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Mary Frances Tisdale “Mike” Hinckley

Mary Frances (Mike) Tisdale was born Oct. 20, 1919 in Havre, Montana to Martin Allison Tisdale and Dolly Davis Tisdale. She was the granddaughter of John A. and Kate Tisdale and Henry Winter (Hard Winter) and Frances A. Davis. Her father, Mart Tisdale, was the Johnson County sheriff during her formative years. Mike had a lifetime love affair with horses which placed her among the high ranks of Wyoming horsemen throughout her life. She and her brother, Tom Tisdale, engrossed themselves in the history of Johnson County, the humor, stories, the unique characters of the times, and the old time cowboy lifestyle. Both sides of Mike’s family were entrenched in the Johnson County Cattle War. To which Mike referred as a tragedy for both. This fascination lasted a lifetime. Mike wrote, “I am fascinated with Wyoming history-a quiet act of faith-a link to the past.”


Mike graduated from Buffalo High School and went on to the University of Wyoming. She was the Queen of the first University of Wyoming Rodeo in 1944. She was later employed by the state of Wyoming during the Lester C. Hunt Administration. Cowboy life drew Mike and her brother, Tom, back to Powder River Country. She went to work on the TTT an early day ranch on the South Fork of the Powder River. There were 125 sections, running both sheep and cattle. Mike reminisced about the winter of 1949. It was a nightmare with the thermometer dropping to 51 below, and no one went anywhere for two and a half months. When they got out, they celebrated at a country dance. She said, “We lost very little livestock because after a dry summer we trailed 1500 yearlings to Bucknam in five days and that made a full train load to Omaha.” Mike was lucky to get a Pullman ticket, and when she arrived, she and others were given full publicity.


Mike met Franklin Taggart Hinckley on St. Patrick’s Day, 1950 at a dance at the Grange Hall in Kaycee. She was the cow foreman at the TTT Ranch at the time. Frank always referred to that day as the most important day of his life. From that day forward Frank was devoted to Mike and forever supported her love of cowboying. They were married on July 2, 1951 in Sheridan, Montana. After locating in communities throughout Wyoming and Montana while Frank operated Jones, Hinckley, and Jones Construction, they settled in Shell, WY. They raised three children: Mart, Mike, and Lisa (Timmy). Mike stubbornly taught her children- as well as plenty of stray children- the art of working cattle the old time easy way. She persisted until her children appreciated the joy of Wyoming history, the art of a well told story, and the value of “being a hand”. Every spring, she would flee to her beloved Powder River Country to help Harold Jarrard, and the Shepperson and Campbell families. She also spent several years trailering to the Wolf Mountains to scatter 7,000 steers in the spring and back again to gather in the fall.


Mike spent the rest of her time helping neighbors on this side of the Big Horns, primarily riding with Mary and Stan Flitner and the Barnett family. You would see her at lots of brandings dragging calves to the fire. Stan Flitner reflected on her cowboying, “She was an artist in getting cattle to trail. She and Mary were usually in charge of point. I knew if Mike was on point for us, we could take those cattle to the county fair and put them on a ferris wheel if need be.” Speaking of the county fair, she spent many years as a devoted 4-H leader. She kept her own string of well trained, well-bred Quarter Horses. She named her favorite horses for places and rivers in Wyoming she’d ridden-Chuggie for Chugwater, a sorrel named Powder River, and a fancy bay mare Crazy Woman.


Old age was not something she took to easily, but there were highlights. Frank was elected to the Wyoming State Legislature and they enjoyed their time there immensely. Though she always claimed to prefer being horseback, she had impeccable manners and was at ease in any social setting. She was proud to be a part of Wyoming politics; a tradition she shared with relatives. Her grandfather, Hard Winter, was in the First State Legislature, House of Representatives, Johnson County 1890-1891. Her mother, Frances A. Davis (Tisdale) was appointed State Law Librarian by Joseph M. Cary and John B. Kendrick. Her father was long time Johnson County Sheriff 1926-1942. Frank’s father, John Hinckley, was also in the early Wyoming State Legislature, representing Big Horn County. Service was valued and expected.


Her health started to fail several years before her death in 1989. The doctor suggested that she exercise-walk, perhaps. Mary Flitner remembers that Mike replied, “Walk? Me? On the Horse Creek Road? Hell, people will think I forgot where I tied my horse!” Mike died on Sept. 6, 1989. Gretel Ehrlich wrote a tribute to Mike in the Greybull Standard after her death. Gretel wrote —Mike’s motto was: “If it can’t be done on horseback, it isn’t worth doing”, and yet, to see her dressed for a party, you would have thought she just stepped off Fifth Avenue, no matter how rough a circle she’d ridden the day before. Her unique gift was her ability to balance seeming opposites: feminine elegance with a spunky western toughness; wry wit with a keen sense of fairness, cool courage with a high-strung set of nerves. What seemed contradictory was only the natural complexity of the human spirit, and when it came to spirit, she had plenty to go around.


The ultimate compliment Mike would give to someone was, “They are damn good help.”

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