The old world meets the new

Irish cowboy calls Crook County his second home

Doug Mikkelsen and Joel Jinks

At first glance, it’s hard to tell Noel “Mousey” Jinks from his companions, decked out in cowboy hat, jeans and smart white shirt, moseying around the ranch or traveling Wyoming’s highways on his motorcycle. The voice sets him apart, a gentle Irish lilt, and the legendary twinkle in his eye; a cowboy by choice rather than birth.

Ireland born and bred, these days Jinks is an ambassador on both sides of the ocean. In Crook County, he offers a touch of the old world to everyone he meets; on the west coast of Ireland, he proudly flies both the Stars and Stripes and Wyoming’s own flag.

“I stopped in Moorcroft in 2003 at the gas station with a buddy of mine and said, this is an interesting little town,” he remembers.

“This old character came out with glasses and a white hat, skinny as a stick, and he lights up a cigarette as he’s leaving the store. I said to my buddy, we’ll stay here tonight.”

After a successful evening, drinking and spending time with the locals, Jinks figured he may have found his second home and began to travel to Wyoming every year. He can most often be found in the company of local rancher Doug Mikkelsen; peas in a pod, the duo met almost a decade ago in Cody.

“I was actually riding in the Fourth of July parade, and this guy and his buddy were trying to chat up my wife while I was gone to the bathroom. I came out and said, you can cut this crap out, and they said they were sorry and we’ve been friends ever since,” Jinks says.

Mikkelsen grins – they weren’t at all sorry, he whispers. Ah well, Jinks shoots back; God loves a tryer.

“We just got to know each other, eight or nine years ago now, so I come out here now on a regular basis, almost every year,” he says.

It was pure fluke that he and Mikkelsen met and that Mikkelsen lived in the little town Jinks had found so interesting; another fluke to see the Irish flag flying over his new friend’s home. Sometimes, Jinks says, you just come across your friends.

Since that first meeting, Jinks has traveled to Crook County for a month out of almost every year. While in Wyoming, Jinks helps with brandings and ranch work but makes sure to take plenty of time to bask in Wyoming’s natural beauty.

Despite the many spiritual similarities between his homeland and his adopted home, there are plenty of novelties to enjoy. For instance, he points out, “Back in Ireland, we don’t do branding – it’s all tagging.”

“I always wanted to be a cowboy, I’m keen on it. I got my first Western saddle in 1984. I always rode European before that – or bareback, as they say, as we couldn’t afford a saddle. My dad had one saddle and I didn’t get to use it,” he says.

Jinks’ father ran teams of horses, back in the old days, before tractors came in. In Ireland, he says, that process happened slowly – his father was still hauling with horses and carts in 1963.

“The governments that ran the country then, they kept us back 30 years. They wanted us to stay in the past because they were, as they say, the old guard,” Jinks says.

“When my dad was introduced to a tractor, he didn’t want to do it at all.”

Thanks to his father’s unwillingness to convert, Jinks had a childhood filled with horses. He would help his father train them on the weekend: ponies for riding, ponies for pulling a trap.

He was the only one of his many siblings who would have anything to do with the horses – or, more accurately, with their grumpy father. “Cranky doesn’t bother me,” Jinks says, noting that his father did mellow with age.

He also discovered the allure of Americana early in life.

“As a child, we had a black and white tv and we used to watch the Walt Disney Hour. It was always Sunday at dinnertime and the curtains were pulled back in the house and we all sat where we could fit, because there were a lot of kids in this house,” he says.

“They would show clips of Fourth of July parades riding down the street and, as I kid, I said I was going to do that someday. I’ve now done it three times.”

In Cody, he proclaims proudly, he was told that he was the first Irishman to ride down the street in the parade’s 97 years. It was a privilege, he says, and all thanks to the American Quarter Horse Association.

“I’m involved in the Irish Quarter Horse Association, IQHA, and we are affiliated and recognized by the American Quarter Horse Association. They sponsor us to do stuff back in Ireland, we ride out to shows, do reining clinics,” he says.

“Back home, I have a ranch on the west coast of Ireland and we train a lot of horses on the beach, we have arenas and our own pens. We breed American quarter horses and we’ve got some good bloodlines, we’ve a couple of Hollywood Dun Its.”

Jinks teaches both people and horses and is also a part-time horse rescue officer.

“I’ve always had the travel bug. When I was 16 years old, I ran away from home to London, to the east end. It was rough in those days, but I survived,” he says.

Jinks ended up in Manchester in the north of England, where he worked for 16 years. Long before he discovered Moorcroft, he would travel annually to the mountains in upstate New York, where he traded the use of a friend’s horses for leading clients through the trails.

Mikkelsen, who has returned the favor by traveling to Ireland to spend time at Jinks’ ranch and will be returning in September, has also noticed the differences. A horse auction is a different thing back across the seas, he says, recalling how chickens, ducks, goats and even dogs went up on the block.

He also noticed how some of the breeds thought exotic in the States are far less celebrated back in the old world, such as the Irish Cob and Gypsy Cob.

“If you buy one of those over there, they’ll throw in a spinster daughter,” he jokes.

Even back in Ireland, you’ll find Jinks proudly sporting his cowboy duds. “That’s how my life progressed. I like to dress this way,” he says.

American flags fly proudly at the Lonesome Dove Ranch in Sligo, Jinks says. Mikkelsen brought a dozen with him on his trip – he even contacted the Wyoming Board of Tourism to ask if they might have any trinkets he could take; however, he says crossly, they turned him down.

“A lot of people go to America and their idea of America is New York City. I say, you know what, there are other places,” Jinks says.

His neighbors see how beautiful the country is in the photographs he takes of Wyoming, he says. It’s deliberate encouragement – Jinks would love for them to experience the land he so loves for themselves.

By Sarah Pridgeon