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Sgt. James Stratton, 94 years well lived!

A Cowboy for Life
by J.B. Blocker
James Carter Stratton was born May 22, 1920 to J.C. and Hattie Stratton in Clovis, New Mexico. He grew up near Tucumcari where his family raised cattle and grew wheat. 
After serving in WWII, he met Miss Lila Miller at an Army dance in Lusk, Wyoming. They began their lives together on Oct. 20, 1945 in Lance Creek where they raised cattle for 60 years.
He is survived by his wife Lila of 68 years, son Ted of Lafayette, Ga., daughter Nona of McKinney, grandsons Dale, Sam, and Logan, granddaughters Sarah, Regina, Jennifer, Amy, Cara and 10 great grandchildren.
James Stratton is my friend. The 94 year old cowboy lived a couple of blocks from me in McKinney. I first met him at a Veterans Day celebration where he came dressed in his full WWII uniform. He was a devoted American Patriot who was still holding hands with his Lila in his last days. He was a historian of the era of cowboys and the military. His legacy is carried on by his devoted children and all who saw the sparkle in his eyes that drew you in and captured your heart.
Over the past 6 years, I tried to drop by as often as possible for an afternoon taste of Glenlivet and to hear cowboying stories going back to the 1930's. 
  Since James has been an avid historian and collector of Cavalry memorabilia most of his life, his mind and his house are historical museums just waiting for me to tour.
  It has been an awesome honor and responsibility for me to be one of the last personal friends and confidants of a man who has traveled the world and made so many friends all along the way.          I have many of his stories bouncing around now like friendly ghost. God blessed us all with men like James Stratton.

Somewhere outside Clovis, New Mexico 1936. McGregor Cattle Company chuck wagon ready to feed.  “We would pick out the fattest calves and butcher them next to the supply wagon. Cowboys would ride in, cut off a favorite cut, and eat all the beef and beans you could hold.” Photo by James Stratton.

  James Stratton ‘quituated’ from  school after 8th grade. His family raised cattle and grew wheat near Tucumcari, New Mexico. “I owned my first horse when I was 6 and sold my last horse when I was 88. I’ve always been a cowboy!”

Sgt. Stratton and Nona at the 5th Cavalry Ball in Waco

Born in 1920, the retired rancher lives in McKinney with his wife Lila. His daughter Nona and grandson Logan Renfro live nearby. Over the years, James has been collecting U.S. Cavalry uniforms, saddles, weaponry, and all the associated memorabilia dating back to the 1700’s.  The collection includes Civil War, Spanish/American, WWI, and WWII uniforms, arms, and tack.

  “I signed up with the McGregor Cattle Company at age 16 for $30 a month and beans. The ranch covered over 100 square miles between Clovis and Tucumcari. We usually kept a dozen cowboys who would work year round branding and moving cattle from pasture to pasture.     
  The land was at the foothills of the Sierra Madres with plenty of stretches of the Llano flat lands.  There were all kinds of places for the cattle to get hid. Ravines, dried up river beds, hidden canyons, and patches of woods kept the cowboys working hard from can to caint.”

  “When I got hired on, they made me the wrangler. Each cowboy wore out about 6 to 8 horses a day. It was my job to keep the 100 or so horses in the ramuda traveling with the supply and chuck wagon. If horses or mules needed to be broke, that was my job! I ate as much dust as beans.”

  “Them old trail cooks would cook up anything that got in their way. Mostly we ate a lot of beans, sow belly, and all the beef we could hold. For deserts, we often had ‘Spotted Pup’. That was rice and raisons with Briar Rabbit Black Strap Molasses. 
  One regular meal was ‘Son of a Bitch stew’.  Every time we butchered a cow, the cook would throw the liver, heart, and marrow in to the pot and serve it with hot sour dough biscuits. We all lived on Arbuckle’s coffee and little sleep.”

  As the western historian Ray Adams once said of these cowhands, ‘These riders were long on guts and short on brains’. It was hard perilous work. They say cowboys hired on to these great ranches for the glory of being able to say they rode with the big boys.  
  Over the next 5 years Stratton worked for the Hatchetts and the Palomas too!

  On Dec. 7, 1941 Pearl Harbor was attacked

James and his outfit were halfway down a mountain pass just east of Sante Fe moving their cattle to the winter pastures. That night, a lone rider woke the camp to announce the days event. "The Japs have bombed Pearl Harbor!"
  Several of the other hands had also been considering enlisting anyway and this news was all it took to make up their minds. They said their goodbyes, saddled up, and rode the 17 miles to Sante Fe as fast as their steeds could manage.
  On Dec. 8, James Stratton was enlisted and infantry bound! Within a year he was on the quartermaster corps stationed in Iran sending supplies in to Russian. Later on, the horse savvy Sergeant was part of a supply team preparing 10,000 horses and mules to be sent to Burma.     
  “When the herds came to us, they were what you’d call a Rough String.”

  “We figure in 6 months, we were breaking and training a horse or mule every 15 minutes in order to fill the need. As part of the Remount Corps we were Army from the belt up. We wore campaign hats and shirts but supplied our own saddles and tack. From the waist down, we were just regular civilian cowhands!”

Sgt. Stratton, Lt.Col. USAF Ret.Bruce McFadden, Colonel Glenn Baird, Division Commander 5th Cavalry

  James Stratton went on to a life of ranching and farming until he reached 88. Now he has hung up his spurs in McKinney. His first job started as a teenagers romantic fantasy, carried him through WWII, and molded James into a living museum of the U.S. Cavalry and cowboy history.
  James Stratton will not be forgotten.

- J.B. Blocker is a media consultant based in Collin County in North Texas. Advertise with J.B. by calling 469-334-9962. Email:

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