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Zembo Ranch

Page history last edited by Clint Gilchrist 8 years, 11 months ago

History of the Zembo Ranch

By Judi Myers, 2009


In the early 1900s, brothers Paul and John Zembo came from Czechoslovakia to Connecticut to Wyoming and lived 26 miles north of Rock Springs where they hand-dug a water well. In 2009 John (Paul's son) recalled, "It was 225 feet deep and 8 foot 'round. Used 55 gallon barrels to get the dirt out of there with horses pulling. The water come in fast and they had a hard time getting out. Had to leave some of their tools at the bottom." The Wells served as a watering hole for freighters, travelers and cattle going to and from the commercial center & railroad in Rock Springs. Paul and John sold The Wells sometime between 1905 and 1913. Some articles report that it was sold in 1905 and that Anna and George were born there. Paul wasn't married until 1908, Anna was born in 1910 and George in 1912, so a later date seems more realistic. John said The Wells is located about 1 mile east of Highway 191, but that it would be hard to find or get to now since all the culverts have been taken out.


Paul, Sr spent some time back in Connecticut where he and Katherine were married. Both Paul and his brother John filed for homesteads in 29N/104W where the Arambel's Midland Ranch is now located. During this time they built many reservoirs in the area of the Big Sandy River. John (Paul's son) added, "Dad built the reservoir you can see on the road to Leckie. Dad and (Uncle) John had 18 bands of sheep and ran 'em clear to Temple Peak. Dad and Vint Faler put in the first telephone posts in the Big Sandy country. When Dad sold The Wells, (Uncle) John went to Missouri and got married. He had 2 daughters."


In 1914 Paul bought the Ole Hande ranch on Muddy Creek and Ole's "A Plus" brand for $5000. It became the core of the Zembo Ranch. Paul had a cabin on the 29N/104W land and moved it to add to Ole's cabin. This made the ranch house T-shaped, with Ole's homestead becoming the kitchen. John said Ole's cabin had an 'adobe', mud roof like the chicken coop and his dad got busy and put a real roof on the house. Over the years Paul homesteaded adjacent land until the ranch grew to 880 acres. George homesteaded in Section 20 to the north of Paul and that now belongs to Elsie Zembo Wilde, Paul, Jr & John's sister. The Lander Cutoff of the Oregon Trail, built in 1858, runs through southwestern corner of the ranch. Elsie said, "Momma wanted to get a place in Eden or Farson, but Dad said, 'I'm not buying property there. Ya can't make a living there - even a jack rabbit carries his own lunch!' John remembered that his dad didn't get Ole paid off until after WWI.


It was a tough life. Elsie said 'George worked his butt off. So did John." John said, "I never had no easy life. Dad was mean with us kids." Elsie added, "They were from the old country. That's how it was. One day the boys didn't want to go to work and hid in the closet. Dad went for the horses and when he came back in the boys wouldn't budge, so he beat momma. I told the boys to get out of there. 'Momma's gettin' a beating!'


"When I was 14 or 15 I wanted to have ice cream. I asked Paul if he'd go chop some ice. He said no. Then I asked John, but he wouldn't get it either. I went out and chopped the ice myself. Then I only made a little bit of ice cream for myself. But I got out-foxed. A man came over on horseback and they invited him to supper. Paul said to him, 'and we have ice cream for dessert'. So, I had to share. We all got just a little taste."


John, Paul and George slept in the bunkhouse when they were little. It later became George's cabin when his deafness caused him to be a loner. Elsie remembered when she and John used to race across one of the barn roofs. She said, "He always beat me. So, one time I jumped. I didn't come to for 3 or 4 minutes."


All the Zembo children attended the Emerson School, which is on the Zembo property. They didn't have snowshoes or a horse, just a sled. Elsie said, "We went 3 miles across the meadow. We packed down a trail, but the snow was up to my hips. I don't know how the folks let us go when it was 50 below. We were young." She remembers up to 32 children attending school there at one time. The school hosted many dances including a Hard Times dance in 1924 that involved at midnight lunch and didn't break up until 4am. George Ditton, Harold Faler and Edna Jensen Georgis remember dances there.


When Margaret was in 7th or 8th grade in the early 1940s the Emerson School closed and she went to Silver Creek School. Perhaps there were not enough students. It reopened later and then closed for good in 1958.


Margaret was the only Zembo child to complete high school. She and her mother moved to Rock Springs so she could finish. Elsie said, "Margaret graduated from high school in May and Momma died in July (1947). Margaret didn't have her long." Sometime in the 1960s or 70s, Margaret and her husband, Lawrence, fixed up the Emerson Schoolhouse. There was no door or windows and the horses had been using it. Margaret and her husband put in windows, a door, a new floor and interior walls. Elsie said, "They got it all in order. They wanted to buy it, but Paul wouldn't sell. He would've bought more land if he could have. In his mind anyone with land was important. So, he wouldn't sell it."


Edna Jensen Georgis said that Otto & Florence Jensen's son, John, (born 1944) attended Emerson School in the mid to late 1950s. John had strep throat but his mother didn't want him to miss school, so she had the black, leather, chaise lounge that had belonged to Otto's parents moved to the schoolhouse for John to lie on if he felt ill.


During WWII all 3 sons were drafted. George was called up twice and Elsie added, "It about drove him crazy. Who was going to help dad on the ranch?" However, George was deaf and soon returned to the ranch. Paul saw action in the Pacific. John said, "I was in the battle zone, 331 Replacement. I was in England, France, Belgium, Germany. Had to go through the channel to get to Normandy Beach. Rode the Queen Mary. Took 9 days to get back to the US." Elsie added, "John got a bullet. We didn't hear from John or Paul for months. Dad said, 'They're dead.' Momma said, 'No, they're not'! She had their picture on the shelf and she just kept praying.'


Over the years all of the Zembos enjoyed visiting the ranch. Elsie remembers that when she'd visited she always scrubbed out the tea pots and pans. One time relatives from back east visited. Elsie said, "They went home with buckets of arrowheads. They found them in the fields all the way to the Speedway and along the creek clear to the Big Sandy post office. There was a battle out in the meadow between the house and Muddy Creek. We made a ditch so the horses wouldn't mire down coming across and up come guns, bullets and shells. They were all in pretty good condition, but somebody needed an operation. We didn't have the money, so Dad gave Dr. Lauzer all the guns to pay for it. We found a soldier's belt buckle. It's real. I still have it somewhere.


Although the ranch got electricity in the late 1960s, they never had indoor plumbing. Outdoor pumps for water and an outhouse were still being used when Paul & John moved to a nursing home in Rock Springs in 2007. When Paul, Jr and John used to come to town, they always shaved and got dressed up. Mary Lankford remembers them coming for groceries every Thursday and stopping at her and Dave's station for a sandwich for lunch. "They always wore brand new blue jeans, never washed, when they came to town. How stiff those jeans were!"


Lynn Thomas remembers the Zembo brothers as quiet and 'eccentric'. "Paul was short and John was tall. Paul felt like he had to be the boss guy. He did all the talking. Maybe because John couldn't hear. They'd go to town to do the shopping and Paul directed everything. I nearly fainted when I went in their house. There were piles of magazines and newspapers clear to the ceiling, 3 or 4 piled deep all around the walls, so you sat out in the middle. The stacks went around the windows. There were no curtains, no decorating, nothing homey. It smelled like a closed up place - I suppose from the garbage and moldy newspapers and not having any bathroom. When I was there, it had been a long time since either brother could work. John had a truck that was so old there was no paint left on it."


Joe Thomas added, "John did all the farm work and Paul did the cooking. They had sheep years ago, but it was a cattle ranch, as far as I know. They had 70 or 80 cows. The neighbors helped them when they were older. John was easy to get along with. If Paul didn't like someone he got on 'em'."


Bette Hagenstein enjoyed Paul Zembo's visits to town. She said, "I worked at Falers then and Paul would come in and he kept us in stitches with all his stories. He had us laughing on the floor. He never quit." Paul Hagenstein quietly added, "He liked to listen to himself."


Edna Jensen Georgis grew up next door to the Zembo ranch. She said, "They were wonderful neighbors. They were workers. Elsie and I were friends and I went to school with Johnny. Emerson School had 8 grades. 'Paulie' was older." Sometime the brothers would go to Rock Springs. Rusty Berta saw them there once and asked, "What are you in town for?" They answered, "Just looking for girls".


Helena Linn has interviewed the Zembo family several times and become friends with each of them. She said, "They are wonderful people and I'm very fond of all of them."


In 1985 the county was trying to secure a road easement on the Zembo property. The road had been in existence for 50 years and in 1937 the county had paid Paul Zembo, Sr $50.00 for the easement, but the transaction had not been recorded. John and Paul wanted 7' posts in trade. The county offered 6 and a half foot posts. The brothers left the meeting with Paul saying, "Oh, hell, let's think it over." Two weeks later the commissioners withdrew their offer and took the easement by 'adverse possession' by a process known as Quiet Title Action. The Zembos were left with nothing.


In 1991 George, John and Paul Zembo were honored by the Green River Valley Cattlemen's Association and became Lifetime Members. All three remained bachelors. Anna Zembo Zupence Radosevich had no children. Kathryn Zembo Kozola had 2 boys (Leo & Ken in Casper) and a daughter Pat (Dave Thomas). Kathryn has 6 great-grandchildren, and lives in Rock Springs (2009). Elsie Zembo Wilde had no children & lives in Rock Springs, WY (2009). Her husband Tom died in 1995. Margaret Zembo Gillespie had been a widow for over 30 years and has 2 children, Charlie who lives in Rock Springs, and Jonnie Lee who lives in Denver. Charlie's children are Joseph and Amelia.


In 2009 Jud, Claire and Harold Faler purchased the Zembo Ranch and began the laborious process of sorting household goods & ranch equipment and cleaning and restoring all of the buildings. Their dream is to turn the ranch into a memorial to a family who ranched here for 100 years. Falers will leave it to their children and grandchildren as a special piece of Sublette County history.


John Zembo interview at his Rock Springs nursing home, Sept. 11, 2009.

Elsie Zembo Wilde interview in Rock Springs on Sept 11, 2009.

Mary Lankford interview 8-11-09.

Lynn and Joe Thomas interview 8-09-09.

Bette and Paul Hagenstein interview 8-10-09.

Rusty Berta and Edna Georgis interview 8-10-09.
Helena Linn interview 9-11-09.


Zembo Ranch Chronology

  • Location: 256 Eastfork Big Sandy Co Rd 23-133, along Muddy Creek, 880 Acres.
  • 1850s - Lander Cut-off of Oregon Trail cuts through what will become the Zembo Ranch.
  • 1882 - Paul Zembo, Sr born in Ragyoer, Czechoslovakia.
  • 1888 - Catherine* Benko born in Poprad, Czechoslovakia
  • 1901 - Paul Zembo came to US
  • 1902 - Paul arrives in Rock Springs & with brother John dug 225 ft deep well by hand 26 miles N of RS.
  • 1905 - Paul & John sold The Wells. This date is probably wrong if Anna and George were born at The Wells.
  • 1905 - Paul & John homesteaded in 29N/104W (Arambel's Midland Ranch in 2009).
  • 1908 - Paul married Katheryn Benko. They wed in Danbury, Conn & were there a year or 2.
  • 1908 - Ole Hande applied for homestead land on Muddy Creek in 31N/106W
  • 1910s - Paul & John build several reservoirs in the Big Sandy area.
  • 1910 - Anna (Annie) was born to Paul & Katie. Anna became Mrs. John Zupence & later Mrs. Frank Radosevich.
  • 1912 - George was born to Paul & Katie. Anna and George were born at The Wells.
  • 1914 - Kathryn was born to Paul & Katie in Rock Springs. She became Mrs. Leo Kozola.
  • 1914 - Warranty Deed from Ole O Hande to Paul Zembo (Sr) for 200 acres in Sec 29 of 31/106. For $5000.  Zembos acquired the A+ brand from Ole Hande. Pronounced "A plus". Zembo's homestead cabin from 29N/104W was moved & added to Ole's homestead cabin.
  • 1915 - Approximate date that Emerson School was built on Zembo ranch land.
  • 1916 - US Patent on 80 acres in NW corner of Sec 29/31/106 to Ole Hande.
  • 1914 - Jan 1. Paul, Jr born to Paul, Sr & Katie on the ranch on Muddy Creek.
  • 1918 - Twins, Harry& John, died at birth & were buried on the hill south of ranch. Graves marked by pipes.
  • 1919 - US Patent to Ole Hande on 160 acres in NE, NW & SE quarters of Sec 29/31/106.
  • 1919 - May 23. John born to Paul & Katie on the Muddy Creek Ranch.
  • 1924 - Jack Wilson repaired Emerson Schoolhouse. A Hard Times Dance was held. Crowd left at "four bells".
  • 1925 - Elsie born to Paul & Katie in Rock Springs. She became Mrs. Tom Wilde.
  • 1925 - Warranty Deed on part of Sec 29/31/106 from Paul to Katherine Zembo.
  • 1926 - Paul applied for 480 acres of homestead land in parts of Sec 29,30,31,32 of 3lN/106W
  • 1929 - Margaret born to Paul & Katie in Rock Springs. She became Mrs. Larry Gillespie.
  • 1929 - Paul Zembo marketed his cattle in Omaha in Nov. Anna Zembo married John Zupence.
  • 1931 - US Patent to Paul Zembo, Sr for 480 acres in 3 IN/1 06W (see 1926).
  • 1930s - George took apart & rebuilt an old Model T Ford. He had it running in Al shape.
  • 1937 - County paid $50 to Paul, Sr in exchange for road easement.
  • 1940s - John served in US Army in Europe during WWII as a Corporal in Military Police.
  • 1940s - Paul, Jr served in US Army in the South Pacific during WWIT with artillery.
  • 1940s - The Emerson School closed temporarily, perhaps because of lack of students.
  • 1947 - Mrs. Paul Zembo, Sr died.
  • 1948 - Warranty Deed from Paul Zembo, Sr to Paul, Jr & Yolm in Sec 29/31/106 for $10,000. Warranty Deed from Lawrence Gillespie et ux to Paul Zembo, Jr et al in Sec 29. Warranty Deed from George Zembo to Paul, Jr et al in Sec 29. Warranty Deed from John Zupence et ux to Paul, Jr et al
  • 1958 - Emerson School closed for good. All the Zembo children attended this school on their ranch.
  • 1960s late - Zembo Ranch got electricity. It never had indoor plumbing.
  • 1969 - Paul Zembo, Sr died.
  • 1985 - Zembo Brothers meet with County Commissioners over road easement. Agreement could not be reached. County took possession of the land by adverse possession.
  • 1991 - George, John & Paul, Jr Zembo honored as Lifetime Members of GRV Cattlemen's Association.
  • 1993 - George Zembo died.
  • 2002 - Warranty Deed from Paul, Jr to Rick Morris for NESE and SESE Section 29,31/106.
  • 2007 - Paul Zembo, Jr died.
  • 2009 - Warranty Deed John Zembo et al Personal Rep to Claire A Faler et al trustees Sec 29, 31/106
  • *Elsie Zembo Wilde said her mother's name began as Catherine, then she was called Katie or Kate and the C changed to K spelled variously as Katheryn, Kathryn & Katherine. 

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