BARTLESVILLE - To drag John Hughes off the ranch he built would've taken more than wild horses.

More even than the some 2,000 right there at hand.

Home to a longtime cattle operation and, for the last 25 years, a wild horse refuge, the 12,000-acre Hughes Ranch south of Bartlesville has been in the Hughes family since 1938.

Originally a much smaller 1,400 acres when his father bought it, the ranch prospered and expanded under Hughes' loving oversight.

He continued to run daily operations, in fact, even while battling cancer the last two years.

"He was still giving tours of the ranch about twice a week," said his son-in-law, Rob Hudson.

He said Hughes always welcomed visitors, whether they were organized groups or just individuals stopping by.

No one could tell the story of Hughes Ranch like the man who built it.

"He was a great storyteller and had an incredible memory," Hudson said. "Listening to him was just fascinating. Every time you heard him you learned things you didn't know."

John Frederick Hughes, a noted beef industry expert and pioneer and leader with agriculture organizations on state and national levels, died Wednesday at his ranch home. He was 80.

A service is set for 2 p.m. Monday at First Baptist Church in Bartlesville. Arnold Moore & Neekamp Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.

A recipient of many awards and honors over the years, Hughes was presented a couple of his biggest recently.

In April, the veteran rancher was honored with the Governor's Outstanding Achievement Award in Agriculture by Gov. Mary Fallin and inducted into the state Agriculture Hall of Fame.

A former president of the Oklahoma Cattlemen's Association and director of the National Cattlemen's Association, he was the 16th Oklahoman to be inducted since the Hall of Fame was established in 1998.

A native of Bartlesville, Hughes was a graduate of College High School there and Oklahoma State University.

His father bought the original ranch property in 1938.

But A.M. Hughes, who worked for Phillips Petroleum, was not a rancher. It would be his son who would choose that life.

John Hughes was 17 when he got into the cattle business.

Transforming what had been a "pile of rocks" - as the family describes the original property - into the beautiful, rolling ranchland it remains today, Hughes over the years became a recognized leader nationally in beef production practices and an advocate for responsible agriculture.

A sturdily built, soft-spoken man, the rancher took his calling seriously, as he saw it, to be a steward of the land.

And he didn't believe in keeping that land to himself. Over the years, the ranch would double as an outdoor classroom, with Hughes frequently hosting agriculture students and fellow ranchers.

The draw of the horses would bring many others.

Since 1988, Hughes' ranch has also served as part of the Prairie National Wild Horse Refuge, taking in thousands of wild horses removed from crowded grazing lands out west.

As part of a deal with the federal government, Hughes provided the herds food, water and a place to live out their lives in peace.

It was a big change for the rancher, having previously dealt only with cattle.

"But it's been an enjoyable experience," he told the Tulsa World in 2001. "You kind of get attached to the darn things."

Hughes' son and partner, Robert Hughes, will carry on the ranch, Hudson said.

Hughes' survivors include his wife of 57 years, Lorna Hughes; four children, Mary Hudson, Jane Kirkpatrick, Robert S. Hughes II and Sally Trentman; 13 grandchildren; four great-grandchildren; and two siblings, Anna Sellers and Robert S. Hughes.

Tim Stanley 918-581-8385

Original Print Headline: Prominent cattleman took in wild horses

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