The cowboy rides away: Mad Jack Hanks | TheFencePost.com
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The cowboy rides away: Mad Jack Hanks

Jack Hanks was always a cowboy. He spent many of his younger years as a cowboy on a ranch in West Texas and later moved to East Texas where he managed a ranch for Hunt Oil Company in the 1970s.

In 1985, he took a job managing an outfit near Ridgway before he and his wife Martha moved to the Front Range in Colorado in the early 1990s and purchased what he called the O-NO Ranch north of Wellington.

Mad Jack Hanks

It was from the O-NO that he began his career as a cowboy poet, humorist, cartoonist and artist. His column Tales from the O-NO Ranch by Mad Jack Hanks became a fixture in The Fence Post magazine about that time.

A neighbor, Willie Altenburg, said Hanks “held court” each morning in Wellington at the T-Bar, joining the group of cowboys, ranchers, and the town mayor at 9 a.m. to solve the problems of the world over a cup of coffee.

In January of 2003, Hanks lost his bride Martha to cancer. He often wrote about their life together on various ranches and her tolerance of his cowboy ways. He always referred to her in his column as Little Miss Martha.

Hanks wrote about Martha’s passing with great transparency, admitting he hadn’t taken the time to appreciate the gracious, brave, caring and forgiving woman he said she was. He took the opportunity, too, to remind his gentle readers that it isn’t too late to “tell your mom, dad, friend, child, spouse, or that special person in your life what they mean to you. I guarantee both of you will feel better.”

Hanks put his artistic talents to work live at the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association annual meeting during a banquet in 2006. Kenny Rogers, a Yuma rancher, was the president of the organization at the time and Hanks drew and told the story of a bull Rogers had “purchased” to use on the Wagon Wheel Ranch. The drawing, he said, was a cartoon bull, terrible by any standards, but he enjoyed immensely being “lampooned” by Hanks.

ONO BRAND

Leroy Brachtenbach, a rancher and cattle feeder near Stratton, Colo., read Hanks’ column in The Fence Post for a number of years and in 2007, he wrote Hanks a letter. In it, he told him he was the owner of the strung ONO brand Hanks had tried unsuccessfully to register with the Colorado Brand Board. He offered to sell Hanks the brand and named his price.

“I tried for $1,500 and he was a haggler and that’s why we got along so good,” Brachtenbach said. “I had a good time haggling with him. He’s quite a guy. I called him and we visited just last week — we see eye to eye on just about everything — weather, politics and religion. But he likes to dance, and I don’t do that.”

The two hagglers finally settled on $750 and when Brachtenbach arrived in Burlington the next week for the cattle sale, everyone had read Hanks’ column about the deal and he said even though Hanks never said his last name, everyone in town knew it was him. He said he wouldn’t have sold that brand to anyone but Hanks.

Neighboring rancher Rick Wahlert said he remembers Hanks once convinced a neighbor to accompany him back east to pick up a horse Hanks had found to purchase. Having a horse he considered safe was a consideration for Hanks, even though he was a cowboy through and through. Wahlert said about a week after they returned with that horse, it left again, bound for the sale barn. Wahlert said he thought Hanks always missed having horses around.

Each Saturday night for the past 20 years or so, Hanks could be found at “his” table at the Sundance Steakhouse and Saloon in Fort Collins. Jimmy Newcomb, a neighbor of Hanks’ for 20 years, said many a college girl took a two-stepping spin around the dance floor with Hanks and, from him, learned how a true Texas gentleman behaves. Newcomb said he was genuine and gracious, and truly a cowboy.

As Mad Jack would say, stay tuned, check yer cinch on occasion and I’ll c y’all, all y’all.

A SAD DAY

Jack Hanks 1940-2022

Jack Hanks, also known as “Mad Jack,” passed away unexpectedly on Dec. 17, 2022. He died peacefully in his home due to complications from a recent illness.  At 82 years of age, Jack lived quite the authentic cowboy life. 

Jack was born in Kermit, Texas, in 1940. He grew up riding pump jacks and a half-broke Shetland pony in the mesquite-covered oil fields of West Texas. Jack played high school football and basketball and graduated from high school in another oil field town called Sundown, Texas. 

He served in the U.S. Armed Forces for a few years, then married his love, Martha Ann Jones, and settled down in Odessa, Texas. Jack kept his wild side alive by taking up skydiving and other adventurous pursuits, like rafting the Rio Grande River in blue jeans and cowboy boots, decades before it was popular to #adventure.  

Working in the city just didn’t fit Jack, so he bought some land outside Amarillo, Texas, and moved his wife to the mesquite country to start a family and learn how to cowboy. He and Martha had two kids, a boy, Andy, and a lovely daughter, Sunni. They grew up learning the cowboy way of life from their dad. 

Jack’s cowboy adventures took him from the plains of West Texas to the red dirt hills of the Texas Panhandle and the lush grasslands of East Texas. He also cowboyed in the Colorado ranch country of the San Juan Mountains, and finally settled down on the rangeland north of Wellington, Colo. 

He chased wild Corriente cattle along the Old Mexico border and learned to rope, throw, and doctor a 1,200-pound steer in the middle of nowhere all by himself. He broke broncs, broke bones, never backed down from a fight, and told it like he saw it with no apologies. 

After a successful career cowboying and managing large ranches in Texas and Colorado, Jack retired with Martha at his side on their small ranch, north of Wellington, aptly named “The O-NO Ranch.” There, he ran a small cattle operation and became a professional Cowboy Entertainer honing his skills as a poet, cartoonist, artist and writer. He became well known as a cowboy poet, entertaining at cowboy poetry gatherings and professional events around the Western United States. He wrote a weekly column for The Fence Post, was famous for his O-NO Ranch cartoons in the Hoots Calendars, and wrote several books about his storied adventures. Someone once asked him if he really lived all those adventures. He really did. He was a genuine cowboy right up to the moment he passed in his bedroom, right next to where his beloved Martha passed away from cancer nearly 20 years earlier. 

Jack is survived by his two children, Andy and Sunni; their spouses, Kristi and Mark; six grandchildren, Gavin, Kassidie, Kaci Rae, Isaiah, Brice and Kailee; and one great granddaughter, Adelynn. He is also survived by his older brother, H.A. 

Jack’s celebration of life service will be held at his favorite place where he danced every weekend for 20 years, The Sundance Steakhouse and Saloon in Fort Collins, Colo. His service will be held on Jan. 3, 2023, at 4 p.m. Please come and celebrate his life and stick around to swap Mad Jack stories!  

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