Humor Wins the Day: Jack R. Gage

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.  

Jack R. Gage (WSA Sub Neg 23633A)

Jack R. Gage
(WSA Sub Neg 23633A)

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 with his wife, Buddy, and their sons Jack Jr. and Dick. (WSA Supreme Court Time Capsule Collection P2009-4/24)

Gage with his wife, Buddy, and their sons Jack Jr. and Dick.
(WSA Supreme Court Time Capsule Collection P2009-4/24)

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.

Gage was elected Superintendent of Public Instruction as a part of the 1935 Democrats' sweep. This was the first and only time in Wyoming history that the state's five elected offices were held by the Democratic Party. L-R: Supreme Court Justice William Riner, Treasurer J. Kirk Baldwin, Secretary of State Lester Hunt, Governor Leslie Miller, Superintendent Gage, and

Gage was elected Superintendent of Public Instruction as a part of the 1935 Democrats’ sweep. This was the first and only time in Wyoming history that the state’s five elected offices were held by the Democratic Party. L-R: Supreme Court Justice William Riner, Treasurer J. Kirk Baldwin, Secretary of State Lester Hunt, Governor Leslie Miller, Superintendent Gage, and

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.

Gage giving his State of the State speech in front of the state legislature as acting governor in 1961. (WSA Brammar Neg 5401)

Gage giving his State of the State speech in front of the state legislature as acting governor in 1961.
(WSA Brammar Neg 5401)

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 was a prolific writer, authoring many books about his beloved Wyoming, including Is A Pack of Lies/Ain't A Pack of Lies about the Johnson County War and a geography text book for 5th - 8th grades.

Gage was a prolific writer, authoring many books about his beloved Wyoming, including the reversable Is A Pack of Lies/Ain’t A Pack of Lies about the Johnson County War and a geography text book for 5th – 8th grades.


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.”  

Jack and Buddy Gage riding in the Cheyenne Frontier Days Parade, 1960s (Brammar Neg 1157)

Jack and Buddy Gage riding in the Cheyenne Frontier Days Parade, 1960s
(Brammar Neg 1157)

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

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Wyoming Governors

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s