Faces in Agriculture

Faces in Agriculture’ shared the following story of Jack Wilson, respected cattleman and patriarch of Wilson Cattle Co. and Beef Northwest Feeders in North Powder, Oregon.

Wilson and wife, Meredith, have dedicated their career to the livestock industry and to eastern Oregon. He has seen the livestock business model evolve and change throughout the duration of his lifetime.

Wilson’s roots are in North Powder where his grandfather and great uncle homesteaded in 1889. His father, after returning from WWI, began steering the ranch toward a stocker-yearling cattle program. Most of the neighboring ranchers operated cow-calf operations at that time.

A picture on the wall in his office shows young Jack showing a Hereford steer at the Pacific International Livestock Exposition in 1944. He purchased the handsome show steer from the Lightning Creek Ranch, owned by actor Walter Brennan, in Joseph, Oregon. The steer was awarded Grand Champion and sold for $1.50/lb to the Imperial Hotel. The Imperial Hotel, for many years, was where many eastern Oregon ranchers congregate when they were in Portland.

Wilson loved football in high school and had some speed. After graduating from North Powder he attended Oregon State College and was a halfback- linebacker on the freshman football team. Wilson injured his knee his freshman year and the Willamette coach encouraged him to transfer and play football for him. As luck would have it, he hurt his knee again early in the next season and never returned to the playing field but ended up graduating from Willamette.

After considering continuing on to law school, Wilson went home to the ranch and began to realize that he loved the ranching lifestyle. Eventually, Jack and brother, Jim, formed a partnership, Wilson Cattle Company, and continued the stocker-yearling business. Later, they brought their sons John and Jim into the expanding cattle business.

Wilson’s operated a small 1200 head feedlot marketing fat cattle. He reminisced about herding 30 fat steers on horseback during the winter from their feedlot through the town of North Powder and delivering them to the train station. The cattle would be loaded on a cattle car and shipped to Portland Stockyards via rail where they would be consigned for sale by a commission company.

They enlarged their cattle feeding venture and fed cattle at various PNW custom feedlots in the 1960’s-1970’s. They expanded their cattle backgrounding program in the 1970’s by shipping calves to California to pasture during the winter. Wilson remembers contracting to sell 14,000 head of yearlings, Gottsch Cattle Company in Kansas, in the 1970’s.

Always looking for opportunities, Beef Northwest Feeders was formed in 1991 under the ownership and leadership of son, John and nephew, Jim Wilson. BNF has since expanded feedlot operations to Boardman, Quincy, and Hermiston with a one-time capacity of 95,000 head. They have pioneered new management and marketing opportunities with Country Natural Beef and Certified Angus Beef programs.

Wilson enjoyed the opportunity of serving on the board of directors for the First National Bank of Oregon (that eventually changed their name to First Interstate Bank of Oregon.) He served in that capacity for 19 years and developed many relationships.

Wilson appreciates red wine and saw the increasing popularity of the growing wine business. A joint venture with 5 investors began manufacturing synthetic wine corks. There was a disease outbreak in the cork trees in the 1980’s and the timing was right for a competitor. Wilson enjoyed marketing and associating with people in the wine business. They eventually sold the business after nine years.

Jack has thoroughly enjoyed his local civic engagement serving on the Leo Adler Foundation board of directors. The foundation has given over $20 million to scholarships and $12 million to community projects in Baker County and North Powder.

Jack comments that his wife, Meredith, has been his partner in life and in success over the years. They have been blessed with four children, John, Kim, Nancy, Julie. The three daughters rode horses and worked cattle during the summer months. They were good help and ‘the best cowboys” said Wilson. Wilson’s have six grandchildren to take pleasure in as well. John’s son, Zach (5th generation), has recently come back to the family business.

I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity of sharing a few hours with Jack Wilson’s and passing on his story with readers of AGRI-TIMES NW. He has been a visionary leader in the livestock industry and an idol of mine for many years.