Jack Robert Gage was born in McCook, Nebraska on January 13, 1899, the only child of Dr. and Mrs. Will Vernon Gage. At the time of Gage’s birth, his father was serving as a physician for the Chicago & North Western Railway, which was building a railroad through central Wyoming. The Gages lived in a boxcar, so when the time of Jack’s birth drew near his mother went to stay with her parents in Nebraska. Jack later joked he would rather have been born in a boxcar.
The future governor was educated in Worland and graduated from high school in 1917. He worked as a fireman for the Union Pacific Railroad while in school. Gage served with the Army Coast Artillery Corps during World War I, but the war ended before he could be sent overseas. After the war, he attended the University of Wyoming. He married Leona “Buddy” Switzer in 1924 in Laramie. They had two sons, Jack R. Gage, Jr., and Dick C. Gage.
Gage began a teaching career in Torrington, but was only there a short time before relocating to Gillette, where he taught vocational agriculture. A teaching stint in Sheridan followed. Liberally employing humor in his campaign, Gage was elected Superintendent of Public Instruction in 1934, becoming the first University of Wyoming graduate to hold a state office. He was defeated in his bid for a second term. He was appointed postmaster of Sheridan in 1942 and served in that capacity for 17 years.
During World War II, eldest son Jack Jr., who had recently completed a welding class, wanted to earn some of the higher wages available to workers in the defense industry. In 1943, after his junior year in high school, he and a friend decided to go to Vancouver, WA, where Leona’s brother was a welder at the Kaiser Shipyard. Not wanting the two very young men to travel by themselves to the west coast, Leona Gage decided to go with them and also seek temporary employment for the summer. She found work as an electrician’s helper working on new ships badly needed for the war effort.
The elder Jack left his postmaster job after he was elected to the office of Wyoming Secretary of State in 1958, defeating Everett Copenhaver by a mere 847 votes. When U.S. Senator Edwin Keith Thomson died in office, Governor J.J. Hickey resigned his position and was appointed to fill the Senate seat. Gage became acting governor on January 2, 1961 and finished the term. Although Gage was a Democrat, his conservative approach to government and spending seemed more in line with Republican philosophy. He supported states’ rights and fiscal restraint. In the 1962 election, he was defeated in his bid to remain the state’s chief executive officer by Clifford Hansen of Jackson Hole.
Gage was a man of many interests. He was active in numerous civic organizations, including Rotary. He served as District Governor of Rotary and gave many speeches to its members. He delivered many presentations across the state on Wyoming’s early history and about his visits to the Soviet Union, in 1957, and Australia, in 1964. He also authored several books about Wyoming, including the popular Tensleep and No Rest, which mixes fact and fiction about the Spring Creek Raid. Known for his wit, he earned the nickname “Will Rogers of the Rockies,” after the famed humorist.
Gage died on March 14, 1970 in Cheyenne. In tribute, Wyoming State Tribune publisher Robert S. McCraken said “Jack Gage was one of the most colorful leaders Wyoming has produced. He was loved by all and will be missed in every part of the state.”
Governor Gage’s records in the Wyoming State Archives include an extensive collection of subject files on state agencies and other topics, plus appointment records.
— Curtis Greubel, Wyoming State Imaging Center Supervisor