat Creek ranch where his mother grew up.
Bob went to a country school at Montrose for 10 years, including his first two years of high school. Bob wanted nothing more than to ranch, and it took a considerable amount of cajoling from his mother in order to get him to graduate.
She struck a deal: Bob could ride colts three miles into Harrison from the Lacey place, a homestead that Allen and Mary purchased in 1945. Over the next two years, Mary and the kids moved closer to town in the fall and went home to the Gayhart place when school was out in the spring. Bob and Shirley graduated in 1947 and Rita graduated in 1949.
Despite graduating from Sioux County High School as the valedictorian of his class, Bob’s formal education ended there. Everything else, he learned from the horses.
“I had no desire to go to college,” Bob said. “I wish now maybe I would have. I think it’d helped me understand people better, but I just wanted to be out in the woods.
“That was the whole deal — I wanted to be around livestock, and if you get a little to far down the road you just can’t go back,” he said.
Bob developed a reputation for riding broncy horses, and found a way to sneak over to the Hoover Stock Contracting Company Ranch west of Harrison near the Wyoming line on Sundays after church.
“I broke colts all of the time I was going to school,” Bob said. “I never asked my folks to finance me, I tried to earn my own way, but I think most kids did at that time.”
If Bob wanted to go to a rodeo and there wasn’t a ride available, he would simply saddle his horse and ride there. He won the All-Round title at the Crawford PRCA rodeo in the early 60s, and when he was granted life membership to the PRCA, his Gold Card number was 601.
Bob met “Deene” (Eldeene Kathleen Preble) at a dance at the Buckaroo Bar in Van Tassell, Wyoming during the summer of 1950. They were married the following summer at the Catholic church in Crawford, and moved into a renovated bunkhouse on the ranch to begin a family. They raised six children: Dan, Mary Jayne, Steve, Jim, Pat and Carol.
Sometime in Bob’s early 20s, Allen suffered frostbite to his feet, causing him to lose most of his toes. From that point, Bob took over managing the ranch, but continued to rodeo. At a 1963 rodeo in Crawford, Bob got into what he’d call “a bad wreck” and broke his neck while bulldogging a steer. Doctors in Denver fused his neck and stuck him in a body cast. With four small children and another one on the way, his mother suggested he make a deal with his dad — Bob would give up the rough stock if Allen would give up the drinking.
Bob knew that if he wanted to remain competitive he would have to do it horseback, and he wouldn’t be able to do that by riding the tough horses he picked up because no one else could ride them.
Bob bought a registered Quarter Horse broodmare, Miss Pollyanna, and started to work building a Quarter Horse business.
According to his bio, Bob’s first success in the Quarter Horse show ring came early when the colt Miss Pollyanna was carrying when he bought her went on to win the 1962 CHAN Silver Cup in the halter class for yearling horse colts. Howard Pitzer made Bob an offer on the colt, Pocodo Jordan, that he couldn’t refuse.
Bob bred Miss Pollyanna back the same way, and Jordan Polly Do was the colt at her side, when Miss Pollyanna died on the Pitzer Ranch. Howard and his men did a good job of taking care of the orphan, until Bob could get there to pick her up. At that time Howard said, “bring that filly back when she is of breeding age and I will honor the stallion fee for Two Eyed Jack that you paid for with Miss Pollyanna with her daughter.”
Jordan Polly Do replaced her mother as the foundation mare as she was the dam of three of Bob’s stallions: Strings Do, Sandy Jack Jordan, Real Pacific. Bob was always looking for a good outcross as his horse herd grew.
Showing geldings wasn’t something that Bob believed in because that didn’t promote his program as well as showing mares did. He wanted his mares to have show records too, so he perfected his technique of drafting colts from his show mares onto foster moms. Tiny Bay Hancock made all five of her trips to the AQHA World show packing a colt as she earned her Superior in the calf roping. It was at the World Show where Bob first saw Frosty Feature and knew he found the outcross horse he had been looking for.
For as much as Bob is remembered as a horseman, his interest in cattle took a back seat only to his obsession with horses.
When Bob was about 14 years old, the mail carrier that lived to the northwest of the ranch drowned while trying to rescue his nephew who had cramped up while swimming in a dam. When it came time for the mail carrier’s family to sell off his herd of cows, Bob acquired the Triangle J brand — a brand he kept for life.
Bob started with a purebred Hereford herd, but after Allen’s death in 1974, Bob and Mary switched the herd to Angus.
Hereford cattle would get sunburned bags in the spring, and had pink-eye and prolapse problems, where the black cow didn’t. Dehorning wasn’t needed, cattle moved faster, and in Bob’s eyes the black cows also seemed to be better mothers.
Bob’s drive to work until the work was done was such that he had lights installed on his arena so he could continue to ride colts well into the early morning hours. He went until he was tired, and even then it wasn’t uncommon for him to plop down in the shade of a tree or the tall grass — if only for a cat-nap.
And if your phone rang early in the morning, it was more than likely Bob.
“Bob was not a time-bound person at all,” Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame cowboy and friend Paul Tierney said. “He called me one time at a quarter after 5 a.m., and I told him ‘Bob, I get up at six. If you don’t mind, I’d just as soon not have you call me before six.”
And, Bob never called Tierney before six again … but sure as spring, at 6:01 a.m., there would be a ring at the Tierney household. Tierney said he came to enjoy his regular visits with Bob, which happened almost every other day.
“He always had lessons about something, advice about something, or some news about something,” Tierney said. “He seemed to get around the country more than a person would have thought.”
But it was Bob’s patience that stood out most. Tierney said that one time when Bob came to visit, he noticed there was a new filly in Tierney’s corral.
“Bob asked if she was halter broke, and I said no,” Tierney said. “He asked if I had a rope.”
Eventually Bob got the rope around the filly’s head and started leading her around the corral. This wasn’t an uncommon display of skill from Bob, as he’d regularly calm down and doctor sick horses that would have normally pitched fits for the less patient cowboy.
“It didn’t take him too long to get that done, but one thing that Bob always taught me was about patience,” Tierney said. “He was always showing me that patience was the best virtue in approaching different things with horses.”
“I was always more of a performance oriented-type person – what you see is what you’re getting done,” Tierney said. “But Bob always had something to teach me.”
Stories like Tierney’s are far from rare. Bob was a coach, a mentor, and a friend to anyone who had the willingness to learn and pay attention. He was humble. He listened. He worked hard and asked the same. The pace he set was easy for him, because he loved what he did.
“Number one you have to like a horse. It takes a lot of patience, you just can’t train a horse by time,” Bob told Hourt in 2006. “Our world today, so much of it is done on time, but you just have to do what it takes rather than put it on a time element.”
“You just have to stay with a horse until he gets the drift of what you want.”
Bob often spoke about “making the right things easy and the wrong things hard.”
“You have to put yourself on the same level as a horse,” he said. “If he does the wrong things, he gets in trouble. But if he does the right things, you make it easy for him.
“A horse will teach himself an awful lot that way, rather than trying to abuse him or anything like that.”
There was an insight that maybe showed that Bob understood people better than he thought.
“A horse likes to do what he likes to do, just like people do,” Bob said. “That’s what makes a good horse.”
Perhaps that’s what makes a good person too, as his daughter Carol noted last summer.
“He allowed you — and almost made you — become your own person, not a replica of him,” she said. “He wouldn’t often tell us kids that he was proud of us. We would learn that from what he had told others about us.”
To Bob, how horses thought wasn’t a secret.
“If you pay attention to a horse enough, he’ll tell you what he wants to do,” Bob said. “Some of them are just incapable of doing the things we think they should do, so best to change occupations for them.”
The late Bob Jordan will be formally inducted June 8 at the 4-H Building at the Cherry County Fairgrounds in Valentine.
Tickets for the induction ceremony are on sale now and are available by contacting Rod Palmer at 402-387-2212 or Tiffany Barthel at firstname.lastname@example.org.