The Driskill Family
The long, dusty trail of Driskill family history started in Texas with Jesse Lincoln "JL" Driskill. He and his brother-in-law were major suppliers of beef to the Confederate Army during the Civil War. They were the first to use the "D" brand that has been synonymous with the Driskill family for over 100 years. JL's son, William Walter "Tobe," made a name for himself in the 1860s trailing cattle north from Texas through wild territory to the grass-rich plains of the West. In 1871 he brought one of the earliest herds to Cheyenne, in Wyoming Territory. Around that time, he ventured further north scouting for a good winter range for his cattle. He found what he was looking for in the beauty and wide open spaces of Crook County. He returned there in 1879 with 25,000 head of cattle. His brother followed and soon they established an open-range cattle operation stretching from Alzada, MT to the Campbell County line and across the border into the Black Hills of SD. They established their headquarters, the D Ranch, near Oshoto, Wyoming. At their peak, the family shipped over 60,000 head of beef each year.
Back in Texas, JL was busy building The Driskill Hotel. Situated at the corner of 6th St. and Brazos in Austin, the luxury hotel quickly became a favorite of the rich and famous. The beautiful structure still stands and is famous in its own right. The following winter of 1886-1887 proved to be devastating as severe storms ravaged the plains. The Driskill family lost over 50,000 head of cattle, bankrupting them. They never fully recovered from the losses and JL died in 1890. Not to be deterred, Tobe and his brothers moved their families north and returned to the open range they loved. However, by the early 1900s homesteading was in full force and large parts of the Driskill's former free range was fenced, drastically reducing the amount of available range. As they had before, the family shifted gears and sought a new way to access grazing lands. In doing so they became some of the very first to get a United States Forest Service grazing permit. With it they expanded their operation in the Black Hills region. In 1910, Jesse L. "Diddy" Driskill purchased the Campstool Ranch on the Belle Fourche River at the base of Devils Tower, which became America's first National Monument in 1906. The purchase was made on the courthouse steps for $7/acre. The family settled in and continued to cowboy and raise cattle as they had for generations. However, the Great Depression of the 1930's dealt more losses to the family as the original D Ranch property was sold in order to pay the bills and keep the rest of the operation intact. From then on, the Campstool Ranch was the headquarters for the Driskill's ranching operations. Diddy's sons operated the Campstool Ranch until 1972 when his grandson, Jesse T. and wife Ellen, took over. They raised sons Jesse K., Ogden and Matt at the base of Devils Tower. The family started the Devils Tower KOA after the property was used in the filming of Steven Spielberg's sci-fi classic, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."
Jesse operated the ranch until 1985 when son Ogden and his wife Zannie moved home to take over. Like the generation before them, they raised their children, Andrea, Katerie and Lincoln in the shadow of Devils Tower. Ellen operated the KOA until her retirement when she handed the reins off to her son, Matt Driskill. In 2012, Ogden and Zannie became the owners of the KOA. Today, the business is managed by Andrea with help from her husband Matt and children Ellen and Gary. Katerie is a court clerk in nearby Buffalo, Wyoming. Lincoln manages the ranch and with wife Ashely is the owner-manager of the nearby Devils Tower Gulch. Their son, Lincoln Merritt, is the 8th generation to live and work on the Campstool Ranch. Follow their adventures on Youtube @campstoolkid.