Reed 77 Ranch, riding for one of Wyoming’s oldest brands

The original bunkhouse on the 77 Ranch, which started as a two-room building in the late 1800s and is still standing and in use today. Owners Bud and Betty Jean Reed's house was originally two buildings brought to the ranch from nearby Lance Creek, then put together and turned into a home.
Photo courtesy Reed family |

Located north of Manville, Wyo., the Reed 77 Ranch was founded in the late 1800s, with its signature 77 brand a key to its success even in the beginning. Bud Reed’s parents, uncle and grandparents leased the ranch in 1936, and later purchased it in 1948. Rich with history, the operation is the site of record-breaking roundups, gunfights and over 140 years of raising cattle wearing the 77 brand.

“According to the records of the Wyoming Stockgrowers Association, we find that from 1873 to 1880, the 77 brand was of record to W.C. Lykins. Billie Lykins was a famous livestock detective in the employ of the WSGA. We find further that in 1880 the brand was transferred to D.B. Wyatt, and the range was Lance Creek, Lightning Creek and tributaries,” states a 1949 letter from Russell Thorp, then the secretary and chief inspector with the WSGA, to James Griffith, publisher of the Lusk Herald, of the earliest recorded history of the 77 brand.

Bud added that Wyatt trailed steers to the ranch from Oregon in 1875, and branded them with the 77 brand. Wyatt moved into a cabin built by R.S. Van Tassell, who built it while wintering around 2,500 bulls on the 77 Ranch prior to Wyatt’s steers arriving. When Wyatt took possession of the operation, Van Tassell moved his bulls to a location on the Niobrara River, where the town of Van Tassell is still located today.

“In 1884, Wyatt sold it to T.B. Hord, and he ran it for several years. Then, he sold it to Ad (A.A.) Spaugh,” Bud said, adding that Hord moved to Central City, Neb., and reportedly became the largest cattle and sheep feeder in the U.S.

Spaugh arrived in Wyoming via the Texas Trail, delivering a herd of steers to the indians on the Pine Ridge Agency with Captain James Cook in 1874. He cowboyed throughout the area, and became the foreman of the 77 Ranch as a very young man before purchasing it from Hord in the early 1890s.

“It is notable that Mr. Spaugh was captain of the largest roundup ever held in Wyoming, near Hat Creek in 1884. At one time, he was employed by the WSGA as a livestock detective and inspector,” according to Thorp’s letter of Spaugh’s accomplishments prior to owning the 77 Ranch.

Spaugh re-recorded the 77 brand under Wyoming brand laws in 1900, and believed it to be among the oldest in the state at that time.

Spaugh also celebrated the 50th anniversary of the then-famous OW and 77 brands, ranches and roundups around the turn of the century, stating in a letter to Thorp that over 2,000 people attended the bar-be-que dinner and rodeo.

“They had bucking horses there, and Jess York told me they bucked them right out of our corrals out across the pasture,” Bud said.


Another notable page in the ranch’s history books occurred when Dudley Champion, brother to Nate Champion, the first man killed in the Johnson County War, lost a shootout on the ranch.

“Dudley was probably after revenge for his brother’s death, and made threats to kill Mike Shonsey on site. He rode up to Shonsey here one day and said he was going to kill him. So he drew his pistol and Shonsey shot him three or four times. They found out that Champion had been crawling in the mud or something — he had mud underneath the hammer on his pistol. But, it killed him and Shonsey galloped down here to the ranch and got a fresh horse and quit the country. They say he lived to be 90-something years old,” recalled Bud of the story.

Bud’s grandparents, parents and Uncle Walter were from the Lusk area, and started leasing the ranch in the 1930s for 12 years prior to purchasing it in 1948 when Spaugh put it up for public auction.

“We’ve always been a cow-calf operation, and we also run everything over to yearlings. In the 1940s into even the 1960s we would trail our yearlings to Manville and load them on the stock train for Omaha. In the 1960s we started trucking them to Omaha, and then it just got so we started selling at Torrington. Dad also had one fellow who bought his yearlings 19 years in a row right here at the ranch, and that was the best deal,” Bud said.

In the beginning, the cattle were all straight Hereford. Today they are a cross between Hereford and Red Angus.

“Dad was a lover of Herefords and had them all his life. When everybody else started switching to blacks he just stayed with it. I guess they probably bought the place with those old Herefords, so he felt indebted to them.

“In 1970 or so, I bought a few Saler bulls and crossed them on my Herefords, and that didn’t pan out too well. So, then we went to Red Angus on our Herefords, mainly because there were several years went by they docked you pretty bad if you took your Hereford cows or yearlings into a sale barn. That’s the main reason we crossed them, but went to Red Angus to keep the red in them I suppose,” Bud said of the transition of the cattle over time.

Bud and Betty Jean took over the operation in 1985, when Bud’s father passed away. Bud noted that except for his time spent in the service, he’s spent his entire life ranching.

“I never thought about anything else I guess. I always wanted to be a rancher or a cowboy, and that’s all I really know,” he explained, adding that he enjoys the freedom and being his own boss.

“All ranchers have the privilege of working for themselves, and we like being in the country too, especially on years like this when everything is nice and the weather cooperates,” Betty Jean said.


Of the biggest change the couple has seen over time, both listed the increased mechanization and motorization of agriculture as the most obvious on their operation.

“From when I was old enough to remember everything was horses but the mowing machine when we hayed. Dad had a tractor on it, but we had teams for raking, sweeping and stacking. We also rode everywhere. Today we use big tractors and we pickup and trailer out to where we’re riding,” Bud said.

Of the future, the couple said they plan to keep ranching until they aren’t able to anymore.

“We love what we do and are blessed with good help. I think this place is very important historically, and if it we take care of it, it will take care of us. Every time we ride we think about those who use to be here doing this or that. It’s a good place to be and a good place to know a little about,” Betty Jean said. ❖