James Leon ‘Jim’ Johnston was born north of Watford City on October 6, 1937, to Andrew ‘Andy’ and Leva (Thompson) Johnston. After Jim’s father died in 1939, he and his brothers lived with their Uncle Ben Johnston, a bachelor who ranched north of Watford City. Jim attended rural McKenzie County schools and after the 8th grade returned to Ben’s ranch. He had the opportunity to ride many practice horses, sometimes getting on a semi-load in a day.
The first rodeo Jim entered was at the Badlands Saddle Club Arena, near the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. He competed in ND Rodeo Association rodeos for more than 20 years, winning at least 23 trophy buckles between 1959 and 1976 in bareback riding, bull riding, steer wrestling, team roping and the all-around. He was the NDRA bull riding champion in 1960, ’61 and ’62 and the bareback riding and all-around champion in 1961, ’62 and ’63.
Jim competed in Rodeo Cowboys Association rodeos around the region and in Canada. He won the state RCA bull riding and all-around champion-ships in 1966, the RCA bareback championship in 1968 and the bareback riding at the 1976 Cowboys Reunion Rodeo in Medora.
He was a well-respected rodeo judge for high school to PRCA rodeos and twice judged the Home on the Range Champions Ride, Sentinel Butte. In the late 1950s, Jim worked for Fettig Rodeo Company, driving truck, sorting horses, flanking bucking stock and as pick-up man and competitor.
He married Elva Lou Hartman on January 18, 1961, at Grassy Butte. The couple has three children and ranches north of Grassy Butte on a 200-head commercial cow/calf and feed grain operation.
Jim has offered encouragement and valuable pointers to young contestants on both ends of the arena. He served as president and director of the ND High School Rodeo Association from 1984-86 and volunteers at youth and high school rodeos. He was McKenzie County Grazing Association vice-president and director in the 1990s and a ‘Pasture Seven’ Committee director for more than 10 years. Jim is a PRCA Gold Card member.