William "Bill" Frank Sr. & William "Billy" Frank Jr.
With courage and determination Bill Frank, Sr. moved his family to Fremont County in January of 1948, a move that would mark a milestone in Bill’s lifelong goal of owning a ranch in the shadow of the Wind River Mountains. That first morning in their new surroundings on Squaw Creek outside of Lander, Wyoming, the dead cold of winter greeted Bill and his family including five Frank children, the oldest being 11 years. Billy Frank was 8 years old when he followed his Dad outside that day and got a taste of the rugged ranch lifestyle that would hold him in its grasp his entire life.
Being new to the area, but not to hardships, the family was especially challenged the second year by the infamous winter of “49. Determined to earn a living, Bill Frank remained resolute in the face of many difficulties that he and his family would encounter over their lifetimes. They did, indeed, earn a living.
WILLIAM “BILL” FRANK, SR. Bill Frank, Sr. was born March 24, 1916 at Red Lodge, Montana, one of eleven children born to German immigrant farmers. Growing up Bill learned the value of hard work and doing what had to be done. The family moved to Hawk Springs, Wyoming in 1927 to break up land and grow sugar beets for the newly established Holly Sugar plant in Torrington. Much of the farming was done with teams of horses and Bill particularly liked to work with horses. Bill became experienced at handling, harnessing and driving the work teams.
In his youth, Bill loved the lure of the ‘old-time cowboys’ and gravitated to work that involved horses and cattle. The cowboy lifestyle became ingrained in his psyche. He recalled herding cattle so they wouldn’t bunch up in the corners of fences and smother during winter blizzards and in the early 1930’s, Bill herded horses on the open range in bands of 100 head or more for Joe Madden, an early rodeo cowboy. Bill traveled to local ranches breaking horses and riding the ‘bad ones’. With youthful and wreckless abandon, Bill and some of his friends would gather at the Hawk Springs Stockyards and ride broncs “just for fun”. One can only imagine what kind of equipment they had, and ten to one, that ground was mighty hard landing. Bill Frank and Pauline Korell were married in 1935. The couple moved to several different farms in the Mitchell, Nebraska and Torrington, Wyoming area and started their family. Bill’s dream of owning a ranch and raising cattle was realized when he packed up his family and moved to Lander, Wyoming in 1948.
The little ranch nestled on Squaw Creek didn’t produce adequate hay needs so in 1952 he purchased the Peterson Place in Lyons Valley. With increased cropland and Taylor Grazing Rights in Government Draw, Bill raised hay, oats and concentrated on a yearling operation. Most of the irrigating was accomplished by horseback and Bill was seen daily headed out with his shovel across his shoulder. A team of work horses and several good ranch horses were a necessity and Bill had a good eye for horses. To help supplement ranch income, Bill bought and sold all classes of horses from gentle kids ponies to nice saddle horses and often took in unbroken, spoiled horses on trade. He often came across horses with race blood and the Franks were formidable competition at the Lander Pioneer Days horse races. Finding ways to keep life interesting and drawing on his experience with driving teams of horses, in 1953 Bill drove the winning team in the Chuck Wagon Race at the Pioneer Days.
As a member of the Fremont County Sheriff’s Posse he rode in the 1960 Commemorative Reenactment of the Pony Express. He was also a founding member of the Fremont County Cutter Racing Association and enjoyed participating with his own team of chariot horses. Using the horse trade business to his benefit, Bill put together a string of bucking horses and provided stock for local rodeos. In the early days, the horses were trailed from pastures on the Little Wind River near the Dallas Oil Fields or from Fort Washakie to the ranch in Lyons Valley or into town for the rodeo. The rodeo stock came to include bucking bulls and roping and dogging cattle. With the addition of a couple of semi- trucks, Bill Frank & Sons, Stock Contractors, hit the road. They provided stock for rodeos throughout Wyoming and the surrounding states. The contracting business produced some memorable times throughout the 60’s including Bucking Horses of the year honors from the Northwest Ranch Cowboys Association. The NRCA was geared toward ranch cowboys, not professional rodeo cowboys, as was the Wyoming Rodeo Association (WRA), an organization which the Franks helped to organize. Bill was an independent, tough ‘old cowboy’. While rounding up the bucking horses for the 4th of July Rodeo, Bill’s saddle horse lost his footing on a steep hillside and fell on Bill. The result was several broken ribs and a trip to the hospital. When the day of the rodeo came, Bill got up, put his pants on and walked out of the hospital without a Dr. dismissal. There was no way he was going to miss out on the biggest rodeo of the year.
Bill Frank continued to expand the ranch holdings with the purchase of the adjoining Oldham/Bull place in Lyons Valley and a few years later the purchase of the Needen place on Snavely Lane. Bill and Pauline moved to Snavely Lane while the sons and their families occupied the ranch homes in Lyons Valley. The bucking stock was sold around 1970 making way for a traditional cow/calf ranch operation and the growing families of Bill’s sons, Billy and Gary. The Frank Ranches then purchased considerable rangeland acreage on South Pass for the increasing herd of 600 mother cows. Bill spent many days on the South Pass grazing allotment acquainting himself with the vast range that included portions of the Oregon Trail, a Pony Express Stop and Stage Station and extended from the Sweetwater River north and west for several miles. Incessant regulations of the BLM required the cattle to often be relocated or moved away from the creeks. Frank Ranches, Inc. prospered with one of the finest herd of commercial angus cross cattle in the state. The SO branded cows were calved out at the home place in Lyons Valley, then moved to summer range on South Pass. Corrals were added to the South Pass holdings and weaning took place there. The calves were brought off the mountain and kept in a feedlot on Snavely Lane or Lyons Valley or sent to outside feedlots. The Frank families devoted their time to daily cowboy life on the ranch.
Bill Frank, Sr. did what had to be done and lived his dream of owning a ranch in the shadow of the Wind River Mountains. He helped his children to succeed and earned the respect of many. His grandchildren and many people in the cattle business often sought Bill, Sr.’s insight and advice. Bill often answered a question in a sly or provocative way so as to invoke thought or encourage the questioner to think something through. His reply was usually accompanied with a wink and a chuckle. He enjoyed days spent at the Riverton Livestock Auction where he could figure faster in his head than most. “Old Bill” retired but his heart and soul were never far from the ranch. Bill Frank passed away October 20, 1997.
WILLIAM “BILLY” FRANK, JR At a very young age and with the help of his cousin and his Dad, Billy Frank broke his first horse to ride, a little buckskin mare named “Flash”. He was growing up on a farm in Scottsbluff, Nebraska at the time and this experience would whet his appetite for a lifetime of ‘cowboying’.
Billy was born May 30, 1939 at the family home at Torrington, Wyoming and he was eight years old when he came to live near Lander, Wyoming. Billy was the shadow that followed his Dad around the ranch which he found far more interesting than herding his siblings around. He learned from a young age to be responsible for taking care of livestock, taking pride in doing his work and if something was worth doing, then it was worth doing well.
When the family moved to Lyons Valley, he worked hard on the ranch, putting up hay, gathering the yearlings and feeding the stock. There didn’t seem to ever be a time when Billy wasn’t either breaking a colt or riding a colt. People from town or neighboring ranches brought horses for Billy to break and ride. Although he earned a little extra money, he never thought of it as a job, just something that he loved to do. Billy Frank attended school in Lander, Wyoming where he was an honor roll student. In High School he was an active member of the FFA, a scrappy wrestler and quick footed on the football field. He served as Senior Class President, attended Boy’s State and was named to the National Honor Society. He graduated from Lander High School in 1957. He attended Casper College for a semester but missed the cowboy life and was eager to get back home. He acquired a small bunch of heifers which was to be the start of his own herd. He also served a short stint in the Army when the National Guard was called to active duty.
When Bill Frank & Sons, Stock Contractors began furnishing stock for rodeos, Billy’s many cowboy skills came into play. There seemed to be no task too difficult for Billy whether he was gathering or trailing a herd of bucking horses or running down some wild horse escapees that had gotten out into the nearby hills because some careless individuals had run through the fence or left a gate open. He was handy with a rope and often had to rope some wayward critter that needed to be dragged out of the brush or didn’t want to go where it was supposed to. He was a capable pick-up man at the rodeos as well. Billy Frank excelled in saddle bronc riding and steer wrestling, winning many events and championships throughout the 60’s and early 70’s. He was known for his classic bronc riding style and Wyoming artist and sculptor, Jim Allard created a bronze statue in his likeness. The semi-trucks that hauled the rodeo stock in the summer were put to use during the winter months and Billy hauled cattle commercially to and from the sale barn in Riverton to Torrington or Fort Collins. One trucking job turned out to be quite an experience. Billy was hired to haul the horses for the mountain men who were destined to ride in the Inaugural Parade for President John F. Kennedy. The many stops along the route to Washington, D.C. brought out the curious and Billy found himself being asked some rather amusing questions. It was a whole different world for a cowboy of few words from Wyoming.
Billy Frank married Jeanne Reed from the Shoshoni area in 1965 and together they worked on the Frank Ranch and raised two boys of their own, Tom and Ron Frank. Jeanne would describe Billy as a ‘workaholic’. He was always working on a project, be it a horse or building something in the shop. A winter activity that Billy enjoyed was cutter/chariot racing. Billy built his chariot modeled after a sulky cart. As a member of the Fremont County Cutter Racing Association, they traveled to Jackson, Big Piney and other Wyoming towns and won many races.
Billy Frank gave valuable input into the land acquisitions for the Frank Ranches and was a full partner when they incorporated. He put in long days and nights calving cows, branding and moving cows to the South Pass range. He rode for miles keeping the cows where they were supposed to be in the summer and gathering and weaning in the fall. He quietly went about doing his daily work and was always there to encourage and assist his own sons with their steers at the county fair or helping them improve their roping skills.
In 1990, Billy Frank and his family moved to the Copper Mountain area north of Shoshoni and started the Diamond X Ranch. Billy and his family set to work improving that ranch by renovating the meadows for greater hay production, building cross fences to better manage grazing and adopting new innovative management practices. Billy and his sons enjoyed raising a few horses and working with and using these horses for all aspects of ranch work. Billy never bought a readymade horse and always rode horses that he had broken to ride. Billy’s idea of a perfect day was riding on the mountain mounted on a good ‘cow horse’, checking cows and mending fences. Billy Frank passed away June 10, 2010.
Bill Frank, Sr. and Billy Frank, Jr. devoted their lives to the ‘cowboy way’. It was a wild and amazing ride for sure. They did what they had to do, took pride in their work and left a lasting cowboy legacy through the ranches that they built. These ranches are still in existence today and operated by the Frank heirs.