Force of Nature: Jim Scott
Arizonan Jim Scott returns to the roping arena in time for his 89th birthday.

It’s a bit out of character for Jim Scott to take a few months off from entering up at the plethora of ropings near his Desert Hills, Arizona, home, but a December horse wreck that resulted in a few broken ribs and a fractured vertebra forced him to take a break in the waning months of his 88 year.

“I’m feeling fine,” Scott said as he was preparing to make his comeback at Dynamite Arena the following day this January. “The doctor said to give it six weeks, and I’ve been riding around the place here, keeping my horse legged up.”

Scott was born on a ranch in eastern Arizona in early March of 1930, just as the Great Depression was tightening its grip on the country.

“I grew up during the Depression, and nobody had anything. We were very poor. We had a little old ranch and we had lots to eat but nobody had any money and there wasn’t any jobs when I got old enough. I went to a little bit of school and I didn’t like that, I didn’t like college, and I wanted to be out on a ranch or something like that along those lines, so I left Arizona.”

Scott headed for California in the late 1940s to work on its big, rolling cattle ranches and hoped to one day be a foreman with the benefit of getting to drive a company pickup. When he eventually switched tacks to work at a sale barn, it opened up a world of opportunity and challenge that Scott had never even imagined.

Kari DeCastro Photo

“The owner there got me buying cattle for him,” Scott explained. “I was really green at that, but he stood behind me. I owned some cattle on my own and got a ranch lease and met some people and we went into partnerships, and wound up, oh, we found several ranches that we bought through the partnership. I spent a lot of time on the border, and in the meantime, I was buying and selling cattle.”

One of those partnerships was with Dick Pascoe, who, with Cotton Rosser, owned the Flying U Ranch Rodeo Producers. Pascoe and Scott had plenty of business dealings together, but they also paired up in the roping arena when they could, including in Oklahoma City, when Scott headed for Pascoe, who was competing for the RCA’s World Champion Roper title.

“I couldn’t go a lot because I was trying to build up a ranch deal, but he made the Finals. I think it was in ’65, when the RCA just had one champion. Now it’s the PRCA, but I headed for him there, and we went to some rodeos. Then, my son, who went to the Finals three different times before he was 21, when it was still in Oklahoma City, he started heading for Dick Pascoe, and I was gone a lot buying and selling cattle and trying to make something of myself.”

When, following a divorce from his first wife, Scott saw an opportunity in Oregon, he cashed out on California and headed north.

“I went to Oregon and had a ranch up there and thought I had to do a lot of different things because I was on my own then, so to speak, being single, and then I went broke. I went up there with quite a bit of money, but I went broke.”

Though he may not have known it then, as Scott is well aware now, going broke is often the nature of the beast in the cattle business.

“When you’re buying and selling cattle, in the cattle business there’s always highs and lows. It’s not unusual for guys in the cattle business to go through that, myself included. A lot of my friends have had that same experience over the years. I started back in the ’50s, so it’s been a pretty big span.”

Indeed. Throughout his many decades in the cattle business, various opportunities led Scott throughout the West, from Arizona to Cailfornia, to Oregon and back again; to Colorado, briefly; to Nebraska, ultimately; and perhaps most favorite to Scott, the border.

“I spent a lot of time on the border from 1968 to 1972. I loved it down there, and you can make some good money. I started out in Nogales, but I partnered with Phil Stadtler a lot, who was big in the cattle business, and he was down at El Paso, so he got me to come down there. I had an apartment and I had a little yard there at Tornillo, south of El Paso, where we crossed the cattle into the little feedlot. I bought and sold cattle out of there and shipped them out of there.

“I was there for several years, and back then there was no worry in going down to Mexico and staying all night in a flop house hotel or something if you had business. You never worried a bit. I was up in the Sierra Madres, up in the mountains where most of the corrientes come from, and you felt just as safe as could be. But I wouldn’t want to go down there now for what I was doing back then. Things have changed so much.”

Another big change in Scott’s life came courtesy of Stadtler after Scott got off the border before the cattle market tanked, sparing Scott from going broke again.

“Phil was in a partnership on a feedlot in Omaha, Nebraska, where I’d never been, and he called me and asked if I’d be interested in buying cattle for the lot. He said, ‘We’ve got this feedlot, 35,000-head capacity, and we own all the cattle and the partnership needs somebody to buy cattle for it.’

“I made up my mind right then,” Scott continued. “I had remarried and we were getting along alright, but we weren’t really gaining or owning anything, just making a living. We went there in the middle of winter. We hit the snow between Albuquerque and Denver and never saw dirt again until April.”

Scott was only a few years in with the feedlot when he was asked to manage its operations. Scott accepted, so long as he could buy into the partnership.

“I became a 10-percent partner, and the feedlot did very well, extremely well, and in 2000, we had a chance to sell it and the 1,200-acre corn farm that went with it, where we grew a lot of our own feed. We sold it, and I came out with quite a bit of money. I was able to retire and move to Arizona and buy a nice home and rope.”

Scott still gets involved with various business dealings when the markets are right, but these days, he mostly enjoys working with his horse and going to ropings.

“These old guys hang around down there and they say, ‘At least you’re having fun.’ That’s a bunch of bull. Nobody that ropes a lot will tell you they’re having fun if they can’t at least win a little something once in a while. I’m trying to win!”

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