John Allen Hawn was born in Fresno (Tulare & H streets) on May 4, 1883. His pleasant disposition soon gave him the nick name of “Happy Jack.” He began riding horses at age 4 and did not retire as an active rider until he was 77.
He attended the old Herndon school but quit during the fourth grade because he was needed on the family ranch. His father graded vineyards while Happy Jack” cared for their 200 horses.
During the early oil boom in Bakersfield, he and his father hauled derricks and machinery in wagon trains. They also helped grade the 30-mile railroad line in the Ivanpah Valley, part of the Mojave Desert.
One day in October 1893, he and his father were talking to friends when a policeman approached them and asked if they could tie a hangman’s knot. Happy Jack responded that he had just learned how from an old cowboy and performed the task. He would later view that rope being used at the hanging of Dr. Frank Vincent, who had been convicted of murdering his wife.
In 1908, Happy Jack rounded up 25 bucking horses and toured the country with his “Happy Jack’s Wild West Riders.” His show would feature the capture and hanging of a horse thief.
Future Hollywood cowboy star Hoot Gibson joined Hawn’s show that year.
They would tour the western United Sates and Canada. In 1912, Gibson won the first all around cowboy title offered at the Pendleton Roundup.
The first Salinas rodeo started on Aug. 1, 1911. A crowd of 4,000 gathered at Sherwood Park racetrack. The events included horse races, a stunt pilot, a Mardi gras dance and a carnival.
Happy Jack brought his Wild West show to that event. He was the star of the day. He furnished horses and bulls for the rodeo and competed in two events, bull riding and steer dodging.
He was the champion bucking horse rider at the Salinas Rodeo for nine consecutive years. He was one of the original 20 mule team drivers who hauled borax from Lebec mines to Bakersfield.
He stated: “Sometimes at the sharp turns, I could only see six of my mules, the others being around the bend. It took us eight days to make the round trip. We hauled 20 tons of borax out, and on the return, trip carried 10 tons of powder, caps, and provisions.”
Hawn drove a 24-mule team pulling five wagons of copper ore from the Copper King mine near Humphrey’s Station to the Deering railroad junction.
During his lifetime, he owned/trained approximately 3,000 horses. His 40-acre ranch was located at 3235 Olive Ave. He would train and coach many future rodeo champions.
Happy Jack served as Clovis Parade Marshal in 1953. He rode Peanuts, his 23-year-old palomino. Peanuts’ lineage represented the 66th horse from the direct line that he and his father had owned.
Hawn once said he believed there was never a horse born that he could not train. He did not wear the traditional cowboy boots but preferred a regular laced shoe with built up heels.
His saddle (#119 made by Clovis saddle maker Billy Hill) and chaps are on display at the Clovis Museum.
Happy Jack is a part of our rich heritage.