Jim Bret Campbell
When visiting the Lubbock area, a stop by the National Ranching Heritage Center (NRHC), located on the Texas Tech campus, is time well spent. This museum and historic park, charged to preserve and promote the history of ranching in North America and address contemporary ranching issues, is overseen by Jim Bret Campbell, a multiple hat-wearing member of the beef industry who serves as Executive Director. “The development of ranching in the American West, especially the trail drive era which was actually very short in historical terms, has captured the minds and imagination of people all across the world. It’s been romanticized in books, magazines and the silver screen. At the NRHC, we tell the stories of the real West and the men and women who ventured into the frontier to establish new lives and, eventually, the ranching industry. Along the way, those hardy individuals forged values like hard work, honesty, and integrity. A big part of our mission is to preserve those values and share them with future generations,” says Jim Bret and he heartily encourages the Beef Team to come visit when they are able to reopen. *
Plan on about two hours for a quick self-tour of the NRHC’s highlights or a half-day for a more thorough exploration of the historical park that winds with 1.5 miles of hard surface walkways over 27 acres. At certain times of the year, they also offer a 30-minute trolley tour. “The crown jewel of the NRHC collections is our 51 historic structures that have been moved from their original locations and restored at the NRHC. All of the structures tell both the stories of the individuals that originally built and used them, as well as telling the story of the development of the ranching industry in the West,” says Jim Bret. In addition, the Mallet Ranch Museum Building, which features seven constantly changing galleries covering various ranching topics, is another must-see attraction.
One of Jim Bret’s favorite projects with the NRHC has been a partnership with John R. Erickson, author of the Hank the Cowdog books to develop and publish three “Ranch Life Learning” books that tell all about ranching through the voice of Hank the Cowdog. “We have distributed more than 40,000 of these books and have educated hundreds of teachers in social studies and science curriculum based on the books,” says Jim Bret. “And, additionally, we are in the process of designing a “Ranch Life Learning Center” that will be a permanent indoor/outdoor exhibit that tells how ranchers are stewards of the land and provide a safe, cost-effective, sustainable and delicious product for a growing world.”
While Jim Bret has professionally been working in the beef industry for 23 years, his experience really spans a lifetime. “My family on both sides has been involved in farming and ranching for generations. My maternal grandfather, Norman Burk, in particular, was a well-known cattleman in West Texas. He built the Tulia Livestock Auction and ran the sale barn while my grandmother ran the café and kept the books. Today, my family owns and operates the Rafter 4 Ranch outside of Raton, New Mexico where we run a commercial herd of Angus and Black Baldy cows,” he explains. Jim Bret and his wife Teri of 22 years have two boys, Cash (16) and Cooper (13), who compete in ranch horse competitions in 4-H and Stock Horse of Texas shows.
*Currently, NHRC is closed in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control guidelines and proactive steps by Texas Tech University.
Learn more about NHRC: Visit the National Ranching Heritage Center for a wealth of additional information as well as updates on the museum and historical park’s reopening.
Education/Training: B.S. Ag Communications, Texas Tech University; M.S. Ag Education, Texas Tech University
Difficult Aspect of Job: One of the greatest challenges with any non-profit is maintaining the resources to support your operations and continue growing. Luckily, we are blessed with tremendous support from the ranching industry and the administration at Texas Tech University.
Rewarding Aspect of Job: The most rewarding aspect is getting to work with an amazing group of people from the staff to the university administrators and the Ranching Heritage Association Board of Directors who believe in sharing this ranching heritage with future generations. For all the talk about the demise of the rancher, believe me, they are still out there and I’m privileged that I get to call ranchers from coast to coast my friends.
Job Highlights: I’ve been fortunate that my career in the livestock industry has taken me to almost every state and around the world. I have visited ranches in Italy, Spain, Austria, and the Dominican Republic. Maybe more importantly, I’ve been able to get horseback on some of the most historic ranches in the country. But I’m probably never more comfortable than when I get to go to a gathering or a branding, put in a good day’s work, and then sit around a campfire and the chuck wagon with the men and women who maintain that lifestyle on a daily basis.
Favorite Cut of Beef: Ribeye, to me it’s the perfect combination of flavor and tenderness.
Favorite Beef Cooking Method: I have always loved to grill and my preference was to cook over wood for its flavor and the way steaks turn out. But it’s not always convenient to start a wood fire at the house so for many years I cooked on a gas grill. A few years ago, though, my dad bought a wood pellet grill. I liked his so much that I bought one. It’s a great combination of getting that wood flavor with convenience.
Favorite BBQ Joint: Evie Mae’s in Wolfforth is consistently listed in Texas Monthly as a top BBQ spot. But you have to get there early!