From 'Fanning the Embers', published 1971, Range Rider Reps, Miles City, Montana
By Gladys Cain
Jay was born in Dunlap, Iowa, in 1881 to Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Bryan. His mother passed away when he was small and shortly after her death, Jay, his brother and father came to Miles City, in 1890. They spent some time in town and then moved south, near Otter Creek, and filed on a homestead. Mr. Bryan, his brother, Tom, and George Badget were partners in the OU outfit. Tom Bryan never lived or worked on the ranch; his main concern was to periodically check on his investment, as one of the money partners.
Jay was just 16 when he started working as a cowhand on the OU. In the summer his main job was wrangling horses for the roundup crews. He also became quite a bronc buster and earned the respect of the ranch hands.
One winter found Jay and Jud McKelvey living at the line camp on the East Fork of Otter Creek, on what is now the Ray Gaskill ranch, looking after the cattle. Once the cowboys found an old rooster in the supplies from the ranch. They cooked it for two days but were never able to eat the chicken, just used the broth for soup.
In 1902 Jay went to work for Levi Howes' Circle Bar ranch on Otter Creek. That fall he helped gather over a 1,000 head of horses that ran on the range and they were sold for $68 a head.
A year later Jay homesteaded on land on Home Creek, naming it the E. H. Horse ranch. With the help of Walter McNeil, he built a log cabin and corrals. During the winter they spent their time breaking horses to sell in the spring.
Horse and cattle rustlers were not uncommon in this country as Jay found out one fall; when he went to gather his mares and colts they were gone. He traced the horses over the ridge to the Selway place on Pumpkin Creek. The rustlers had left the mares there and had taken the colts up the creek. Jay overtook them a short ways up the creek and at I his appearance the thieves took out in a high lope, leaving the colts behind. Once back on the ranch the colts were branded and then turned back to pasture.
Once well-established in the horse business, Jay invested in some heifers. They cost him $15 a head. Jay joined the Home Creek pool with the other ranchers in the area and helped trail the cattle to Miles City. Once there the cattle were shipped by the railroad to Chicago.
Jay's life to this point had been centered on his ranching business but a young lady, Jessie Huskinson, was about to change all this. She lived with her brothers Tom and Emore on a ranch near Jay.
Christmas night, 1904, Jay gave a big dance in his log cabin on the ranch. And what a big night it was for him as he proudly escorted Jessie for the evening. Music was provided by Joe Adam's fiddle and Mr. Wolf's guitar and all danced until the early morning hours. It was also a profitable evening as each person contributed one dollar. Finally when the last family left, Jay and Jessie started back to her home. When he told her good-bye at the Huskinson yard gate he promised her it wouldn't be long before they would be married.
On June 4, 1905, Jay drove a buggy over to Huskinsons' and picked up Jessie and they went to Miles City, caught the train and went to Dickinson, N.D., where they were married on June 16. On the return trip they stopped at Beebe and some of Jay's cowboy friends were camped there. They gave their friend Jay and his bride a chivaree and Jay in turn provided the traditional treats. The evening they got back to their home, the neighbors on Home Creek and from Ashland gave Jay and Jessie another chivaree party. The Bob Wilbur, Sam May and Charlie Mosgar families hosted the party and it was a very festive affair.
In 1907 the Bryans were blessed with a baby boy whom they named Harry. Three years later another boy was born and named Bud.
In the early 1900's the gray timber wolves were a real threat to the stockmen of the area. Jay Bryan was hired by the government to trap the wolves; he was paid $75 a month and he boarded himself. A full-grown wolf skin would bring around $68 when auctioned off and a bounty of $20 was paid for each pup skin.
The actual trapping didn't involve much risk on the part of the trapper; the dangerous part came when a den was found and Jay had to crawl in to get the pups. He always had someone with him on this job. He would tie a rope around one foot and in case he ran into trouble his partner would pull him out. One time he went about 40 feet back into a den where he came face to face with a she wolf. He fired at her with his rifle but missed and the shot put out his lard Wick which he used for a light. He was left in the dark of the den with only the two yellow eyes of the big wolf visible. Jay yelled to his partner and he was pulled from the den; the old wolf followed him to the opening before she turned back to her pups. The men closed the opening with rocks and returned later to get the dead wolves. Jay was a very active wolfer -- almost too active for Jessie. On good days he would get as many as 20 of the timber wolves and the stockmen were grateful for the job he was doing.
One winter morning, Jay and his brother, Roy, started out horseback to go wolf hunting-Before long they came across a large track in the snow and began following it. It wasn't long until they decided they were after a mountain lion so the chase really began in earnest. About the time their horses began to tire the cat made a circle through the horse pasture and the men caught up fresh horses and kept going. After some more chasing up hill and down hill they finally saw the lion go into a plum thicket. Jay got on one side and Roy on the other and when the mountain lion came out they shot her. It was a female lion, measuring nine feet and one inch from tip of nose to tip of tail. So the tracking from morning to sundown had paid off. They skinned her and took the hide to the ranch. A doctor from Lame Deer was visiting there and he gave them $25 for the hide. This was probably one of the last mountain lions killed in this part of the country, at least Jay thought so.
Some years later Jay and Jessie moved to Ashland where Jay served as U.S. Commissioner and also as Justice of the Peace. He set up a carpenter shop there and with the help of his boys made bobsleds. After several years in Ashland the Bryans moved to Broadus. Jay passed away there in 1968. Both sons, Harry and Bud, are also deceased. Jessie at 90 still lives in Broadus.