2008 MONTANA COWBOY HALL OF FAME INDUCTEE
1860 – 1920 LEGACY AWARD DISTRICT 4
James "Jim" McCoy (1862-1943)
James McCoy was born August 9, 1862, at Burnett, Texas, where his parents were among the earliest pioneers of that state. Growing up around horses and cattle, he continued his education by signing on with a trail herd headed up the Chisholm Trail and bound for Wyoming Territory in 1876, at the ripe old age of 15.
Jim's early years were spent in the saddle, looking at the rear ends of cattle all over the West. Once when he and his compadres arrived in the Salt Lake country behind a herd of cattle, they were obviously wearing several months of trail dust. They were surprised to find that when they stripped down and dove into the lake for a badly-needed bath, the salty water buoyed them up! Jim saw the marvels of the Yellowstone geysers long before it was an official park, and he spent some exciting time in Dodge City, perhaps the most infamous of the Kansas railhead towns.
Jim spent the famous killing winter of 1886 and '87, in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The severe blizzards that winter completely decimated herds of cattle on the Northern plains, and Jim eventually arrived in Montana with a trail herd to help restock the empty range. That herd of cattle was bound for the Milk River country on what is now the Fort Peck Indian Reservation.
Jim would work as foreman for many ranches in northern Montana in the years to come, eventually settling in for many years as cowboss on Colen Hunter's YT Ranch south of Havre.
Jim married Mina Dowen, a new transplant from Michigan, in Fort Benton in 1896. Their home on the YT was one of the first ranch houses in the country to actually sport a wooden floor in place of the usual dirt variety.
Like many of his open range contemporaries, Jim was a man of few words but certainly had a few stories worth listening to. He always wore a handlebar mustache, saying that very few men on the range wore full beards "... because they were too warm and tended to house too many four-to six-legged varmints." He preferred stripped pants held up with suspenders, and he always wore his nickel-plated Colt low on his right hip. Perhaps because he was a State Stock Inspector for many years, Jim continued to carry his pistol long after most range cowboys had forsaken the practice. His position as a Montana stock inspector took him far and wide across the state.
The McCoys eventually bought a house and settled in Chinook, with Jim serving as Blaine County Treasurer in later years. Charlie Russell was a close personal friend of the McCoy family and stayed at their home in Chinook on numerous occasions.
Jim McCoy was over 80 years old when he rode over the Great Divide. He was a true cowboy to the end, on horseback until shortly before his death. His pistol, gun belt and many personal effects, are on display at the Blaine County Museum in Chinook.