A chuckwagon is a time-honored piece of history in the story of the American West. All the cowboys’ nourishment on the trail came as grub hauled and served from that iconic wagon following the cattle. The chuckwagon was the heart and soul of any proper cattle drive.
The Bar J Chuckwagon in Wilson, Wyoming, has been the heart and soul of the community and visitors for 44 years. Carrying on the cowboy tradition of music, song, and storytelling over beans and biscuits, Babe Humphrey and his family have created their legacy. The Bar J treats folks from all walks of life with the western experience. All summer long, seven days a week, they host between 600-700 dinner guests nightly. The cook rings the dinner bell and folks come running for a filling cowboy-style meal and entertainment.
The entertainment is provided by the Bar J Wranglers, founded from scratch by Babe Humphrey in 1977. The band currently consists of Scott and Bryan Humphrey, Tim Hodgson, Donnie Cook, and Danny Rogers. Over the years, Babe has taught them that to truly shine is to share the spotlight as a group and never over-emphasize any one member. Everyone brings something unique and special. Credit is given where credit is due and the member given the most praise is God. Scott shares that, “when you visit the ranch here, maybe somewhere along the line you’ll see a light. It comes from the light that we have within us that we try to shine to the world to say there’s a greater, stronger power out there and He’s the one controlling what we do here.” Babe agrees, saying, “I give Him [God] all the credit in starting the Bar J…He’s the one that actually built this. We were kind of an instrument of his choosing because we plant seeds.”
This being said, they are respectful and sensitive to the feelings of all religious outlooks and beliefs. As Scott describes, they are careful to not “bang a religious hammer over peoples’ heads.” Nor is their stage used as a “political soapbox.” In each performance, one spiritual song is embedded amidst western ballads, family-friendly comic relief, and original cultural content. He continues, “We want to have people laughing. We want to uplift people. We want them to go home knowing they were able to come forget their cares, have a good clean wholesome family show and entertainment and go home feeling better because there’s not a lot of that in the world right now. The goal of our show is to take people back.” As an added new verse to an old Sons’ of the Pioneers song says, “Leave your cares behind, sit back and unwind, spending time with the ol’ Bar J.” They use Western music as the catalyst to take people there.
Speaking of ‘taking people back,’ over 25 years ago in Heber Valley, Tom Whitaker was musing how best to grow what began as a small gathering of cowboy poets into a notable event. Lindsay Tanner was assisting Tom in this dream and brought a gem of an idea from his brother, Tim Tanner. Tim had been working at Bar J Chuckwagon that summer and mentioned they would be the ticket to raise the Cowboy Poetry Festival to a new level. He was right. When the Bar J Wranglers came to town, so did crowds from all around. The band filled the house again and again and has come back almost every year since, bringing fans of all ages.
The ‘Wranglers’ were a real treasure and more events were created around them. The band became a regular headliner in the valley. Old West shows were orchestrated for both the World Cup and the 2002 Winter Olympics. It’s well known that winter weather is not gentle in Heber thus the fingers were cut from gloves so the fiddle could be played in -10 degree temperatures. Instruments don’t particularly love cold and had to be tuned time and again but it was a tremendous hit and one of the great memories of their career. People from all around the world encountered the Americana experience of hats, boots, and the Wild West with the help of The Bar J. Wranglers, and the band discovered a strong love and admiration for their Utah audiences.
When asked about a highlight of Bar J’s experiences in Heber, it was agreed that a favorite gem is the creation of the non-denominational Sunday morning service. Babe described it as “off-the-cuff.” The service began small and has grown to be a favorite venue of the festival. It has always been used to say thanks and to worship God regardless of beliefs or religious affiliation. The band doesn’t preach; they just “let the music speak the message.” Other musicians have joined them in honoring a higher power through the music they sing and the way of life they lead.
The past 44 years have been good to these cowboy musicians and their little chuckwagon. With minds full of memories and hearts full of songs the time has come for them to clean their cast iron pots and hang up their spurs. Join the band in one of their last performances at the Heber Valley Western Music and Cowboy Poetry Gathering this October. There are new adventures to come on each of their horizons, but collectively, The Bar J Wranglers and their blessed chuckwagon will continue together only as precious memories in the hearts of the band, the Humphrey family, and their fans. They have lived the American Dream. As Scott expressed, they have been “delighted to exercise hospitality.” Babe had a vision to share his Western music and lifestyle. It manifested in a beautiful reality. Scott spoke from the heart about their experience, “Be faithful and persistent to the good things — the fruit that comes from that is something you never could have dreamed of.”
SEE ‘EM ONE LAST TIME FOLKS!
The Bar J Wranglers Will Be Performing One Last Time At This Year’s Heber Valley Western Music & Cowboy Poetry Gathering, October