|Early cattle drive. Library of Congress.|
He reportedly served as a Texas Ranger on patrols against Comanche Indians during the Civil War. After the war, Sparks worked cattle on several big drives. In 1872, he served as trail boss on a drive that delivered a herd to where the Utah-Nevada border meets southern Idaho.
John and his brothers then moved a large herd into Wyoming. A develop-sell-move strategy worked well for awhile, but played out toward the end of the decade as the amount of undeveloped land in Wyoming dwindled. Thus, in 1881, John and his brother Tom brought another herd from Texas into Idaho to stock range near American Falls.
Tom stayed on to run a ranch there for around forty years while John formed a partnership with established cattleman John Tinnin. They put together a spread that straddled the Idaho-Nevada border. By 1886, Sparks-Tinnin range stretched from the Snake River, centered around today’s Twin Falls, south into the mountains of northern Nevada. On perhaps 3,000 square miles of land, they, according to the Albion Times, ran “in the neighborhood of 100,000 head of cattle.”
During the warmer months of the year, most of the stock grazed in Idaho. Then cowboys pushed them south for the cold months of winter. Thus, Sparks lived at one of his Idaho ranch headquarters for the good weather, but built a family home in Nevada, near the main railroad line.
Nevada Historical Society.
During the 1890s, the range became more and more crowded. This heightened friction between neighboring outfits, whether cattle or sheep. Then, in 1896, a cowboy shot two sheepherders who had encroached onto what Sparks-Harrell considered its range [blog, February 4 and others].
Although Sparks soon learned who had done the shooting, he remained silent to protect against retaliation by sheepmen. He also paid liberally for the defense of “Diamondfield” Jack Davis, the man falsely accused of the killings. Eventually, Davis was freed, while the actual shooter made a successful self-defense plea (also financed by Sparks-Harrell).
In 1902, Sparks was elected Governor of Nevada. He was re-elected in 1906, but did not complete the second term, passing away in 1908.
|References: Byron DeLos Lusk, Golden Cattle Kingdoms of Idaho, Master’s thesis, Utah State University, Logan (1978).|
|J. Orin Oliphant, On the Cattle Ranges of the Oregon Country, University of Washington Press, Seattle (1968).|
|“John Sparks,” Sunset Magazine, 1903.|
|Alexander Toponce, Reminiscences of Alexander Toponce, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman (1971).|
|James A. Young, B. Abbott Sparks, Cattle in the Cold Desert, University of Nevada Press, Reno (2002).|