Born on a family ranch in Iron Mountain, Wyoming in 1898, Ella Marie Jordan grew up riding and working horses with her father and brothers. From her toddler years, she sustained a love for horses and her wild home. A lack of modern conveniences like electricity, running water, or a telephone characterized her early years. It was “just a way of life” and never impeded her love for ranching. She found passion in her work, opting to continue it even into her eighties.
When she turned 16, Marie took out a homestead section “up in the meadow by a tiny stream” near her family’s home. Her father built a small house for her that she lived in for three years, except when she was at school. It was small and simple, with only a bed, stove, mirror, window, and garden, but Marie “was sort of proud of it.” At the end of those three years, she was able to prove her claim (colloquial phrase for the legal process of securing a title to homestead lands after meeting certain government requirements). Marie’s father leased the land from her for several years, but ultimately purchased it from her for $1,000 after she tried to simply give it to him. In that way, the homestead served as an investment property for Marie rather than a permanent home.
After going to Baltimore, and later Kansas, to attend college, Marie met and married John Bell, “a gregarious, fun-loving cowboy with an acute business sense.” Together they built a large and successful ranch from the ground up in southern Wyoming. The money she had earned from her homestead was used to fix up their home, something they would have been unable to afford otherwise. John died of cancer in 1972, but Marie never considered moving away from their ranch. “What would I do in town?” she asked—a cowgirl through and through.