Rancher, banker, writer and one of most influential figures of the Wild West.
1851-1934 | Artist: Robert Wadsworth Grafton (1876-1936)
Impact & Accomplishments
John Clay, Jr., was one of the more colorful and influential figures of the great Wild West. Born and educated in Scotland, he and his father visited North America to help organize substantial Scottish and English land investments for livestock production.
In 1879, Clay moved to Canada, to manage the Canada West Farm Stock Association. In 1882, he was Chicago bound. He managed several Wyoming herds, and then took over the massive Swan Land and Cattle Company in 1888, after Alexander Swan was removed from the business by company directors. Clay shifted the focus of what had been the largest cattle enterprise in the nation, to sheep.
He was also financing loans to Scottish investors, and in 1892, began buying bank stocks. Within a few years, John Clay controlled a network of nearly two dozen banks, managed many of the major ranches in the West, and founded one of the largest livestock commission firms in the nation.
In 1890, John Clay was elected president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, which sought to control land rights, organize roundups, and investigate cattle rustling. His six-year tenure of leadership included the turbulent Johnson County War of 1892, a controversial period of violence between the representatives of vast corporate ranches and smaller ranchers settling the West.
Clay was a prolific writer and published many accounts of his life experiences. He was elected president of the International Live Stock Exposition in 1923 and served for many years. In 1961 his name was enshrined in the Hall of Great Westerners.
Did You Know?
"The Invaders" of The Johnson County Cattle War. Photo taken at Fort D.A. Russell near Cheyenne, Wyoming, May 1892