WILLCOX Cowboy Hall of Fame inductees
JACK TUNKS (101)
2009 COWBOY HALL OF FAME INDUCTEE
I have had the opportunity to talk to a lot of people about Mr. Tunks, and I have found three very consistent themes that run through all of their comments.
1st - He is ornery as hell but with a sense of humor.
2nd - He likes to talk.
3rd - He is a cowboy.
I will try to address each theme as we go along. But first, let's go back to the beginning. Jack was born in 1941, in Paonia, Colorado. He is one of three kids and has two younger sisters. Jack lived in Colorado until he was ten years old, then the family moved to Benson and his Dad went to work on the J6 Ranch. Jack went through the Benson school system where he played baseball for Coach Wilson. He said, "Baseball was about all I ever played. I played anywhere Coach Wilson told me to! I never skipped school; I was having too much fun, and if I ever quit I knew I would have to go to work."
One of the few times he did miss was when his parents got him out of school for a week so he could help the Double X Ranch in Mescal ship their cattle. Jack said, "This was the first place I ever 'drawed' wages." He was 13 years old and was paid one dollar a day. He said, "I thought I was a big shot."
In the early years, Jack worked on many of the ranches in the area. He worked on the J6 in Benson, for Fred Bennett in Tombstone, on the Whitehouse Ranch (with Jim Self)? on the Three Links, on the 76's, the Boquillas and even the Diamond A's in New Mexico. He also worked for Ralph Cowen and Alvin Browning.
It was while Jack was working for my Dad, (Alvin Browning), that I got to know him. On the first day we worked together we were driving our saddle horses into the upper country as we were getting ready for roundup. The ride would take about four and half hours to cover the 15 miles. We had the 25 head of horses lined out and were just plodding along for the first few miles until the horses came to a fork in the road and of course, they took the wrong fork and went off into a canyon. Jack said, "This is wrong isn't it? I'll bring them back." Off he went into the rough canyon full of brush, rocks and deep cuts. It was a rough piece of country and not an easy task to get ahead of 25 horses. Even though he had never worked in this county it only took a few minutes before he brought the horses back out of the canyon, up on the road, and we continued heading up country. I knew right then; this guy was a cowboy! And before we finished our four and a half hour ride, I also knew this guy could talk.
In 1974, Jack got a job managing the Tn W Ranch north of Willcox. He stayed 18 years until the ranch was sold. While at the Tn W, he also started a career as a day worker. He was taking care of the Tn W, working at the livestock auction two days per week and helping other ranchers whenever they called. He spent 20 years at the Willcox Livestock Auction, has worked for nearly every rancher in the valley and has been day working for Butch and Dave Harris for over 28 years.
When Jack left the Tn W, he decided that he would just day work for the next 8 years. He said, "That's a good way to starve to death."
Dave Harris told me a story about a bull that he had in the pasture just south of the Packing House on Fort Grant Road, and he needed to get this bull into the corrals. Dave said, "I lost the better part of good judgment when I decided to rope this bull to get him in the corral. Here I am with a 2000 pound bull on the end of my rope, my horse can't pull him, and my saddle is standing up on its nose, so I'm pretty much at a stale mate when Jack drives up, jumps out of his truck, comes to the fence and hollers, hey Harris, are you busy?"
Jack and Nancy Tunks have three children, Russell, Cathy and Tommy, five grand children and one great grandchild. When I asked Jack how long he has been married, he said, "Forty eight or forty nine years, I don't remember. Hell, either one will work." I tried one other time to get a more definitive answer. I called Jack on the phone and again asked, "How long have you been married?" I could hear Jack holler to Nancy. "Hey Nancy, how long have we been married?" I heard Nancy say, "A long, long time."
Jack coached Willcox Little League baseball for eight years and was the captain of the Willcox Sheriffs Posse for three terms. His friendship with Don McKinley led him to the roping arena where he became a very good team roper. Jack was always a little different. Just as he would ride into the headers' box, he would light a cigarette, turn his horse around and call for the steer. He may have had a cigarette flaming right under his nose, but he was a good header to rope behind. I have one more Jack Tunks story:
Jack, his son Russell and I had been riding in the upper country on the Muleshoe Ranch and were headed back to the house when we got into a huge rain storm. When we got to Bass Canyon it was starting to flood, and we debated if we should cross or not. Jack said he would go first and Russell and I would wait and see how deep it was. Jack rode into the water and made it across to the other side. He was climbing up the bank when the rushing water cut the dirt out from under the hind legs of his horse. His horse slid back and then scrambled out of the water. When his horse scrambled, Jack slid off and into the now raging water. Jack Tunks was getting washed away. He was being tumbled forward in somersaults. Each time he would come up he would try to stand up. You could see him pushing back against the current, but it would over power him and turn him upside down again. One more time Jack stood up against the current and this time before the water tumbled him again, he saw some tree roots on the bank and reached out to grab them. He was able to pull himself out of the water and on to the bank. The first thing Jack said, "Look, I didn't even lose my hat."
Today you can find Jack at the Red Tail Ranch, north of Willcox, as he has been the manager for the past 4 years. Maybe he has slowed down a little and doesn't ride quite as much, but the passion to be a cowboy will never die. Those who have worked with Jack have said he can work cattle in a plowed field or in the rough mountains. He just knows what to do with a cow.
Jack, people admire you because you are making a living doing what you want to do. You are not concerned about the pickup you drive or the size of your house. You are just happy and excited to go and work cattle.
For Jack, ranch work and being a cowboy is all he ever wanted to do. I asked him how he would like to be remembered. He said, "I want to walk down the street in a small cow town and when someone sees me, I want people to say, there goes a cowboy, or when someone asks, who's that? That's Jack Tunks. He's a cowboy."
Well Jack, now people can say, "That's Jack Tunks. He is a cowboy, and he is in the Willcox Cowboy Hall of Fame. Please welcome Jack Tunks.
Written and Presented by Eddie Browning