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January 18: A Successful Cowboy

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Matt Crowley was born in Minnesota in 1875. In 1887 his family relocated to North Dakota to establish a ranch where they raised Hereford cattle. Crowley only had four years of formal education. After that, his father was his teacher as they worked the ranch together.

In 1910, Crowley purchased land from the railroad near Elm Creek in Mercer County where he started a ranch of his own. His first house was a sod shanty.

In 1914 he married Pauline Shoemaker and built a wood-frame house for her. It had running water and a Delco power plant that provided electricity. Together they raised three cowgirls.

Crowley ran his ranch under the “Lazy J” and “Jumping J” brands. He supplied horses for the Beulah rodeo, and was active in the Western North Dakota Stockmen’s Association, the Dakota Farm Bureau, and the American National Cattlemen. He served as County Commissioner during the 30s and was a representative in the North Dakota State Legislature.

Meanwhile, his ranch continued to thrive. In addition to Hereford cattle, he also raised quality saddle horses, and Percheron and Shire draft horses.

Ranching can be a hit-and-miss proposition. Crowley said the only way a rancher could be successful was to pursue it in “a sane and business-like manner.” And Crowley was, indeed, successful. His ranch grew to seven thousand acres, supporting a herd of one thousand cattle and his large herd of horses.

On this date in 1934 it was announced that Crowley had been honored at the combined banquet of the Saddle and Sirloin Club and the State Livestock Breeders, held at the North Dakota Agricultural College in Fargo. The organizations recognized his ongoing contributions to the livestock industry, and his portrait was unveiled and hung in the school’s hall of fame.

Crowley continued to receive honors in recognition of his contribution to North Dakota ranching. He was the third North Dakotan to be inducted into the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma. And in 2010, 55 years after his death, he was recognized by his home state when he was inducted into the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame.

Dakota Datebook by Carole Butcher


  • Bismarck Tribune. “Hebron Rancher is Honored at Dinner.” Bismarck ND. 1/18/1934. Page 1.
  • Bismarck Tribune. “Slope Rancher Has Plan to Improve Farm Outlook.” Bismarck ND. 6/10/1935. Page 3.
  • North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame. “Matt Crowley.” Accessed 12/23/2022.

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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