Will James, The ‘111’ Mark & The Former Dangberg Ranch

Posted By on December 19, 2016

Editor’s Note: This story first appeared in “Cowboys North & South”  magazine, published by the Will James Society

By Sharon DeCarlo, Cowboys North & South · 4 min read

GARDNERVILLE, Nev. — From all indications and writings about Will James – beloved cowboy, Newbery Medal-winning author and famed artist of the American West – we can be safe in saying that he was a very likable fellow.

He made a lot of friends and seemed to get along with most people. After he got out of the Army, he headed back to Reno and his old stomping grounds and good friends.

Many good things happened to Will James in Reno this time around. He met his future wife, Alice Conradt; he met a promoter and manager of the rodeo … was hired on … and went to work scouting around for bucking stock.

And, of course, he resumed his friendship with his old cowboy buddies Fred Conradt and Elmer Freel. The trio, self-dubbed the “One-Elevens,” became inseparable companions.

After a brief time Will James would reduce the label to a numerical symbol (111) and would make it a part of his signature on his art.

The meaning of the symbol was that the three men had a pact together, stating they would always be united in their ambition to own, operate and jointly participate in a working cattle ranch no matter who got the funds together first.

The Carson Valley Sheep Barn One-Eleven Boards

While searching for any work he could find after first returning to Northern Nevada, James worked on one cattle ranch after another. He worked his way south through Carson Valley and onto the Topaz Line Camp in Coleville, Calif.

During that journey, he stopped briefly at the Dangberg Ranch in Gardnerville (now the Corley Ranch) located
off Highway 395 south.

The ranch ran mostly sheep. The sheep barn had a small bunkhouse room that the sheepherders stayed in while caring for the flock.

Most cowboys would not work sheep. However, if times were tough and it was the only work available, and one had a cowboy work ethic, one did what it took to survive.

James stayed for a brief time in that sheep barn, leaving his One-Eleven mark on the walls of the barn.

The Dangbergs passed down the story to the Corley family when they purchased the ranch in 1997.

Boots in a trailer used by shepherds on the former Dangberg Ranch.

Sometime mid-1926, James was ready to move on his plan to acquire a ranch in Montana. With an advance from Charles Scribner for  “Smoky the Cowhorse,” which would go on to win the Newbery Medal and become James’ most famous book,  James put a down payment on 600-acre package in the foothills of the Pryor Mountains south of Billings.

James described his dream-come-true property as “a paradise of a place (with) all kinds of wild fruit on it, a big fine spring, one small creek and one big one, elm trees and willows and bottom land, natural and all untouched.”
Fred Conradt, one-third of the One-Elevens and an experienced cowman, accepted James offer to be ranch foreman.

But the other member of the One-Elevens would not enjoy the reality of the three men’s pact. Sadly, at the very moment the arrangements could have been consummated, Elmer Freel passed away.

After Freel’s passing, Will James would no longer use the “111” logo under his signature on his art and never again would he leave it on bunkhouse walls.

On Feb. 3, 2017, in Elko, Nevada at the Northeastern Nevada Museum,  the Will James Society will have a ceremony to gift the “One-Eleven” taken from the Corley Ranch Sheep barn to be placed in the Will James exhibit.

Jon and Paula Corley, along with their family, donated one of two “111” boards and will be on hand for the ceremony.

Jon and Paula Corley present a “111” board to Sharon DeCarlo of the Will James Society earlier this fall in front of the sheep barn on the Corley Ranch, where Will James once worked.

The other “111” board will go to the Yellowstone Art Museum in Billings, Montana to be a part of their Will James Art and memorabilia exhibit.

James used the red paint that the shepherds used to mark the sheep to make his “111” mark. The symbols have lasted a long time through a lot of inclement weather.

Last year, a very strong wind came through Carson Valley and much of the historical barn blew down. The barn wood was sold but the Corleys saved these Will James “111” boards so that another piece of James legacy can be on exhibit at the two museums.

Remains of the sheep barn on the former Dangberg Ranch.

Jon Corley in front of the sheep barn, which has incurred heavy wind damage in recent years.