Raising ’em, roping ’em and rattling ’em off
Newborn Billy Markwed and his parents, William and Margaret, were unable, for a time, to get home to the ranch near Philip, South Dakota, due to a storm that left eight inches of snow on the ground. Maybe it was this rugged start or the blood of tough ancestors in his veins, but Billy Markwed, born Sept. 23, 1934, at Pierre was made to be a rancher.
And a competitive cowboy.
And that guy who knows the value of all the calves in the country.
His Grandfather, Arnt Markwed homesteaded the quarter section of land that would become the Markwed ranch in 1905. Then he brought his wife and three children across on the ferry at Ft. Pierre, along with the horses and milkcows, in 1906, and took the family home where it would remain for the ensuing generations. Grandpa Arnt died the year Billy was born. “He was killed by a runaway team of four horses,” says Markwed.
“I still have an original barn on the place that was built in 1913 and it’s still in good shape. My Grandpa and his neighbors built it. There are two rooms (built by Arnt) in our house where I’ve lived since I was born too. We’ve just built on to the house over the years.”
Markwed’s folks stuck out the hard years. His mother Margeret, ran the Kirley post office for 37 years, helping cover some ranch bills. Markwed’s only sibling, a sister, Janice, died of cancer at age 26 in 1966.
After graduating from high school at Pierre, South Dakota, college wasn’t an option. “I went to work on a ranch northwest of Ft. Pierre, which became the Houck Ranch that just sold to Ted Turner. My uncle was there and he was a good horseman and cowboy, so I thought I wanted to be one too. I worked there three years,” says Markwed.
In 1956 he married Arlyne Sammons. “We’ll have our 60th anniversary this year,” he said.
He served his country in his young years, as a member of the National Guard from 1955 to the end of 1961.
When he had a spare moment, Markwed entered a rodeo and team roped, “in the tie down days,” he said.
“We sure had a good time going to the rodeos. All the wives would come along and we were like one big family,” says Markwed. “That was back when gas was cheap and you’d just go for a weekend and have fun.
“I couldn’t wait until I was 50 so I could get in the old man’s breakaway roping. I did pretty well roping and was the 1986 champion in the South Dakota Rodeo Association. I brought home a saddle and a buckle and I was as proud as could be.”
Rodeo was fun but so was ranching. And the latter paid the bills. “Over the years we ran Herefords like everyone else did. Then we changed to black bulls on the cows and got black baldy cows. We eventually went straight Angus,” says Markwed. “When I started out, I bought a couple of little places and added on to the ranch. In the ‘80s it was really tough. We milked cows and everything else we could think of to make it work. We managed to keep it together and got it free and clear.”
There was to be another layer of the cattle industry that Markwed would touch. He loved the thrill of a livestock sale.
Although he never attended auctioneer school, he learned the chant and how to use it. “My mother’s dad, Jack Buchanan, was an auctioneer and I used to go to sales with him when I was a little kid. He died when I was about 12,” says Markwed, “Then Basil Henderson from Philip and an auctioneer Louie Cvach from Belvidere got me to start helping them and I learned the business. That was in the late ‘60’s and early ‘70s,” explains Markwed. “Then I started as an auctioneer in Ft. Pierre in 1972 and was there for 24 years or so. I still help Dan Piroutek occasionally. I guess I just can’t get it out of my system,” says Markwed, with a chuckle. “As long as I can still be some help I’ll try my best.”
In 1997 he became a fieldman for Philip Livestock, a career he continues to enjoy, at 81 years of age. “I really like it. You get to meet a lot of fine people. This cattle thing has changed tremendously over the years. It seems like everyone has good cattle now. They’ve really improved their herds.”
Times change and the country changes with it, and Markwed has seen it all happen. “The biggest changes are in the cattle and the market prices. Last year was a banner year, maybe the best we’ll ever have. But, every rancher’s expenses are also greater and we have to get more for the product we raise to make this thing work.”
People are using better bulls with better genetics, he said. “They’re really up on what they’re doing and are using good vaccination programs. They’ve got to stay on top of their game or they won’t stay in business. You have to take good care of the cattle to make a living at it,” says Markwed, stressing, “If it’s your bread and butter, you’d better take care of them.”
“The smaller operators have to be extra careful with what they do because they have the same bills as the big operators. Of course, the taxes keep going higher, along with everything else, and everyone has to deal with that,” adding “Ranching is like any other big business and has to be run as such. It’s getting bigger all the time. We used to have a lot of neighbors on little places, but the bigger places bought them up and it’s that way all over.”
Markwed is optimistic about next generation. “Oh, I think there is opportunity out there. Any young people who are interested in ranching or farming had better be prepared to work hard though, and be ready to face both the good and bad times in it. You’ve got to keep the books and be on top of whatever is coming. It’s going to be long hours and the harder you work the better it will pay you. You’ve really got to keep your nose to the grindstone to get a start though.”
Ranching provides a multitude of benefits, he says. “It’s still the best life you can have, even though it isn’t all roses. To be able to live out in the country and bring your kids up in a rural place just can’t be matched.”
“We go to a little church over here that’s been there since 1908. We have church every Sunday and though there aren’t many people coming, we still gather there every week,” says Markwed, adding, “When everyone started out in this country their objective was to get a school and a church built and they accomplished both.”
Markwed joked that after he paid off his place, he started to wonder what to do with it.
“At that point, everyone agreed we should sell it to our grandson T.J. Gabriel. That was about three years ago. We still own the quarter we live on and we’ll stay as long as we can,” says Markwed. “We hope that our great-grandson will continue since he’s the sixth generation. He’s just five years old but he’s got a good start with a pony and a cow!”
Billy and Arlyne have two daughters, Cindy Bresee, Pierre, and Kim Marso, Rapid City, South Dakota. They also have nine grandsons, three great-grandsons, and one great-granddaughter.
As Billy Markwed looks back over his years of ranch life, he finds enjoyment in the twists and turns of those years but looks forward to what’s ahead. “You can’t be looking back all the time or the wheel will run over you!” As he watches the fifth and sixth generations of Markwed blood take on the ranching life, he is excited for their future. “It’s a great life and I think we live in the best place we could live in.”
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