MONTANA COWBOY HALL OF FAME & WESTERN HERITAGE
John Joseph "Johnny" Carr
John Joseph Carr was “let out of the chute” December 13, 1940, in Lewistown, Montana. He was the youngest of the six children, born to Ray and Ruth (Stephens) Carr. His great grandfather, George W. Cook, served as the first mayor of Lewistown. His grandfather, John Stephens, was one of the early sheriffs in Fergus County. It’s been said that he arrested Charlie Russell for drunk and disorderly conduct. Though there isn’t evidence to support it, it makes for a great story.
“Johnny’s” family moved to Christina, Montana when he was a toddler. When he was three he decided to try and take their new I-H tractor, which was parked on a hill by the house, for a ride. He managed to get the tractor rolling, but fear set in and he jumped. The tractor rolled over the side of his head, earning him twenty-eight stitches. That may have been his first “lucky” break, because he later amusingly blamed any unwise decision making on that head injury.
At the age of six the family moved to Broadus, Montana. They lived seven miles from the school, so each day he and his brothers rode their horse to and from the country school. His father had a fear of the boys getting hung up in the stirrups so they rode bareback. John learned balance and control early on as his older brothers were either saving him from his misadventures or trying to run him down; as mischievous brothers would do. You could say at this age, he truly was Montana tough.
When Johnny was in junior high the family moved back to Christina. He went to high school in Winifred, which was right down the road. Johnny made a name for himself as a mile runner in track. In 1955 he took second place in state as a sophomore, fifth as a junior and went on to be the undefeated state champion his senior year.
If you grow up an athlete with a horse under you, rodeo just comes naturally. In 1956, Johnny won the state high school bareback championship in Wolf Point, Montana. Larry Jordan, a cowboy from Roy, Montana took a liking to Johnny and mentored him in several rodeo events. Johnny went on to win numerous first place awards in calf roping, team roping and saddle bronc. He commented once that he wasn’t big enough to bulldog and riding bulls was dangerous with the risk of a bull throwing the rider and stomping his ribs or head. That could lay you up for the other events so “logically, I didn’t do it.”
From 1957 to 1962, Johnny entered rodeos in Montana and Wyoming and was named All Around Cowboy on several occasions and competed against many who went on to become World Champions. He chose not to compete nationally as there were no sponsors back in the 60s and the cost often outweighed the prize money. Johnny didn’t grow up with a lot of money, but his father always instructed the children, “tell the truth and pay your bills.” Johnny always held down a job. He would take time off from work to rodeo and pay his own entry fees; a choice he made that only gave him momentary regret.
In 1961, while amateur rodeoing, John married Pat Norman and they had one daughter, Sundee. They divorced in 1964.
Being a cowboy isn’t just the drama of a rodeo arena. It’s outside on the range, doctoring sick cows, breaking horses and learning to avoid gopher holes. It is knowing your stock, roping, cutting and pairing while learning to fall without getting hurt. Johnny put his cowboy skills to work at the Havre Livestock Association where he was employed for five years.
He went on to manage feedlots in Kansas and Nebraska. It was here Johnny married Carolyn Rauch and inherited two daughters, Leisa and Victrie.
A true pioneer, Johnny bought land in Belize, Central America in 1973. For the first fifteen years the family cleared the land and built a lodge in the jungle, without the accessibility of electricity. After building the guests started to arrive simply by word of mouth. At one point they were lighting sixty-plus kerosene lanterns each night at the uniquely named Banana Bank Lodge on the ranch. The Carr’s lived next to a river with no local bridges so they transported supplies, food, and even guests in hollowed-out wooden canoes.
Forty plus years have seen many changes where plumbing and electricity were some of first modern conveniences. Johnny and his family have since added several cabanas, a pool and an art studio with many of Carolyn’s paintings on display. There is now a bridge that has made transportation easier.
At age 80, Johnny continues to run Longhorn cattle, raise crops of corn, sugar cane and teakwood and is building up his horse herd. With the addition of a registered quarter horse stud and a number of mares, they now run over seventy-five head. Hosting riding camps, guiding trail rides through the jungle, and mentoring students in the fine art of being a cowboy keeps everyone busy. Johnny says he owes his success to his Montana roots and faith in God.
He said, “I think whoever came up with calling Montana the ‘Treasure State’ hit it right on the money. Montana is a treasured state. If Montana is a treasured state then what are we? Treasure Hunters! I think I found it. Treasure isn’t always cash or gold. It’s also a good life, being friends with your family and neighbors, honesty, and walking tall down the street. That’s what makes you a product of the treasure state.”
Johnny attends the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo each year where he meets up with his old friends from his rodeo days. He also spends at least a month each year visiting family and friends in Montana. Johnny has contributed to the community where he lives by donating land for a Global Outreach Ministry that gives young boys an education, trains them in character development and teaches marketable skills. He is the founder of the newly organized Belize Quarter Horse Association. Johnny is active in his local church and as you walk down the streets of Belmopan, most everyone you meet knows, loves and respects the white haired cowboy they call “Mr. John”.
Reed, Kitty Carr. Interview in Belonopan, Belize. 14 May 2021