John R. Erickson and snake

Real Ranch, Real Rancher: John R. Erickson

  • Sumo

To most who are familiar with the tabletop flatness of much of the Texas panhandle, the ruggedness of the Canadian River Valley would seem a departure. This decidedly un-panhandle-like terrain is home to John and Kris Erickson and their M-Cross Ranch, aka the “Ranch that Hank Built.” Situated some 30 miles outside Perryton, occupying some 6,000 deeded acres in the bluffs and canyons fronting on the Canadian River as it winds its way through these parts in search of western Oklahoma and beyond, the M-Cross is picturesque but productive, being a commercial cattle operation.

Bonsmara herd

The crew with herd of Bonsmara cattle. PHOTOS BY NATHAN DAHLSTROM, LUBBOCK, TX.

John Erickson leases another 1,000 acre-tract that abuts the river, connecting the river bottom to his deeded land, thus giving him a contiguous 7,000 acres of pasture in all.

When I visited here in the late 1990s, he was running mostly black-baldface cattle (Hereford-Black Angus crosses). Since then, the rancher has transitioned into a South African-bred strain of bovine called the Bonsmara. He has already produced two calf crops since he began running the breed.

An Amarillo-based cattleman named George Chapman has been the local popularizer of Bonsmara cattle. Erickson, who referred to Bonsmara research done by Chapman and some associated Texas A&M Ph.D.’s as “meticulous,” said he “looked at his [Chapman’s] deal for about six months and it appeared to me that he had been listening to the American consumer and heard what they wanted. Consumers were saying that the beef they were getting was too fat and too tough.”

The Bonsmara, its backers contend, is neither. “They score very high in tenderness and leanness,” Erickson said.

John Erickson Ranch branding

Puttin' the M Cross on 'em.

Chuck Milner, a friend of Erickson’s and a rancher/stockman in his own right, knows the Erickson operation from regular visits to the M-Cross to help gather, sort, and work cattle. (Milner and his son appear in some of the photos that accompany this article or the main text. His son is the youngest of the boys in the shots.)

“He [John] does everything the right way and he works his cattle horseback, which is the way they are supposed to be worked,” said Milner, who ought to know. Milner is Rangeland Management Specialist for the 30,000-acre Black Kettle National Grasslands in western Oklahoma.

Incidentally, Milner maintains a schedule that might rival Erickson’s for occupational diversity and go-getter-ness. Here’s how he puts it: “I run cows and I day work and train horses and play music [he’s a cowboy singer/songwriter] and I preach and I have a full time job.” The job is the Black Kettle work and the preaching is what he does for the church of Christ in Reydon, Okla., as well as another nearby congregation (Durham).

As for Erickson, “Early of a morning he will go to his office and plan out how it is going to be,” Milner said. “He is big on bringing in young guys to see how the work is done.

Cattle Branding at John Erickson Ranch

Waiting for the next bunch of calves to be worked. PHOTO BY NATHAN DAHLSTROM.

“John is just the coolest guy in the world,” he adds. “He’s tremendously funny. I enjoy being around him. It’s very nice for me to get to take my son to a place where there is not going to be a lot of cussing and we are going to pray before a meal. And for my son to get to learn the cowboy way—from John and his crew. It’s a blessing to know him.”

(Trivia item: Milner was the song leader for the worship service that included the last sermon ever preached by Reuel Lemmons. [For more on Lemmons, see this article from the last newsletter.] “That was in Handy, Texas,” Milner said. “And I never realized what a big deal it was, ’til years later. But he was kind of one of my heroes, as far as preachers go.”)

To return to your place in the main text, hit the back button (or arrow) on your browser.

To access (from its beginning) the profile of “Hank the Cowdog” creator John R. Erickson, go here.

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