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Joseph John Bankofier

Joe Boy Bankofier
Joseph John Bankofier (1880-1949)

Joseph John Bankofier, affectionately known as “Joe Boy” by his many friends was born to John and Emma Bankofier on May 20, 1880, Nevada City, California. After the death of his father and remarriage of his mother to John McNulty, he moved with his stepfather and family to Burns, Oregon at the age of thirteen. There they engaged in the cattle business near Burns and Crane. At the age of eighteen he accepted employment with Miller and Lux as Cowboss of their White Horse division.

During the Klondike gold rush, two gentlemen, Jack Dalton and Bill Hanley of Burns, Oregon hired Joe Boy to ship 150 head of cattle to Alaska to supply the gold camps with meat. The following is an article that appeared in the Frontier Times in 1959 summer edition, written by J.J. Ballard as told to him by Joe Boy, which stands out as unique and one of the strangest trail drives ever experienced.

“When the Klondike gold rush was going full blast, supplies - especially meat - were scarce and high-priced in Nome and the gold camps generally. Accordingly, two enterprising gents named Jack Dalton and Bill Hanley of Burns, Oregon, decided to supply the hungry miners with beef on the hoof. They bought 150 fat three-year old steers out of feed lots in Western Montana and shipped them to Seattle, Washington. From there, with the cowhands necessary to handle them, the cattle were shipped by boat to Skagway, Alaska. Corrals had been prepared on shore to receive them. Joe Boy was placed in charge.

At this point they ran into difficulty. The tugboat fee for towing the ship to its proper mooring was exorbitantly high and the boys just flat refused to pay it. Instead they jumped the cattle overboard and swam them ashore. Once on shore, their refusal in paying high towing charge didn’t seem so smart after all. They were in a kind of hole facing a high bluff that came down to the water on either side. “A hell of a looking place,”, Joe Boy told me years later. “The steers damn sure couldn’t climb the bluff and they couldn’t swim around it. It seemed that they were finished right there”. But the next morning the problem was solved; the tide was out and they simply drove the cattle around the point of rocks to higher ground. Now they discovered their troubles had barely begun.

Leaving the cattle for a time, it is necessary to go back a year to set the background for this incredible drive. These same owners has shipped in horses to be used as pack animals to transport the supplies of the Chechakos (tenderfeet) as far as Chilkoot Pass. Summer ended, the horses had been turned loose on bare hills covered with bunch grass. Most of them had wintered even in that north latitude and severe cold. It was these rugged animals that were used on this drive.

Joe Boy himself takes up the story now:

Leaving Skagway, we headed for the high country and then to the Yukon 500 miles away. Grass was no problem; it was up to our stirrups everywhere. Mud was also everywhere, except in some of the worst places where the trail had corduroy cross. (This is done by cutting small trees and laying them cross-wise in the mud, one against the other). When a steer got off the trail, as one often did, he would sink to his body in mud. We could not ride around him to turn him back lest a horse became hopelessly bogged in the mud. There was no help for it; you simply had to dismount and go around him on foot. This had to be done with great care lest you yourself became bogged in the treacherous muskeg. By dent of perseverance, long, slow, hard work and plenty of cussing we finally reached the Yukon or was it the Klondike that empties into the Yukon? Anyhow we eventually arrived at the landing for steamboats that plied the river of Nome.

We loaded them (steers) on the boat and figured our troubles were over. We figured wrong! On the way down river the boat wrecked and sank. Some of the steers escaped the wreck and swam ashore and were scattered and lost. Some were butchered and the meat processed for sale in Nome.

Joe Boy afterward heard of four of these fine steers in the interior, where they, of course, finally became prey of the wolves.

The owners sued the boat company for the value of the lost cattle, but that outfit was broke by then and the owners got little or nothing for the cattle and a summer of hard work and heavy expenses. It was a daring undertaking that failed but might have succeeded with a better break in the luck.

Joe Boy himself stayed two years in Alaska, but took no part in the mad scramble of prospecting for gold. There was nothing but disillusion and shattered hope in store for most gold seekers. All the gold he accumulated in Alaska he carried in a Bull Durham tobacco sack aboard the boat that brought him home. Once aboard he changed clothes and threw his overalls overboard. You guessed it, the gold went with the overalls.

Joe Boy returned to Oregon and resumed his job working for the P.L.S Company at the White Horse Ranch. There he met his future bride, Alice Wilkinson. Joe Boy and Alice were married June 27, 1904 at the home of J.D. Vargas in Winnemucca, Nevada. They had four sons, Bob, Roy, Dave and Earl.

They made their home at the Disaster Peak Ranch near McDermitt, Nevada, which they leased and operated for nine years, after they leased the Vance Ranch for several years. In March 1921, they purchased the Ten-Mile Ranch located six miles north of McDermitt, just over the Nevada Oregon border, from Alice’s father, Alfred Wilkinson, where the family established their permanent home.

Joe Boy was associated with the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association and was active in its interests through the county, state and union. As a member of the board of Directors of the United States Grazing Service of Malheur County. He lent his valuable knowledge of the cattle business for many years. He also served as deputy sheriff of Southeastern Malheur County. He spent much time in Humboldt County and was a member of the Winnemucca Lodge No. 19 F. & A.M.

Death came suddenly to Joe Boy while at the Minor Ranch, Near McDermitt, Nevada the home of his son, Dave and Josephine Bankofier on December 24, 1949, while celebrating Christmas Eve.

Joseph John “Joe boy” Bankofier was inducted into the Buckaroo Hall of Fame in September 1998.