OCCA inducts HOFers Strom, Smith, honors bit-making legend J.D. Israel

Staff Writer
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

The Osage County Cattlemen’s Association inducted two new members — Hulah/Bowring rancher John Strom and the late J.B. Smith — into the OCCA Hall of Fame during Friday’s HOF luncheon at the Osage County Fairgrounds’ Agriculture Building.

JOHN STROM

John Strom was born in Pawhuska in 1956 to Bill and Nancy (Nail) Strom. He grew up on his family’s ranch in the Hulah Lake area with his sisters, Jeanne and Marcy, attending Bowring School through the eighth grade and graduating from Pawhuska High School in 1974.

At age 15, John purchased a Dew Eze Hay Monster and went into business for himself. After taking out his own insurance, John paid himself and two employees to operate the hay-rig through 1980. Then, he hired a third worker so he could join his dad in the hay-production business.

“During dad’s hay-hauling days, he developed lasting relationships with area ranchers — Drummonds, Friends, Barnetts, Mullendores and others,” his son, Judd Strom, said. “Even today, you go some places and he can still tell you just how hot the hay barn got and how many bales it would hold.”

Strom married his 4-H and high school sweetheart, Macy Sweeden, in 1974. He attended Northeastern Oklahoma A&M for two years before receiving a scholarship to Oklahoma State University, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Agronomy in 1978.

While in college, they worked part-time on campus. But, they came back to Osage County on weekends and in the summer, so he could work on his folk’s ranch. At OSU, John worked as a “goober getter” — harvesting and counting crops for research.

At first, Strom didn’t really know what he wanted to do after college. But, midway through, he came to a decision: he was going home. Strom realized there was no place better and no one better to learn from and work with than his dad. He was told in college that the real learning started after college. He has always said that was true.

“They just teach ya how to learn and give ya the tools,” he said.

The Stroms made their first land purchase in 1976 while still in Stillwater. The 30-year note seemed like a lifetime then.

They have two children — April, who owns and operates Tulsa T-Shirt Factory, and Judd, who lives and works at the ranch and also works pipelines.

Strom says he has been lucky to work with his father and his son and many other good men in the county — including his lifelong friends, Neal Armstrong and Ernie Barnett.

Operating a commercial cow-calf operation — Hereford and Angus with some Charolais thrown in — in northeastern Osage County, on either side of the Caney River, he retains a large portion of his heifers each year. The ranch produces between 4,000 and 6,000 round bales of native, fescue, Bermuda and rye grass hay each year. He also farms a little bit along the Caney River bottom. At 60, he still rides horseback regularly and will rope when he needs to. Like his dad, he loves nothing better than cleaning up, improving and preserving the land for the next generation.

Strom has been a 4-H Member, leader and sponsor, and a member of the Bowring School Board for 35 years. He also has served with the Hulah Volunteer Fire Department for over 30 years. He has been a member of the Osage County Cattlemen’s Association for 42 years and served two terms as president. He’s served on just about every committee in the organization.

Also, he has been a member of the Washington County Farm Bureau member for 45 years, and been Beef commodity chairman for seven years. He’s been a voting delegate of the Farm Bureau for 20 years. When John and Macy were the Farm Bureau’s “Farm Family of the Year” in 2014, they took home a new 2014 GMC Sierra Pick-up. He served on the Farm Home Administration committee and the Farm Service Agency committee. In the 1980’s, John and a group of nine other men purchased Sedan Farm Supply, and he has served on its board of directors ever since.

“John always has a list in his pocket of things that need to be done, or repaired or replaced,” Macy Strom said. “He jumps out of bed every morning with a plan for the day.

“He loves what he does and wouldn’t do anything else,” his wife also added.

Four generations of Stroms have lived, ranched and farmed in Osage county.

J.B. SMITH

The late J.B. Smith was born in Purdy on April 3, 1911. As a youngster, he did the chores of a young farm boy — milking cows, cutting broom corn, picking cottong and working with the livestock. He attended Rocky Point School, where akk eight grades were taught by one teacher.

Smith’s dad, George Smith, accepted the foreman job on the L7 Drummond Ranch in November 1924. It was there that Smith began his lifelong occupation as a rancher. Home was on the Kiger for him and his brothers, Wayland and Tom. Those were the days of getting up before daylight to milk cows, riding miles on horseback to check and feed cattle in pastures, and riding more miles to pens where cattle would be loaded and unloadedonto trains.

Strom had several horses on the ranch, and they included his “Saturday Night Horse.” According to his nephew, Ralph White, that was the horse that knew its way home if Smith fell asleep on it after checking out the dances in Pawhuska or Little Beaver.

He played football at Pawhuska High School, where he graduated in 1929. One of Smith’s best friends was Ormand Beach, the legendary athlete for whom the PHS stadium is named. After high school, they remained in touch as Beach played football at the University of Kansas. Smith attended Oklahoma A&M, where he played football two years. He was a member of Sigma Chi fraternity. He remained an avid OSU supporter and fan throughout his life.

On Oct. 11, 1932, Smith married Mary Elizabeth (Betty) White, the daughter of local attorney H.P. White and his wife Idona. The Smiths moved to a ranch they were buying 12 miles west of Pawhuska. Living through the Depression, dust storms, etc., resulted in many stressful experiences.

In 1941, the couple moved to a ranch south of Avant where they continued ranching activities until 1952, when they purchased the Girard place 15 miles west of Pawhuska. Smith also leased the Thompson Ranch in Cowley County, Kan. — maintaining cow/calf operations on both ranches.

Smith became manager of Whitaker and Co. in 1954, which consisted of the Jones Ranch near Crosbyton, Texas, and the old Moore Ranch near Okmulgee, as well as the Robinson Brothers Ranch near Nowata and the Blanchard Ranch. After two years, Whitaker and Co. went public and had to get out of the cattle business. He and a partner leased a ranch near Crosbyton, Texas, where they ran 2,500 cows until 1958. He then leased the Perryman Ranch near Foraker, while leasing another 17,000 acres from the Chapman-Bernard Ranch.

The Smiths were proactive in the livestock industry, not only locally, but at the state and national level. He served as president of the Osage Cattlemen’s Association in 1952-53 and was active in the formation of the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association, for which he served as the first ever vice president. He went on to be OCA president in 1954-55.

Betty Smith served as Osage County Cowbelles president, the Oklahoma Cowbelles president and the American National Cowbelles.

In later years, Smith. enjoyed playing pitvh, dominoes, the future’s market and making early morning visits with friends like Reba Rickard (for biscuits and gravy) and Holton Payne (for good conversation).

J.B. Smith passed away April 8, 1997, at 86, but his legacy lives on through many livestock producers and the vision he provided to the local, state and national livestock organizations he was so passionately involved with.

JOHN D. ISRAEL

After admiring another rider’s handmade bits at a cutting horse event, John David Israel returned home to Wynona and went to work. Using metal from a pitchfork at an anvil where he usually shaped horseshoes, he made a pair of bits for his own horse.

That was a half century ago.

Later, Israel’s handcrafted work caught the attention of legendary cutting horse trainer Matlock Rose. Soon, other horsemen — especially cutting horse people — began to seek him out.

Bits and spurs with the stamp — JD Israel, Wynona OK — are now highly sought after. Today, John Israel bits often re-sell for four to five times what theyoriginally sold for.

And, along with his horses and his friends, Israel treasures his reputation as a maker of good bits and spurs.

Israel — who also is an Osage County stockman — continues to craft bits and spurs. He has long since given up on trying to keep up with the demand for his items from across America as well as in Europe and South America.

He says he makes his steel bits and iron spurs “to make ‘em feel good and work for ya.” Silver adornment usually amounts to little more than the owner’s name and brand, he said.

Israel was born Dec. 14, 1939, in Tahlequah. He moved to Osage County in the 1950s, settling south of Wynona. He is a lifelong cowboy with a soft heart toward horses, especially cutting horses. His interest in silversmithing began in the early 1980s when John noticed the discomfort cutting horses exhibited with ill-fitting bits.

Mrs. Williams said Israel continues working daily in his Wynona shop, adding he “isn’t as fast as he used to be.” In addition to his metal work, Israel makes his own bridles, headstalls and reins. She added her son, Ralph Williams, (who is Israel’s nephew) participated in Saturday’s Ben Johnson Memorial Steer Roping.