James Don “J.D.” Gray was born November 23, 1931, at home in southern San Saba County to a ranching family.
The Gray family migration in America came via Virginia to Tennessee to Rusk County, Texas, to Falls and Bell counties. In Falls and Bell counties, they raised horses and cattle on the open range. In 1860, members of the Gray clan brought 1,000 head of cattle to land south and west of Cherokee near the Llano County line. Here they experienced all the hardships of pioneer life, including continual skirmishes with Indians. When Indian depredations slowed down, they brought their considerable herd of horses form Bell County to Cherokee. In 1868, they drove 1,700 head of Longhorn cattle to Fort Sumner, New Mexico.
J.D. Gray was born to be a cowboy, and that’s what he was.
He spent his early years taking care of cattle, shoeing horses, and running sheep and goats on the family ranch. J.D. liked being in the saddle and often day-worked with other area ranchers. He worked for and with many local ranchers and their cowmen. Mack Yates, Gordon Donop, Malcolm Otto, Kenneth Boultinghouse, and Flay Bird were just a few of the men he rode beside. For many years, he took care of Uncle Will Gray’s T-Stripe Ranch near Valley Spring. In 1982, J.D. became foreman of the Ona Beams Ranch in Llano County, which is part of the old Stribling family land.
Jimmy Don never pretended to be anyone other than the cowman he was. He loved horse racing and the pari-mutuel track and trying to pick the winners. Heck, Terry Wooten even named a racehorse after him! Matter of fact, he was a pretty fast guy himself back in the day — he enjoyed some great hunts in Texas and Colorado. J.D. was known for being a good shot and the fastest man around to field dress a deer. He had great fun fishing with his cousin Frank Lange in Port O’Connor. He loved the fishing lease on the Pecos River back in the ’70s.
On the very day he suffered a stroke and heart attack, J.D. had been out to the Beams Ranch to check on the cattle. Then 87, he still recognized every individual cow and bull by sight and enjoyed, above all things, his time in the country. J.D. dealt with every situation imaginable when it came to running a ranch. During the drought of 2011, J.D., at the age of 80, burned pear every day to get the Beam’s herd through it. He was an amazing guy who rarely missed a day checking on and caring for cattle. He lived the life he was born and bred for and was a well-deserved recipient of the Hill Country Livestock Raisers Association’s Cowboy of the Year in May 2012.
Life was good to J.D. He had two loving wives, one son, and three daughters. They gave him a total of seven grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. He was loved and respected by his family and his friends. Jimmy Don passed away peacefully at home. We will miss him.
A graveside service will be held Sunday, February 24, at Gray Cemetery in Cherokee at 2 p.m. with Michal Randolph officiating.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Gray Cemetery.
Funeral arrangements by Waldrope-Hatfield-Hawthorne Funeral Home, 307 E. Sandstone in Llano, (325) 247-4300. Condolences may be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.