Johnny Blair Morris was born Jan. 22, 1950 in Pocatello, ID. He left this world unexpectedly on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017 when his heart stopped beating. He was buried in Midvale Eastside Cemetery after his earthly remains were transported there on his hay wagon pulled by his team of horses.
Johnny’s parents, Layton and Pauline Blair Morris, met and were married in Broken Arrow, OK, in 1939. Young Layton and his family had moved to Eastern Idaho from Oklahoma to the American Falls area. On a visit back to Oklahoma, Layton fell in love with Pauline. He took his new bride back to his Idaho roots and started a legacy there. Jon’s twin sisters, Lorene and Florene, were the first born, and soon came another sister, Linda. They were thrilled when Johnny, the first boy was born, and to imagine that he was a bit spoiled is an understatement. Rickey and Joy were born later, completing the Morris family.
Johnny grew up in a rural livestock-oriented family. His father Layton was a farmer, rancher and a cowboy. Johnny’s cowboy roots ran deep, almost as deep as his spiritual roots. His family was strong in their faith, and attended a church fellowship regularly throughout his childhood.
Johnny and his siblings attended school (which he hated) in American Falls, and Johnny graduated in 1969. By this time, his passions leaned more toward fast cars than horses and cows. He built a number of street racers and eventually won several official races in Salt Lake City and Boise with his 1970 Road Runner.
Johnny attended Northwest College in Seattle for a season, and came back to American Falls where he married Annette Lish in 1971. Their first child, Jeremy, was born in American Falls, and their daughter, Amy, completed the Morris family. Both children graduated from American Falls High School.
Johnny worked a variety of jobs. He managed a truck stop and also became a skilled carpet and floor covering installer. He spent some time in Montana logging and laying carpet. But he always maintained contact with the livestock industry.
Difficult times hit the family and Johnny and Annette were divorced. Johnny continued working in the American Falls area and eventually married Elaine Kent. Johnny’s cowboy roots began resurfacing and the family, including Elaine’s children, Calynn and Eric, moved to work on ranches in Oregon and California.
Despite the storms in his life, Johnny maintained his strong faith. He continued to read his bible and pray over the children in the evenings. Raising a family on cowboy wages is difficult at best, and eventually the family made their way back to American Falls where Johnny managed a large farm. Difficult times once again took their toll, and Johnny and Elaine divorced. By this time, Johnny was determined to raise some cows, and managed to purchase a small abandoned ranch bordering the Snake River outside American Falls. He and his brother Rickey leased some cows and worked hard to improve the ranch.
In 1992 Johnny met Trudy Slifka at a Christian Cowboy Campout in Nevada. Despite some significant differences, they fell in love and were married in October 1992. Cowboys typically detest sheep, milk cows, chickens, and Arabian horses. Trudy had all of these. Trudy also had some issues with cowboys in general. Doesn’t God have an interesting sense of humor? Love prevailed and Trudy left her farm in Star, ID, with six nurse cows, several horses, and all the rest of her critters and moved to the ranch in American Falls. This began a 24 year journey with Johnny that came to its end on Jan. 3, 2017 in Midvale, ID.
Johnny and Trudy stocked the ranch in American Falls with a mixture of their cattle, raised alfalfa, and installed floor coverings throughout the area, always together. One afternoon at a local cafe, while doodling on a napkin, they came up with an appropriate brand. In cowboy lingo, going way too fast is called going “nine 0”. Thus the 9-0 ranch came to be.
Jeremy had left home after graduating to work in Wyoming prior to Trudy coming to the ranch; then Amy decided to move to the ranch so she could attend high school in American Falls where she graduated, then moved to the Seattle area.
One summer Johnny and Trudy were hired to be the riders for a 35-member cattle association called Chesterfield Cattle Association, which borders the Blackfoot River. They lived in a remote cow camp, riding and doctoring cattle in the high country during the week, then managed their own ranch on the weekends. What an adventure. The term 9-0 became way too descriptive.
As much as they loved their ranch on the river, they began looking for a place to expand. The ranch was too small to make a living, and the neighboring agricultural sprays took a toll on Johnny’s allergies. After a couple of years of searching, they bought a non-working dairy in Midvale, ID, and another season of their journey began. They moved to Midvale in the fall of 1997 and transformed the dairy into a cattle ranch.
Johnny had a great gift of vision. He delighted in making something out of nothing. For 19 years he created and reconstructed all over the ranch. With primarily salvaged material and the help of talented friends, he transformed the simple structures on the ranch to objects of unique beauty.
Johnny loved horses and cattle. Besides managing their own cattle, he and Trudy also rode all of the surrounding mountain ranges gathering cattle for neighboring ranchers. Johnny attended every ranch branding he possibly could. The annual 9-0 ranch branding became a huge social event at the corrals on their spring range, drawing friends, family, and cowboys from near and far.
Little did Johnny know, but God was fulfilling a plan in the midst of all of this. Through a series of unforeseen events, they found themselves looking for a place to fellowship. Not finding any churches nearby that met their needs, they started a Bible study in their home in October 1999. This quickly expanded to their bunkhouse, and then to their car garage which went through a series of remodeling through the years. Angel Camp Cowboy Church was thus born on the 9-0 ranch. Johnny was ordained, the Cowboy Church continued to grow, and the rest is history.
Johnny genuinely loved people, and people loved Johnny. Between the ranch and the church, there was a steady stream of people coming and going. He performed nearly 100 weddings, numerous funerals, and did personal ministry wherever he went. Johnny was fiercely devoted to his family. He doted on his children and especially his grandchildren on special occasions. His favorite event was his “Papa dates” where he would take each one out to lunch and spoil them on their birthdays.
We will remember many personal quotes that identified Johnny. In the midst of someone’s calamity he would yell “Don’t weaken” or “I get your tack”. Then there was “You may not like me but you will never forget me”. And “It’s not about you”.
He was a great recruiter. He described himself as a “motivator”. He had a compelling way of convincing key people to work on his projects until they were finished. Many times he declared “This is the last project”, but there was always another one in the works. He truly lived life to the fullest to the end of his days.
Johnny was an extraordinary man of many talents. Several have described him as “larger than life”. His attire, his passions, opinions, his unmistakable laugh that identified him in a crowd, his loyalties, his faith. All of these qualities endeared Johnny to the people he touched. He was not a polished speaker. He struggled with reading, writing, and spelling. Seventeen years as a pastor greatly improved these shortcomings, but what drew people to him and to Cowboy Church was his genuine transparent love.
Johnny was taken from this life prematurely, as far as we are concerned. Our Lord has a bigger plan. But if he could come back to us for a brief moment he would plead with us, “Love each other; forgive; ask Jesus into your heart now, for there are no promises of tomorrow”.
Johnny is survived by his wife, Trudy Morris of Midvale; son, Jeremy and Mary Morris from Emmett; daughter, Amy and Jason Oates from Meridian; brother, Rickey Morris from Council; adopted brother, Ralph Richard from Inkom, ID; sisters, Lorene and David Zimmerman from American Falls, Florene and Jim Steen from Twin Falls, Linda and Jim Jacobson from Black Diamond, WA, Joy and Larry Ranstrom from Chubbuck; grandchildren, Layton, Grady, and Bronson Morris; Aubriella, Ashleigh, and Addison Oates, and Gabriel Heins.
Because of the extreme weather conditions at the time of his death, a celebration of life is being planned for a later date, which will be announced. Please come and join us as we celebrate the well spent life of our beloved Johnny B. Morris.
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