Earl Hardeman was born January 4, 1925 to Gerrit and LaMar Crandall Hardeman in Kelly, Wyoming. Gerrit immigrated to the United States from the Netherlands in 1910 and homesteaded in Kelly, Wyoming in 1919. Earl Hardeman grew up on the ranch with his siblings Marie Stilson, Howard “Howdy” Hardeman, and Helen Robertson. It was on the ranch that Earl learned to work hard, the importance of family, and his love for the cowboy way of life.
Earl rode to Kelly School starting at the age of five riding bareback, bundled up in so many layers that he never would have been able to climb back on if he fell off. His pioneer parents thought that, without a saddle, the horse would keep him warm and he had less chance of getting hung up if he fell off. Earl often thought about how difficult it must have been for his mother to send him off to school, not knowing if he had ever made it until he returned home in the evening. Earl figured that after the 6-mile round trip to school that he rode over 8000 miles for an 8th grade education.
The Hardeman family raised cattle, grew hay and harvested grain on their 640-acre ranch at the base of the Grand Tetons. The ranch was situated on some of the most beautiful land in the country but the Hardeman’s paid a price for the pristine view with four to five months of harsh winter. The freezing temperatures and deep snow always made ranching a little more challenging. Winters were made tolerable with the help of a team and sleigh. Throughout the winter, Earl enjoyed hitching his team up to the sleigh and feeding hay from “loose” hay stacks they had worked hard at assembling. The Fall was spent preparing for the long winter by hunting and butchering several elk and deer. Besides the winters, ranch life for the Hardemans was like any other ranch. Earl kept himself busy; fixing fence, milking the cow, calving, branding the new cattle, irrigating, and haying.
The Hardeman Ranch raised purebred Hereford cattle. Their cattle grazed on a leased school section and forest permit during the summer where Earl spent many of hours horseback tending to the cattle. Earl was very proud of the purebred Hereford cattle his family raised and sold. He had many fond memories of the Hardeman Bull Sale and various trips he took to promote their cattle.
LaMar and Gerrit Hardeman sold the ranch in 1955 to the park service and moved to Wilson where they ranched on 800 acres they purchased from C.C. Moseley. Earl stayed on the home ranch in Kelly to fulfill the 10-year-lease.
In 1960, Earl married a nurse named Pat Weaver. Soon followed two children Robert Hardeman and Heidi Hardeman. Earl moved his family to the ranch in Wilson in 1967. Earl was very proud of his children and raised them to enjoy his way of life, participating in the work on the ranch, 4-H, and Rodeo.
In 1960, Earl attended auctioneering school in Decatur, Indiana. Earl had always said, “I was a fast talker, but people thought I would be a real smooth talker when I got out of that place.” Auctioneering made Earl into a well-known public-servant, synonymous with local charity auctions. He auctioned off the 4-H livestock for many years. He donated his time to the Boy Scouts for their annual Elk Horn auction, the Teton Science School, Jackson Hole Cutter Races, Trout Unlimited, Ducks Unlimited, the Jackson Hole Outfitters and Guides, as well as many other organizations and individuals. He had a talent for getting a lot of money out of a few people in a short amount of time. He was the initial inductee into the Wyoming Auctioneers Hall of Fame.
Earl’s love of sports and the cowboy way of life also led him to announce rodeos for many years. His first announcing job came from Walt Callahan behind the Stagecoach Bar. Earl spent many of nights entertaining the rodeo spectators with his quick humor and witty sayings. You can still hear him say; “Let’s go, Let’s show, Let’s roll, Let’s rodeo. Let’s get wild, rough and reckless and a wee bit western. Let’s get this show on the road!”
A strong sense of community and the willingness to help his neighbors helped Earl receive many community awards for service and involvement with many organizations. The awards include:
1.Twenty years dedicated service to the Jackson Hole Shrine Club
2. JH RMEF Conservation Sportsmen of the year, 1989
3. Jackson Hole Citizen of the Year, 1981
4. Honorary Lifetime Member of the JH Outfitter and Guide Association
5. Ducks Unlimited Conservation Award for Outstanding Contributions, 1985
6. Mr. Rodeo of JH for over 3 decades, 1991
7. Sportsman of the year, Ducks Unlimited, 1985
8. Silver Antler Award, Jackson District Boy Scouts, 1992
9. Meritorious service award to 4-H
10. President and Honorary Lifetime member of the Jackson Hole Cattle and Horse Association
11. Lifetime Friend of Fair Recognition
12. Wyoming Auctioneer Hall of Fame, 1997
Earl loaned his time and community spirit by serving on many boards including the Hospital Board, Teton County Fair Board, Parks and Recreation Board, and Wilson Volunteer Fire Department.
As more and more Teton County ranches became covered with homes, Earl and his family were hailed as icons of a disappearing way of life. In 1976 National Geographic did an article on ranching in Jackson Hole and focused on the Hardeman ranch. In 1978 the BBC spent time with Earl off and on for a year and compiled a one-hour documentary titled “The Rancher.” “The Rancher” was just one part of a 13-part documentary called “Americans.” The film documented the profiles of real personalities behind the stereotypes the world knows as Americans.
In 1988, Earl was diagnosed with ALS, better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. At the Mayo Clinic, the doctors told him to go home and get his affairs in order, as he would only have about two years to live. There is no accounting for how tough one old cowboy can be, Earl lived 15 years after his trip to the Mayo Clinic. After the diagnosis, Earl continued to be active on the ranch for years the only change his illness forced him to make was trading his horse in for a four-wheeler.
Earl passed away on February 18, 2003.