Cowboy Billy Sherman
for Tri-State Livestock News
Born to E.E. and Winifred Kate Sherman at Alice, TX on May 15, 1894, William Elmer Sherman‘s father died soon thereafter, and by the age of 3 he was gone from Texas. His mother found work as matron of a Native American girl’s school at Ft. Washakie, Wyoming, and moved there in 1898 with Billy and his sister Hazel.
The late William Sherman’s biography as a 2019 Honoree to the Wyoming Cowboy Hall Fame shows he “was considered as a very good cowboy even at a young age.” The cowboy served the industry in many ways including as South Dakota’s chief brand inspector.
By the time he was 17 he roped and rode broncs well, placing at sizable rodeos like Lander, Riverton, Green River, Pinedale and Big Piney. Billy “worked on The ‘67’, lived at Angus’s in Daniel, worked for Bill Luce and worked at Halter & Flick at Pacific Springs, before moving to Opal to brand inspect for the railroad at the stockyards there.”
In the years 1911 to 1917 young Billy broke horses, played baseball, became a member of Woodsmen of the World, and continued claiming his share of wild horse racing, roping and bronc riding money at regional rodeos. A turn in Army green ended when the War was over and he was discharged a Corporal from Ft. Lewis, WA in 1919.
In 1927 Bill took a wife, and also filed on a homestead. The pretty schoolteacher he married was Leola Jeneva Coffey Shipley, and the wedding took place in Kemmerer, July 7. As for ‘proving up’ on the homestead – Bill “built a house 14’x16’ feet which cost $128 along with corrals that cost $12, 4 acres of fenced horse pasture which cost $20, and 3 1⁄4 miles of outside fence consisting of 3 wires and posts one rod apart which cost $487. He had to relinquish the land because he had a wife and two children and found it was impossible to reside upon the claim and support his family since his business was located at Big Piney, a distance of 60 miles.”
Phyllis Sherman DeSart, Bill’s first child, says “He was a devoted husband and father. My earliest memories are of him teaching me my numbers . . . with a deck of cards, teaching me to play 21, poker. It was a fun way to learn how to count and learn my numbers.
“He had a tender heart which was evident when he was deputy sheriff,” Phyllis remembers. “The crime rate was low, mostly runaways, young people he couldn’t bear to put in jail. So many times he brought them home with him, and we would have a dinner guest and overnight sleeper.”
Her brother Bill Sherman speaks to more rich childhood memories, saying, “He was a wonderful father to us kids when we were growing up. When I think of Daddy – I see him always happy and smiling. I cannot remember a harsh word. He just made you feel loved.”
Bill’s sister Jean Sherman Morrison, youngest girl in the family, fondly recalls her family’s enjoyment of dances held in Big Piney, “with the kids gathering at one end of the hall, adults at the other end.” She says, “During the evening Daddy would always come over to the kids end and dance with me . . . too young to know how to dance, I kept my feet on top of his shoes as we waltzed. What a great memory.” She also remembers the pistol her Undersheriff Daddy always had in the house and how upset her parents were when she, at 8, decided it was an interesting plaything! Maybe that’s why Bill got those Indian ponies!
“In those days wild horses roamed the prairie and Daddy always seemed to have two or three of these Indian ponies on hand for us kids to ride – range ponies and not saddle broke,” Jean says. “What else would kids whose daddy was a cowboy do but ride wild horses? A pony dust up was great material to brag about during school time.”
Patricia Sherman Haffeman recalls, “Dad bought two ponies for us kids to ride. The first time he put my sister on one of them, the pony bucked her up in the air. I was so scared and really hoping he would not make me try to ride it, so relieved when he did not.” He ended up selling the ponies and bought a horse named Bobby. Bobby was so gentle all four of the kids rode and played with him.
As father of three daughters and a son, Bill was unwilling to give up on becoming a Wyoming landowner. He “filed on a second stock-raising homestead entry on September 1, 1931, which was very near the original filing.” The record shows he “resided on the land starting September 16, 1931 while living in a tent as he built the house and did the fencing. He lived there until November 30, 1931. He moved back onto the land on May 1, 1932 through December 15, 1932, and again lived on the land from May 1, 1933 through September 15, 1933, May 15, 1934 through September 15, 1934, May 15, 1935 through September 15, 1935 and May 15, 1936 through September 15, 1936.”
Family records say, “Most of the land is covered with sagebrush, but about 80 acres has scrub pines and quaking aspen trees. Frank D. Ball grazed 300 head of cattle on the land each year from 1933 through 1936. Ball paid $60 per year for the use of the pasture. In 1932, Sherman built a house, feed and salt storage house, bridge for livestock and 3 1⁄2 miles of 4-wire fence around the property. In 1936, a barn, cow shed, corrals, 1 mile of fence was built for a horse pasture and 1⁄2 mile fence built for a wrangle pasture. All of these improvements cost $1,175.00. Ben Stewart, Ted Cantrell, Pete C. Wagner and M.M. Baker were the witnesses. William E. Sherman’s stock-raising homestead was approved on April 1, 1937.”
Billy Sherman was employed as both undersheriff and brand inspector in Big Piney, Wyoming, at the time he moved his family to Omaha, Nebraska, in 1945 to accept the job of brand inspector in the stockyards there. Phyllis remembers, “Oh, how we hated to leave Big Piney. We shed many tears about leaving good friend; and our loving grandparents, Frank and Dora Shipley. Since we were used to a small town, we found Omaha was not for our family. There again, Daddy put his family first and accepted a job managing a ranch in Pollock, South Dakota.”
The kids boarded in Pollock during school terms, the Horseshoe Ranch being some distance from town. After a few years managing there, Billy suffered an unfortunate accident while breaking horses. The wreck resulted in a compound fracture of his left leg. Knowing – in that condition – he couldn’t handle the ranch work his job required, Sherman moved his family to Mobridge, South Dakota, and took the job of area brand inspector.
Once the leg healed, he went back to roping calves in area rodeos on his top horse ‘Buttons.’ Billy earned Champion 50+ Roper honors for western South Dakota before accepting the Chief Brand Inspector position for the state in 1952 and moving to Rapid City.
Son Bill Sherman says, “Dad’s whole life revolved around livestock. While we were on the ranch in South Dakota he tried to teach me calf roping, but my heart was not in it. As a teenager I was more into sports and girls. He was disappointed when we quit, but he never said anything. I was so proud when he was appointed Chief Brand Inspector for the state of South Dakota.”
William Elmer “Billy” Sherman passed away in Rapid City May 24, 1955. He was inducted into the Wyoming Cowboy Hall of Fame’s ‘Class of 2019’ during ceremonies in Casper last fall. At that time Bill commented, “Our whole family was so excited to be able to claim him as their father, grandfather and great-grandfather that 34 members of the family were in attendance at the induction ceremony!” That might be a record.
Speaking for the whole gang Bill declares, “I believe this honor was well-deserved by my dad!”
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