#Lookback: J.B. Okie: Business Success and Personal Strife

by | Dec 6, 2019 11:43AM

A series where we take a #lookback at the stories and history of our community,

brought to you by Mick Pryor, Financial Advisor with Edward Jones.

The year 1893 was a year of expansion for J.B. Okie’s business. First, Okie, his brother Fred, and John S. Day organized the Bighorn Sheep Company on October 1st, 1893. The company issued 50% of its stock to Susan Okie, J.B.’s mother. J.B. Okie had big plans for the Bighorn Sheep Company because he foresaw a lot of inexperienced men entering the sheep business and flooding the market. He wanted to be in a position to buy when these failures took place. J.B. Okie also entered the mercantile business when he bought out the Smith Mercantile Company with his brother Fred and John S. Day. Fred Okie was given the manager position at the store and the name of the company was changed to Casper Mercantile Company. In that same year, J.B.’s fourth child, Van, was born.

Due to the success of the Casper Mercantile Company, J.B. Okie was inspired to expand the Bighorn Sheep Company by founding the Bighorn Sheep Company Stores. The first store was opened in Lost Cabin in 1895. Later, more stores were founded in Moneta, Arminto, Lysite, Shoshoni, and Kaycee. In December of 1897, Fed Okie invested in the small gold rush that happened in the Casper Mountain by striking a claim that adjoined the Klondyke Claim. The gold rush in Casper Mountain proved to be unprofitable for Fred. The combination of the embarrassment over his failure in the mining business and the spinal meningitis outbreak in Casper caused Fred to close the Casper Mercantile Company in 1898. After closing the Casper Mercantile Company, Okie’s brother, Fred, moved back to the east coast with his family. In 1896 and 1898, J.B. Okie’s fifth and sixth children were born. Their names were Jeannette and Paul respectively. His sixth child, Paul, only lived until his fourth year after catching diphtheria in the 1902 epidemic in Lost Cabin.

In June of 1898, Okie bought the shares of the Bighorn Sheep Company from his mother for $30,000. However, once J.B. Okie’s sheep business began to expand, his mother decided to sue J.B. Okie in October of 1901 for the return of her interest in the company on the grounds that he had taken advantage of her ignorance of the sheep business. J.B. Okie returned to the east coast to try to convince his mother to drop the lawsuit. However, he failed to convince his mother to drop the suit. Also in 1901, J.B. Okie’s mansion known as the “Big Tepee” was built and his seventh child, James, was born. The trial for the lawsuit against his mother began in January of 1902. At the end of the process, the judge ruled in favor of J.B. Okie and explained that Susan Okie was not pressured into selling her shares of the Bighorn Sheep Company.

Personal problems began to plague the Okie family starting in early 1902 when the telephone line was completed in Lost Cabin. Later, in 1903, J.B. Okie’s eighth child, Mary, was born. After the telephone line was finished, Herbert G. Lovett moved from Los Angeles to Casper in 1903 to manage the telephone exchange. Herbert Lovett had brought his young, vivacious, and well educated wife, Clarice Lovett, with him when he moved to Casper. After Clarice met J.B. Okie, a romantic relationship between the pair began. Once J.B. Okie started his relationship with Clarice Lovett, he and his wife, Jeannette, began to grow apart. In 1907, J.B. Okie was divorced from Jeannette with a $50,000 cash settlement.

After his divorce, J.B. Okie continued his relationship with Clarice until she secured a divorce from her husband, Herbert, on June 26th, 1908 on the grounds of desertion. That same night, Clarice and J.B. Okie were married. Then, five months later the new couple embarked on a six month around the world tour. During the tour, the couple visited Arabia, India, Japan, China, and Hawaii. After the trip, J.B. Okie began to expand the mansion at Lost Cabin. He added an aviary where he collected and raised exotic birds and built small bungalows for house guests at the “Big Tepee”. In addition to adding to his property in Lost Cabin, J.B. purchased vacation homes in Denver, Colorado, and Pasadena, California.

In 1919, a severe drought hit central Wyoming. As a result, J.B. Okie made the decision to ship his sheep to Mexico for better grazing. While he was in Mexico, J.B. bought the Piggly Wiggly Store franchise for the country and eventually opened six stores across Mexico. Also, while Okie was in Mexico, a flu epidemic hit Wyoming. Among the victims of the epidemic was Okie’s son, Howard.

On October 21st, 1921, Clarice and J.B. were divorced. The divorce shocked the community of Lost Cabin because people thought that the couple loved each other very much. However, J.B. Okie believed that Clarice had given her attention to another man and J.B.’s pride would not allow for the relationship to continue after this alleged affair. After the divorce, Okie spent his time traveling between Mexico and Lost Cabin. On one of his many trips to Mexico, he met and married the daughter of a former president of Mexico. As a result of his final marriage, J.B. Okie had three more children named Juan, Maria Pilar, and Augusta.

In November 1930, Okie was at Lost Cabin enjoying the fall duck hunting season. On November 6th, he and his general manager, R.P. Pruitt decided to go hunting near the reservoir. Pruitt went to the other side of the reservoir to drive the ducks towards where Okie was lying in wait. After returning to where he left Okie, Pruitt discovered that Okie had disappeared. Alarmed, Pruitt scanned the area and discovered J.B.’s pith helmet in the reservoir. He returned to Lost Cabin to assemble a search party. The search party looked for two days before deciding to drain the reservoir on November 8th. After draining the water, the party discovered Okie’s body. It is believed that Okie slipped down a steep slope by the reservoir and drowned after being unable to escape. J.B. Okie was buried in the yard of the “Big Tepee” beside his sons, Paul and Howard.

Next up for the Fremont County Museums

December 7th at the Dubois Museum, “Christmas Open House”

December 7th at the Pioneer Museum, “Old Fashioned Christmas”

              Bailey Tire/Pit Stop Children’s Exploration Series

December 14th at the Riverton Museum, “Old Time Christmas Decorations”

              Bailey Tire/Pit Stop Children’s Exploration Series

December 14th at the Riverton Museum, “Christmas Open House”

 

Consider supporting The Dubois Museum, the Pioneer Museum in Lander or the Riverton Museum with a monetary donation. The museums are more reliant than ever on donations from the private sector to continue to provide the quality programs, collections management, exhibits and services that have become their hallmark. Please make your tax deductible contribution to be used specifically for the benefit of the museum of your choosing by sending a check to Fremont County Museums 450 N 2nd Rm 320 or taking it directly to the museum you choose to support.

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