John F. (Spade) Evans, pioneer cattleman, was born on May 1, 1849, near Chattanooga, Tennessee. About 1860 he moved with his family to Jefferson, in Marion County, Texas, and later to Parker County. After his father's death in 1861, John quit school and went to work to help support his family. He soon became one of the free-range cowmen of the Northwest Texas frontier. After the Civil War he ran a supply store at Palo Pinto and later traveled for a saddlery house in St. Louis, Missouri. He became associated with such cattlemen as Charles Goodnight and William S. Ikard. In 1872 Evans marketed his first herd at Wichita, Kansas.
In the 1870s he formed a corporation known as J. F. Evans and Company with Judson P. Warner, Joseph Glidden's co-agent for the sale of barbed wire in Texas. In the summer of 1880 they purchased twenty-three sections of land in Donley County from J. A. Reynolds. They then gathered a herd of cattle in Lamar County and moved them west to the Panhandle, along with necessary supplies. At the suggestion of a friend, Dave Cummings, Evans adopted a Spade brand in 1883 and was known thereafter by the nickname Spade. He erected a dugout on Glenwood Creek, but later built a log house on nearby Barton Creek, which he designated as permanent headquarters for his Spade Ranch. Although Evans had his business offices at Clarendon during the 1880s, his wife, Elizabeth (Lizzie), and four children remained at the family home in Sherman throughout the winter months and went out to Clarendon and the ranch during the summer. Furthermore, other business interests downstate took up much of his time, prompting Evans to turn the Spade operations over to resident managers.
Evans helped organize and write the bylaws for the Panhandle Stock Association in 1881 and served as its first president for two years. He also chaired that organization's Protective and Detective Committee, composed of Hank Cresswell, Nick Eaton, Goodnight, and Evans. Backed by the association, the committee was a vibrant force in maintaining law and order on the Panhandle frontier. In 1881 and again in 1883 Evans attended sessions of the Texas legislature in Austin as a lobbyist for the Panhandle cattlemen's interests.
Apparently J. F. Evans and Company was affected by the droughts and blizzards of the late 1880s, for in December 1888 Evans sold his ranch and cattle to Isaac L. Ellwood, who subsequently developed the Renderbrook and Spade operations in the South Plains area. Afterward Evans ran a hardware store in Gainesville and bought cattle and real estate. He was a partner in the Smith, Reed, and Evans firm in Clay County. He also joined the Northwest Texas Cattle Breeders' Association and served, along with C. C. Slaughter, Samuel Burk Burnett, and John N. Simpson, on its twelve-man executive committee. His influence helped bring about cooperation between the Panhandle and Northwest Texas associations.
During the 1920s Evans lived for a time in Lubbock before retiring to a farm four miles east of Altus, Oklahoma, in 1929. On January 11, 1935, he was struck by a car on the highway near his home and apparently killed instantly; a passing motorist found his body and severed leg shortly afterward. He was buried in Altus. At the Texas Centennial celebration in Dallas in 1836, Evans was among the cattlemen portrayed in the Hall of Fame exhibition.