I said goodbye last weekend. Goodbye to a man who knew me before I was born, as his wife, Ida, said when she introduced me to others that day. John and Ida Sheriff were the closest neighbors when my parents moved to Hot Sulphur Springs, Colo., in the early 50s, and like ranch folk everywhere, the Sheriffs welcomed the newcomers openly. John and Ida and Mom and Dad forged a friendship that remains as strong today as it was more than 60 years ago.
John went to meet his Lord this spring, and the family held a memorial service at the ranch in the Colorado mountains that his great-grandmother and grandfather homesteaded in 1881. During the service, his son, Steve, said simply, “My dad was a cattleman.” I can think of no higher compliment.
While the ranch and cattle were his true passions, he loved history. John and Ida were involved in the Grand County Historical Association for most of their adult lives and as Tim Nicklas, executive director of the association’s museum said, “We might have a museum, but we wouldn’t have near the museum we do without John and Ida Sheriff.” He said anytime he had a question about some aspect of local history, all he had to do was call John for an answer. When your roots run 134 years deep, and you’ve been around for almost 90 of those years, you know a thing or two.
It struck me, listening to the stories that friends and neighbors told about a truly humble and life-loving man, that not only did we lose a piece of local history, but the beef business lost a part of its history as well. John Sheriff, and all those of his generation who went to war and then came home to America’s ranches and farms, are who made the industry what it is today. It is on their broad and capable shoulders that we stand, and it is from their lives and sacrifices that we learn.
John was the first in Colorado’s Middle Park to bring Angus cattle to the region. While his ranch remained largely a Hereford herd, John was always thinking ahead, looking for ways he could improve things, do things better. However, those first few calf crops met with less-than-enthusiastic response from the buyers. He could hardly give the crossbred calves away. History has proven his foresight—he was just 60 years ahead of his time.
There’s a lesson there and there are lessons to be learned from all of John’s generation—lessons that only those who have gone before can teach.
“I feel like I’m losing a piece of history,” Nicklas said.
We all did.
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