The Madera County Cattlemen’s Association (MCCA) has named Mike Knapp 2015 Cattleman of the Year Award, and Charlie Johnston Cowboy of the Year.
Nominated and elected by past honorees, the Cattleman of the Year award recognizes an individual that has contributed and been influential in the cattle industry in Madera County.
The recipients will be honored at the MCCA’s Fall Dinner, 6 p.m., Nov. 6, at the Coarsegold Community Center on Highway 41.
As a young man, Knapp always knew he wanted to be a cow man. Growing up, he and Cliffy Calhoun spent their summers riding every cow trail this side of Yosemite. At 11-years old, he got his start in the cow business when he bought his first heifer.
As a teenager, Knapp started helping some of the local ranchers in and around Raymond. Back then you could get your driver’s license at 14 so he would load up his 49 Chevy pick-up and single axle Tru-Trailer and go help the Fulmers, Bissetts, and Phelps.
“They would always feed me, and my horse, and put me up,” Knapp said. “I just wanted to be on a ranch.”
Years later, it was through the Fulmers that he was able to purchase a mountain cow permit.
At Fresno State in the fall of 1959, Knapp met a young "aggie" named Sherry. He knew from that day on, she would be his partner in their future cattle business. Sherry even owned her own cow named Bernadine. Little did Knapp know they would also end up in the horse business.
Shortly after getting married, the couple moved to Green mountain and their closest neighbors were the Preston family, who have been friends ever since.
After attending Cal Poly’s ferrier school in 1964, the newlyweds moved their headquarters to Chowchilla.
“We learned a lot in those first few years,” Knapp recalled.
In 1964-67, the Knapps along with family and longtime friend Gerry Westfall, drove their cattle from Chowchilla to the summer range in Fish Camp. Their son Larry, who was four years old at the time, rode horseback on the five-day drive, and their two-year-old daughter Michele, rode in the back of a pickup.
“These days, we truck the cattle up but it’s still a family affair,” Sherry said. This includes Larry and his wife Nishma, Michele and her husband Art and five grandchildren Hillary, Phillip, Cami, Noah and Kayne.
The couple has owned and operated the Yosemite Trails Pack Station in Fish Camp since 1966.
Looking back, Knapp is grateful that he was fortunate enough to pursue his lifelong dream.
“His happiest times are spent at our Cow Camp near Soquel Meadow,” Sherry said.
He attributes the success he’s had to his family and the support he has received from the cattle people of eastern Madera County.
“These ranching families were willing to give me a chance and for that I am forever grateful.”
Charlie Johnston was born in 1947 in Meigs County, Ohio and grew up on a small dairy farm. His father was a horse trader so he learned to ride horses and mules out of necessity and self-preservation. He served in the U.S. Army from 1966-68 as a Counter Guerilla Warfare Specialist on the DMZ in South Korea.
Johnston married his best friend, Sharon, and together they had one daughter Erica. Soon after he graduated from college in 1977, the three of them relocated to California, ending up in Oakhurst. He purchased a landscaping business and started Johnston’s Landscape Company in Fresno.
In 1980, he met Johnny Jones and Bud Shannon who took him under their wings. Since then Johnston said, “I have had the honor of working with or for some of the finest cowboys (both males & females) who ever sat a horse.”
In 2007, the couple semi-retired to Mariposa to live near their daughter, her husband, Kevin Smith, and grandchildren, Zack and Regan, who are the pride and joy of “one old man’s life.”
“I want to thank the Madera Cattleman’s Association and all of my friends for the honor of being named Cowboy of the Year 2015,” Johnston said. “I know there are people more deserving, but nobody more appreciative of this award than I am. Thank you for honor and the memories.”
President David Gill will preside over the festivities which will feature a hosted bar, silent auction, raffle, and dinner, the proceeds of which all benefit the various youth programs sponsored by MCCA.
The Young Cattlemen’s of California State University, Fresno, will prepare the choice steak dinner overseen by Dr. Randy Perry, Chairman of theLivestock Dept. The highlight of the evening will be the Cattleman and Cowboy of the Year Awards presentation.
The event is open to the public and anyone interested in attending the event can contact Brad Ruble at (559) 689-3499 or Michele Lasgoity at (559) 217-2985.