Welcome, Jeff Warburton, wagonmaster extraordinaire

Tanya Hanson says:  Our Teton wagon train adventure last month was perfect from start to finish, and much of the wonder came from wagonmaster Jeff Warburton, a real-life cowboy, a hard-working host,  and a true gentleman. I couldn’t wait to invite him to Wildflower Junction to meet you all. Please make him welcome. I’ll draw one name from this weekend’s commenters for a pdf. copy of my city-slicker wagon train novella, Hearts Crossing Ranch.                          

Jeff, tell us about yourself.

I was raised on a large family owned cattle ranch in northwestern Utah.  We ran cattle in Utah and Nevada on purpose and sometimes in Idaho when the wrong gate was left open.  We spent the spring and fall working cattle, summer raising hay to feed the cattle and winter feeding the hay to the cattle.  

  The town we lived close to was small.  It had a post office, a school, a church and a little gas station.  There were about 100 residents in or around this town counting my family.  It was 2 to 2 ½ hours to a town where there were grocery, clothing, hardware stores, etc The school was a two room schoolhouse taught by a husband/wife team.  Most of the time I was there, there were about 36 kids from kindergarten to tenth grade.  After tenth grade, we had to move away from home to finish the last two years of high school. 

After high school, I went to Utah State University in Logan, Utah, where I obtained a Bachelor’s and a Master’s Degree.  While at USU, I taught in the horsemanship classes for 7 years and spent 5 summers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming working on the outfit we now own.  That was where I met my wife, Cindy. 

After college, I went to work with my wife’s family in the saddle making business.  The business was called Sawtooth Saddle Company.  I spent 3 years learning to build saddles but then realized my skill lay in business management and sales not saddle making.  I traveled all over the West and Midwest selling saddles and promoting our products. 

In 1997, we had the opportunity to buy Teton Wagon Train and Horse Adventure, part of the outfit we worked on in Jackson Hole, Wyoming while we were in school.  We teamed up with my brother, Chris, and his wife, Audra, to make it all work.  In 2007, we bought the Bar T 5 Covered Wagon Cookout.  In 2008, we were awarded the contract for the National Elk Refuge Sleigh Rides. 

Cindy and I have 5 kids:  Michael, 19, Jessica, 16, Jordan, 14, Brenden, 11, and Treven, 9. They all work in all aspects of  the business as well but their first love is the wagon train.  They are all very outdoor and horse oriented. 

What did you want to be when you were a little boy?

I always wanted to be a cowboy. 

How old were you when you rode a horse for the first time?

I don’t know for sure.  Some of my first memories are riding with my Grandpa and with him leading the horse. He died when I was two.

 How do you and your crew learn everybody’s names so fast?  I mean, it took y’all about ten minutes.  And you have roughly 300 guests a year in a ten-week summer!

I am glad that we looked that smooth when we were learning everyone’s names, but I am,  pretty sure it took us longer than ten minutes..  Our employees are mostly college students as we can only offer most of our employees seasonal employment.    We definitely had an exceptional crew on the wagon this summer.  That crew wanted to be there and liked to interact with our guests so it came natural for them to learn everyone’s names.  The crew definitely cared and were concerned with each guest as an individual. 

Other than Peggy, the 81-year old “moose killer” on our trip, who is another amazing city-slicker that you recall from your years of wagon train adventures?  (All right, readers.  No animals were harmed on our trip.)

There are so many I could mention.  Of course, there were you & Tim and Roberta & Tim.  You guys are pretty amazing.    We have been so very blessed by the association we have had with folks who come on this trip. 

We have a lady that has been on our trip for 36 consecutive years.  She is such a sweet lady.  She is now afraid that this year was her last trip.  It won’t be the same without her. 

We had a gentleman and his wife that came 6 or 7 years. The practical jokes he has played on our crew and us, on and off the wagon train, are the stuff of legend.  They have become close friends of ours and he has even been on the trip as a crew member.  He has also provided many high quality pictures for articles on our trip.

Jeff, we’re a bunch of romance readers and writers here in Wildflower Junction.  So I gotta ask: was it love at first sight for you and Cindy?

I saw Cindy for the first time in June of 1988.  It was her first year and my second working in Jackson Hole (on the outfit we now own).  Cindy got there that summer before I did.  Just after I got there with another employee,  we were checking in with the boss and his wife.  As we were taking to them, I saw Cindy walking by.  I thought I was discretely watching her go by and no one would notice my interest.  I thought, “Wow!  This is going to be an interesting summer!”  

When I turned back to the boss, he was pointing his finger at me and he had a very stern look on his face.  He said, “Jeff, you leave her alone.  She is barely eighteen years old and I told her folks I would protect her from cowboys like you.”  Then he laughed and laughed. 

I was 24 years old at the time and when I heard she was 18 years old.  I decided that she was too young for me.  For the next couple of weeks, I liked what I saw when I was around her but I kept telling myself that she was too young for me.  I even took her roommate out on a date. 

I then left for the wagon train and stayed on the mountain for 2 weeks.  When I got back, I was supposed to have another date with her roommate.  In the interim, her roommate had decided to exclusively date one of the other hands. 

Cindy was very patient with me.  She didn’t push me at all.  She was just around me being herself.  From this point on, I was in Jackson for four days and in the Tetons on the wagon train for ten days.  The four days I was around her, I would start thinking that maybe she wasn’t too young for me after all.  Then, when I was away from her, I would talk myself out of the whole thing.  

At that time, our outfit participated in the rodeo in the wild horse race with many of the other outfitters in Jackson Hole.  I was on the team of three when I was not on the wagon train.  I got kicked by the wild horse we were trying to saddle during the event and ended up with a broken ankle.  I had to have surgery to pin the bones back in place in my ankle and couldn’t go back on the wagon train and ended up working in the office for the rest of the season. 

Cindy was very attentive and helpful.  She was there when I got back to my hospital room after surgery.  (That was when she met my parents.  They were impressed with how she helped take care of me.)  After I got out of the hospital, I couldn’t bend it far enough to change the bandages  by myself, so she helped.  It wasn’t long before we were officially a couple. 

I’ve told her for years that if I hadn’t been so bull headed about the whole age thing, I wouldn’t have had to break my ankle. 

What’d you guys do for your first date?

I don’t know what to consider our first date.  The night I broke my ankle, she went with me to the rodeo and was with me behind the chutes.  If I remember right, we had talked about going for ice cream with the rest of the crew after the rodeo, but I went to the hospital instead. 

 What’s your “happily-ever-after” with her going to be like, in your golden years?

 “Happily-ever-after” for me is to continue doing what we are doing now.

 What kinds of things do you like to read?

I read lots of Louis L’Amour books.  I think I have read them all but I continue to read them over and over.  I like to read histories and mysteries as well.

 What’s your favorite activity with that lovely family of yours?

Horseback riding and working with the horses.  When the horses are in the pasture between seasons, we like to go walk through the herd and watch them.

 What’s your favorite of the chuck wagon recipes the chuck cooks make for the wagon-riders?

I like all of it (except the green beans).  My favorites, though, are the baked beans, the barbequed chicken and the biscuits and gravy.  

What’s life like the rest of the year, after the wagon train summers are over?

We have the Bar T 5 Covered Wagon Cookout that starts the middle of May and runs until the end of September.  We have shows six nights a week.  My brother, Chris, his wife, Audra, their kids and Cindy work there all the time.   The rest of my family works there when we are not on the wagon train. 

The  first part of October is when we tear down and clean up the Bar T 5.  The rest of October, November and the first part of December we take care of our horses and fences, prepare for winter and get ready for the National Elk Refuge Sleigh Rides.  The sleigh rides start in the middle of December and run every day except for Christmas Day until the first Saturday in April.

 In April, we tear down and clean up the sleigh rides and get ready for the Bar T 5 to start again.  Our crew starts showing up for the summer around May 1.  It takes us about two weeks to get the Bar T 5 set up.  Then it is time to start the wagon train all over again.

 Tell us about the elk refuge adventures.

The National Elk Refuge borders the town of Jackson here in Jackson Hole.  .  Last year we had approximately 7500 head of elk wintering on the Refuge.  We take visitors for an hour long ride out on the Refuge among the elk in sleighs  drawn by a team of draft horses.  It is awe inspiring to be out with the large numbers of elk that are there with the beautiful Tetons and Gros Ventre Mountains as backdrops.  Other animals such as eagles, hawks, swans, coyotes, ducks, geese and sometimes wolves are also on the Refuge. 



Looks like an ancestor helped rescue the ill-fated Donnor Party.  Who is your favorite historical Western figure? 

My favorite historical Western figure is probably the trail driving cowboy.  The boys that brought the herds out of Texas to the railroad. 

 If you could have dinner with three Western legends who would they be? What would you like to ask them?

Chief Washakie – Chief of the Shoshoni – I would like to ask him what it was like before all the settlers showed up.


Broken Hand Fitzpatrick – Mountain Man and Wagon Master – I would like to ask him what it was like to be a mountain man and wagon master.

John Slaughter – 17 year old Trail Boss and cowboy – I would like to ask him about the trail driving days.

I think you did a bit of everything during our trip, even teaching me how to rope a steer. What is your favorite task? What is the least?

My favorite task is getting the new guests off the bus on Monday.  My least favorite task is having to load the guests on the bus on Thursday. 

What three cowboy ethics fit you best?  

I think the three that fit me the best are:  Take pride in your work, Ride for the brand and Remember that some things aren’t for sale.

You’re right, Jeff. Those fit you best. Thanks so much for spending the weekend with us here in Wildflower Junction. And don’t be a stranger, ya hear?

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34 thoughts on “Welcome, Jeff Warburton, wagonmaster extraordinaire”

  1. A man and a family to be admired. Thanks for an interesting and enjoyable post. We lived in Colorado for three years and got a wonderful taste of the West. The feel of the area is different as is the pace and flow of life. Our son was born there and it is where his soul is. I wish we could have retired there. We finally made it to Jackson Hole 2 years ago. I wish we had known about Jack and his Wagon Train. A good reason for a trip back : )
    You seldom hear of true family operations like this anymore. I wish my daughter and son had spent the summers working his wagon train. She enjoyed the one she worked on, but would have had a much broader experience with his.

    I love the three cowboy ethics he listed. We would all do well to follow them.

  2. Wonderful post! It’s been a long time since I last saw Jackson’s Hole (1970), but I still remember it well and had never seen actual cowboys, aside from those on TV. Being a Floridian, I’d never seen that type of country. I remember eating at a place that served chuckwagon style and how good it tasted – nothing like what’s in a can or a restaurant. Thanks for keeping the traditions alive!

  3. Welcome to The Junction, Jeff. We’re so glad you joined us. It must be wonderful to have a business that your entire family enjoys participating in.

    I went on the National Elk Refuge Sleigh Ride, in January of 1989, I think. All I remember is it was below zero for the entire four days we were in Jacson Hole…and it was beautiful.

  4. Welcome to Wildflower Junction, Jeff! We’re so happy to have you as a guest. Tanya has told us so much about the wagon train adventure she took and I have an experience like that at the top of my bucket list. I can’t imagine how peaceful and calm that would be. No phone, no TV, no pressing engagements. Just me and nature. That would be so wonderful. I have to say you probably have the best life anyone could have. And from all accounts you’re very good at what you do. I’m glad you roped the girl of your dreams. Sounds like a perfect match.

    Take care of that beautiful family and come back again anytime.

  5. thanks for stopping by jeff!
    was wonderful hearing about your life–sounds like good clean livin’ to me!
    would you like to adopt me and my children? we would love to join your family 🙂
    if not (since you already have 5) maybe we can just try to get out there for a wagon ride and to meet you in person sometime

    thanks for taking the time to share with us!

  6. Hello Jeff! A fascinating and enjoyable post. Your life and your family sound remarkable – nothing beats doing work you enjoy with people you love and both come through loud and clear in your responses.

  7. Thank you, Tanya, for inviting me to be on your blog. Thanks to the rest of you for such a wonderful welcome!

    Tracy, glad to hear you have been on the Sleigh Rides.

    If you folks are anything like Tanya and her bunch were, we would not only like to have you on the wagon train but we would keep you as neighbors as well.

  8. AR, that is the nicest thing anyone has said about me. Thank you.

    The cowboy walking the two horses is my son, Michael. The horses are Sandy and Sage. They are one of our draft horse teams. They are also in a picture a little further down.

    The picture just below the one with Michael and Sandy and Sage in it, is a picture of our crew and family. We sure had a great crew this year. Back row: Garrett Snow, Jessica Warburton, Michael Warburton, Cindy Warburton, myself, Marissa Kunz, Camille Webster and Nathan Webster.
    Front row: Carrie Baker, Celest Johnson, Treven Warburton, Brenden Warburton, Kathy Oman, Jordan Warburton and Buddy, our camp dog.

  9. Howdy, Jeff! Thanks for naming everybody. I agree with AR, the sleigh pixtures are just gorgeous. Puts me in the holiday mood. Well, I’ll be back later. I’ve got some pages to write. oxox

  10. Tanya, dang I missed the live stuff with Jeff. I can tell you the real trip and experience for folks who love the outdoors, cannot be beat. Jeff and the “crew” are the type of friends you make that make vacations memorable and allow us to spread the word how blessed we are to enjoy such an experience. Great job Tanya!

  11. Thanks for an interesting blog, Jeff. My husband and I often talk about heading up your way. If we do, you’ll have some new folks to unload off the bus!

    You sure make both the Wagon Train and the Elk adventure sound pretty darn good!

  12. Jeff, you have certainly led an interesting life–and the way Tanya described her time with you all just made me want to pack up and come out there! LOL It looks wonderful, and maybe sometime I will be able to talk my husband into it and we’ll join you. What a great love story you and Cindy share! Now that’s the stuff BOOKS are made of! Thanks so much for coming by and telling us all about your life and your business. And Tanya, thank you so much for a wonderful interview!

  13. Really interesting adventure you have there, pardner! one I would like to go on sometime.
    I am familiar with Jackson Hole in the wintertime since I have skied there and think it would be even prettier in the summer and fall.
    I have one question
    Who does the cooking and who decides on the menu?

  14. Hello to both Tims from all of us on the wagon train.

    Joye, we have two cooks who take care of and prepare the food for us on the trip. This year it was Carrie Baker and Celest Johnson. They did an outstanding job. They made it look easy.

    Chris, Audra, Cindy and I decide on the menu so everything is ready for you when you go with us.

  15. Jeff

    I admire the things that you do. If I could have dinner with any western legends it would have to be Gernomino and of course Crazy Horse

    I would love to come and and visit and do some of the exciting things that you have done. I love all the photos but the ones that catch my eye the most is the one with the Shoshoni Chief and the one with the mountains with the wagons and the one with the young handsome gentleman walking the horses

    Thanks Jeff for being apart of nature

    Walk in harmony

  16. What a grand way to live! Thanks, Jeff, for sharing your stories with us. You have made us all so wish- ful of having such a life!!

    Pat Cochran

  17. I enjoy reading westerns and really enjoyed this interview with wagonmaster Jeff Warburton, a real-life cowboy. I am glad to know that cowboys are still around, especially with the economy so bad now. My father raised cattle in North Carolina until he passed away 45 years ago. I read all of Louis L’Amour books until he died and he is the legend that I would have loved to meet.

  18. Amazing pictures and a great interview. I really enjoyed reading it. One of my husband’s favorite memories was talking to Geromino’s grandson–amazing. We’d really like to visit Jackson Hole one day.


  19. I’ve looked forward to this since you first blogged about your incredible trip, Tanya. This is certainly on my bucket list of things to do one day!!! So glad someone is keeping alive this tradition of the Old West.

  20. Thanks for dropping by Jeff. I really enjoyed reading about something that I am sure my husband and I would enjoy doing someday!

  21. Jeff- your story about how you and Cindy got together is what romance novels are made of – the push and pull of a relationship! Loved hearing about it. My favorite sentence in the whole interview — I always wanted to be a cowboy.
    Now that’s inspiration!

  22. hi Jeff! Just checking in. Sound slike you’re enjoying your stay in Wildflower Junction.

    Jeff and the crew gave all the “cityslickers” appropriate nicknames at our last breakfast. My hubby was “Too Tall Tim” and I was crowned “Takin-it-all-in Tanya” because of all the photos I took for us here at Petticoats and Pistols. Ah, I miss it. oxoxxo Hugs to Cindy and the kids! oxoxo

    Ps. I totally agree with Charlene about you and Cindy…

  23. What an interesting guy Jeff is! I just love Jackson Hole. Would love to take this wagon train adventure sometime. Thanks for another fascinating post, Tanya!

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