When E.W. McNinch came to Big Piney, Wyoming, he got a job on the Mule Shoe Ranch working for A.W. Smith. He became a cowboy and earned $40.00 per month. There were many wild horses running on the land just out from the ranch. Horses came to drink at the Sublette Springs from as far as twenty-five miles away. Elba tried several times to gather some of them, but they were very wild and the stallion always tried to lead the herd away from the cowboys. At that time the French government was buying wild horses for use in their cavalry and artillery in the First World War. There was also a demand for them on the farms in the midwest. Elba helped deliver three train carloads to Lander, WY for shipment to France. He said they kept the horses overnight in a sheepherder’s fenced enclosure and the men had to walk the fence all night so none would escape. I guess the horses were broke once they reached France or the farms.
**At one time, Mr. Swinson had about 135 head of horses. Some of which were broke for work and riding. All farm work was done by horses, then. The horses that were not needed were also sold and went to France or to the farmers.**
On April 18, 1918, Elba enlisted in the marines. The Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918. On November 19, 1919 he was married to Lois Linn. He met her at a July 4th celebration before he joined the marines and they had written to each other while he was gone.
Elba worked as a foreman on a ranch until the couple could afford to buy a place of their own. They putchased the Little Star Coral Ranch in 1924 and lived there until 1927 at which time it became unfeasible to send their three boys to Big Piney to school from so far out.
1n 1927, Lois filed on a homestead of 160 acres. It was land known by some as Poverty Flats. They moved there and built a log cabin with a dirt roof, just as Mr. Swinson did when he first homesteaded.
With sagebrush two feet high at the back door and on all sides, they began their ranching career. It was a lot of hard work and a slow process. The first thing they did was clear two acres of brush for a garden spot which supplied vegetables for their own needs. They also sold some to their neighbors. This was quite a difficult task. (My husband, who is Mr. McNinch’s grandson says the growing season in Wyoming is seldom more than 90 days long.)
They got lumber from the sawmill to build all of their outbuildings. Every spring they shipped in three or four hundred baby chickens and turkeys. They supplied the local area with their holiday birds and also sold eggs. “Mother”, as Lois was affectionately called, was partial to strawberries. She once won the title of “Strawberry Queen.” She was guardian of the garden. Anytime she saw insects headed that way she was immediately in pursuit with spray gun in hand. Poverty Flat produced several hundred dollars worth of fine vegetables for sale every fall.
Mrs. McNinch became a professional at growing plant life including such field crops as alfalfa, oats, barley and clover.
A little more about Lois McNinch…she came to Wyoming with her father, mother, and three younger children in 1910 from Colorado. She finished normal school and taught for several years before her marriage. She belonged to several clubs in Sublette County and was selected Ranch Woman of the Year in 1974 by the Cowbelles.
As Elba put it, “Mother was quite religious. There was no doubt in her mind that she would reach a final resting place where she would have peace and happiness forever and ever. She always found good in everyone and encouraged her three sons to become educated and pursue their own careers.”
Their oldest son, Elba, (Kip’s father), was killed in Italy while serving in the occupation forces in WWII. Keith became a civil engineer, and Ray lived on the west coast and worked as a ship builder.
Eventually on Poverty Flat Ranch, they were faced with two dry years and low cattle prices. This was at the time of the depression in the thirties. In Sublette County there were about forty families including the McNinches, considered by the government as helplessly broke financially. A government man came to the Green River Valley to see what could be done to help this group. His suggestion was to close them out of business, give them a job and they would have to start all over again.
Before that happened, Franklin D. Roosevelt came on the scene and started the Farm Security Administration or FSA. It made loans to ranchers to buy cattle. Money was made available to shop owners so they could stock their shelves which would insure a greater volume of business. Farmers were able to buy new equipment and tools. From that time on for several years, business was good and people began to payoff their loans.
The McNinches realized they had a high hill to climb. They had no financial backing. They were proud that no family member ever had to put money in the kitty to keep them going. With faith and trust in each other, they began a sage brush removal program which in a few years put Poverty Flat off the map and into a hay producing area capable of supporting several hundred head of cattle.
In the next chapter I write about E.W. and Lois McNinch, I will quote some things from Mr. McNinch’s autobiography that I found to be very touching. He discussed the partnership he had with his wife, their commitment to their shared goals, and his philosophy about what he considers makes for a successful marriage and life.