James “Jimbo” Humphreys, Jr., a West Texas cowboy who has excelled in nearly every facet of ranch life, will be the fifth recipient of the Ranching Heritage Association (RHA) Working Cowboy Award presented during the annual National Golden Spur Award Honors on Friday, November 3 at the Buddy Holly Hall of Performing Arts & Sciences in Lubbock, Texas.
“The RHA Working Cowboy Award is designed to recognize an outstanding individual who makes his living primarily horseback, caring for livestock on a daily basis,” said Jim Bret Campbell, executive director of the National Ranching Heritage Center at Texas Tech University and the Ranching Heritage Association. “Jimbo is a cowboy’s cowboy, plus he’s been a wagon cook, made bits and spurs and even manages a ranch. Most of all he’s done it while embodying the values of cow country.”
The Ranching Heritage Association, a nationwide non-profit membership organization supporting the programs of the National Ranching Heritage Center, sponsors the award on an annual basis to honor a working cowboy skilled in all aspects of ranch work and respected by the ranch crew and ranching community.
“Our Board of Directors believes it’s important to recognize those folks who brave all kinds of weather and conditions to ensure that work on a ranch gets done,” Campbell said, noting that award nominations for Humphreys described him as a multi-talented working cowboy who has served for decades as a role model for younger cowboys in trade and character.
“Jimbo Humphreys, from his foundation, is a cowboy from childhood with roots in the Pitchfork Ranch, to the most forward-thinking of cowboys and cowmen,” stated Scott Williamson, executive director of law enforcement, brand and inspection services at Texas & Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association. “Jimbo led the way in horsemanship, in crafting the bits and spurs required for the trade, and in the integrity and kindness that defines this industry and these cowboys, most importantly.”
Humphreys has pursued cowboy life from various directions – making a living by punching cows, cooking on chuckwagons, training horses, building fences and corrals, crafting bits and spurs, and now, managing a large cow-calf operation on the Guitar Ranches.
“I was always interested in every facet of the ranching industry, and never have got
completely away from it,” Humphreys stated. “I went off in some different directions, but it was still tied back to the ranching life. I’ve just always been around it and never really tried to get away from it. I’ve tried to do it all.”
Humphreys grew up on the Pitchfork Land & Cattle Co. ranch in Guthrie, Texas, where his father, James “Jim” Humphreys, Sr., served as ranch manager for most of Jimbo’s childhood. Jimbo began cowboying in junior high school, where he was paid a dollar a day, upgrading to five dollars a day once he entered high school.
At the start of his freshman year of college at Texas Tech University, Humphreys was drafted to the Army through the draft lottery in 1971. He spent six years in a platoon in Levelland, Texas, before returning to the Pitchfork Ranch where he gained an interest in welding by building pens and corrals.
Around this time, Humphreys stopped riding altogether. He admitted that he had become a little jaded toward the lifestyle because of the rougher way horses were handled and trained in that era. However, discovering clinician and horseman Ray Hunt’s gentler and more considerate approach to horsemanship drew Humphreys back to the horse business.
Humphreys started applying Hunt’s methods to training horse teams to assist with fencing and pulling the chuck wagon. Humphreys recalls he got into the cooking business through the fencing business by cooking for his crew while out on the job building fences. He cooked for several well-known ranching figures, including Ray Hunt, Bob Moorhouse, Buster Welch and Craig Haythorn.
As Humphreys entered back into the horse business, he also mastered another skill – building bits and spurs. “I didn’t have any equipment, and I needed some bits and other things, but couldn’t afford to go buy any,” Humphreys said. “I welded, so I’d repaired a few bits before, and I’d get a pattern off and make me a pair. One thing led to another, and that’s how I got into that business.”
Humphreys' return to the horse business eventually led him to the Stock Horse of Texas Association where he was among the association’s top open riders. He also frequently competed in American Quarter Horse Association and Ranch Horse Association of America shows.
In 1995, Humphreys started working for the Guitar Ranches, a third-generation family-run operation, performing various jobs and earning the role of ranch manager.
When asked about the most rewarding part of his well-rounded cowboying career, Humphreys replied, “Probably the diversity of it. The overall – everything. I don’t know if I could pick out one thing. I am just thankful for every bit of it.”
Humphreys’ lifetime of cowboying accomplishments will be honored at the National Golden Spur Award Honors on November 3. Tickets for the National Golden Spur Award Honors are available to the public for purchase beginning July 28. For event details and ticketing information visit goldenspurhonors.com.