1865 – Joyce Livestock Company* – Sinker Creek
First Generation Owner: Mathew, Sr. & Mary Joyce
Current Owner: Paul Nettleton
Matthew Joyce was born in Ireland in 1830. As a young man, he left his troubled homeland, and the hardships of the potato famine behind him to come to America through New York. He located in Iowa on the Mississippi River, where he met and married Irish Mary Fahy in 1856. Matthew farmed, traded in livestock and produce, as well as shipping his merchandise to New Orleans by barge down the Mississippi River. During the turbulent days of the Civil War, shipping became hazardous and the Joyces decided to head west, where gold had been discovered and new lands were being settled. In the early 1860’s, they took their four small children, and joined a wagon train heading west in the spring. They briefly took up a homestead on the Humbolt River near Lovelock, Nevada where he raised hay for the stock of the stage line. Early in 1865, news of the gold strike in the Owyhee Mountains in Idaho reached the Joyces, so since they had already been burned out three times by the Indians, they joined a wagon train headed to Ruby City, with a number of wagons, oxen, cattle and a Thoroughbred stallion.
The Joyces reached Ruby City in May of 1865 and settled a few miles below town, at the head of Reynolds Creek, where they raised dual-purpose cattle and pigs, and sold milk, butter, beef and pork to the miners and townspeople. Matthew did other jobs to supplement their income, including making charcoal and sulfur matches for the mines and working in the butcher shop. He loved good horses and always bought well-bred stallions for his herd sires. At one time, he had traded 150 steers for a Hamiltonian stallion. Mr. Joyce also traded horses, oxen, and milk cows to other settlers who came through the country on the Oregon Trail, as their animals were often worn out by the time they reached his area. He would rest the animals for a season and trade them to other settlers.
Matthew settled his family on Sinker Creek, near Murphy, Idaho, where he raised feed for his livestock. Their house was built like a fort, with the upper part extending out over the lower and a stockade fence was built all around for protection. It was located near the spot where the Indians held their council meetings, but they had no problems until the Bannock War. Their children often played with the Indian children, and Joyce had Indians that worked for him on the ranch. Just before the Bannock War broke out, a squaw sent the Joyce children home when they came to play. The family, like other neighbors in the area, fled to Silver City for safety, and although many white settlements were burned during the rampage, the Joyce homestead was not violated.
For many years, Matthew would make the long trip to Winnemucca, Nevada to buy supplies for the coming year. Over the years, the Joyces lost several houses to fires and floods, but eventually, they established their ranch headquarters and erected barns, a blacksmith shop and bunk house, as well as planting an orchard and large garden to provide for the mining towns. Some of these buildings are still in use on the ranch today. His daughters milked 60 Durham cows a day to provide the miners with dairy products. The Joyce sons and some of his daughters took up homesteads as soon as they came of age. When livestock rustling became common, Mr. Joyce worked with several other stockmen to organize the Owyhee Cattle and Horse Growers Association for their mutual protection. The organization later became known as the Owyhee Cattlemen’s Association. The “M J” iron was one of the first recorded brands in the Owyhee Country, and is still in use on the Joyce Ranch near Murphy by Matthew’s great-grandson, Paul Nettleton and his son Chad, a century and a half after it was first recorded.
While driving a wagon home from Silver City, Matthew Joyce was fatally injured when the horses ran away on Mormon Hill on the Scotch Bob road beyond New York Summit. He passed away September 5, 1893, leaving behind his wife, Mary, who survived him until 1905, and his legacy of ten children: John, who was once Sheriff in Silver City; Bridgett, Mary, who married Frank Swisher and raised 12 children in the Jordan Valley area; Matthew, who took over the family ranch; Hannah, Maggie, who married Villo Nettleton and raised five children—Charley, Hubert, Emeline, Jim, and Joe in the Owyhee Mountains and on the family ranch; Annie and James, who both worked on the family ranch; Robert, and Kate, who married Joe Baxter of Jordan Valley and raised 6 children on a Joyce ranch in the Bruneau area.
Matthew Joyce, Sr. was a pleasant and witty man who loved to tell–in all seriousness–about the “Will o’ the Wisp” and the “Little People” of Ireland. He was intelligent, inventive and resourceful, as pioneers had to be to survive in those times. Because of his Irish-Catholic heritage, Matthew Joyce was not allowed to learn to read or write when he was young, but nevertheless was a very astute business man, and his word was as good as the “X” he placed as a mark on his legal documents. He was considered very progressive in his thinking for the times, as he left his estate divided equally among his ten children. The Joyces lived to see Owyhee County settled and their family prospering. They were buried at the Catholic cemetery at Wagontown (near DeLamar, Idaho). None of the four Joyce sons married, and the family name is carried on only on the Joyce Ranch in Murphy, Idaho and in the memories of the old timers.
After Matthew’s death in 1893, his sons, Matt and Jim, along with his daughters, Annie and Maggie, and her husband, Villo continued on with the Joyce Ranch for many years. Matt and Jim both passed away in 1935, and Annie followed a year later. Maggie’s son, Hubert took over the operation of the ranch, with help from his brothers and sister in the early years. Hubert was very successful in guiding the Joyce Ranch through some very hard financial times that the country was facing at the time, an abundance of horses that no longer had a market, a devastating flood that destroyed a home on the ranch, as well as causing costly damage to the meadows that had been carefully cleared and developed. Hubert married very late in life. His wife, Helen took over the ranch books from his sister, Emeline. Many local cowboys remember the Joyce Ranch with great fondness, as they worked for Hubert over the years.
Hubert and Helen had two children, Mary (O’Malley) and Paul, and raised them on the ranch. As soon as Paul completed college, he took over the operation of the Joyce Ranch, where he later raised his family. While Matthew faced fires, floods, and Indian uprisings, his children faced water fights, droughts, the Taylor Grazing Act (later known as the BLM) and the bottom falling out of the horse market after the government phased out the Army Remount program—leaving them with thousands of horses with nowhere to sell them. Hubert faced his share of trials, with removing the horses, restoring the range, fighting for water rights, dealing with the flood from the broken dam above the ranch, and working with the BLM on range issues.
By the time the ranch passed on to Paul, the challenges that all ranchers face had not changed as much as you would think in the 150 years since Matthew Joyce first came from Ireland to Idaho, to seek an opportunity for a better life for his family. Paul has battled with the BLM for grazing rights, continued the age old fight to protect water rights on the ranch, fought range fires, Western Watershed, and drought to be able to pass this dream on to his son, in hopes that Chad and his young family will one day be able to continue the legacy of the Joyce Ranch in Owyhee County. The tenacity of the Nettleton family on behalf of the Joyce Ranch should give hope to all ranchers who spend a lifetime holding onto the land and livestock that they love. –Compiled by Ann Black Rutan, 2015, with credit to Helen Nettleton