William H. “Bill” Kruse
William H. (Bill) Kruse was born August 27, 1891 in Philadelphia, PA to Von Wilhelm Kruse and Pauline Ebert Kruse. He was the oldest of three children. While still a small boy, he moved with his divorced mother and some of her family to Ardmore, SD. His boyhood was spent at Ardmore with his mother and stepfather, Jake Forster, on a homestead. During this period, he went to school and helped his stepfather build dykes with a slip and team of horses.
At the age of 16, Bill and a friend left home and headed North on horseback to Montana to make their living as cowboys. Bill worked and wintered on ranches there for several years.
In 1911 while riding south from Montana, he ran into the Shaw roundup wagon. Because his horse was lame, he hit the foreman up for a job. He was told he could have a job if he could ride the string of horses that one cowboy couldn’t. He tried, hoping to last long enough to give his horses a rest. He was able to ride the horses and stayed all summer and fall. In the fall, the roundup gathered the beef to be shipped, and moved to Lost Springs, WY to load them on the train. They started that night with temperatures falling to zero or below with snow and wind. During the night, the cook tent blew apart, so the cowboys went into town the next morning to the saloon. They had butchered a beef the day before, which they took in and traded for food, a warm place to stay, and whiskey. Bill remembered the day well, as it was the 11th day of the 11th month of the 11th year.
Bill spent the winter on Big Lightning Creek with a friend, Ike (Sourdough Ike) Baker. He had a cabin on his homestead, which was later purchased by the Sides family. They had very few groceries, except for a hundred pounds of Navy beans. It was a long, hard winter with very little grass or feed for the horses, so they were forced to cut cottonwood trees so the horses could eat the twigs and bark to survive in the late winter. The men survived on boiled beans, three meals a day, until spring. They were glad to see the snow go off after the hard winter of 1911-12 so they could get out and go back to work.
Bill went up the creek from Sourdough Ike’s and filed on his own homestead in 1912. That fall, after the roundup, he fenced his homestead by cutting cottonwood posts on the creek and dragging them up with his saddle horse. He got enough used wire from some of the drift fences that the government had forced Richards and Comstock (of the 77 ranch) to tear out because they were fencing government land. He wintered on the creek in a sheep wagon and at times thought he would freeze to death before he could get up and build a fire in the stove. During that winter, he built a two room house on his homestead. The following fall, he saved enough wages to buy supplies. He borrowed a team and wagon from a neighbor, Charley Wright, to go to Lusk, WY and buy groceries, lumber, doors, and windows to finish his cabin. The only tools he had were a cross cut saw, axe, and hammer. He spent many evenings with a pocket knife, fitting the latches into the doors.
Shortly after leaving Ardmore, SD, Bill had borrowed money in Crawford, NE and bought some Percheron horses, which he turned onto the open range. After he acquired his homestead, he traded some of those horses for a few cows. The rest of the Percheron mares came up missing when the CBC outfit went through the country.
While improving on his homestead, he cowboyed for several big outfits, using his wages to lease ground and stock his own place. These outfits included Keeline’s, the Cross A, and the JA6. He ran Longhorns and then Herefords, crossing the two for a while before moving exclusively to Hereford cattle.
Bill met Jennie Lynn Flores at a dance at her brother’s ranch on the Cheyenne River and they were married in 1917 in Thermopolis. In 1918 a son, A.D. Flores Kruse, was born at the Kruse ranch on Lightning Creek.
Later that spring, Bill went to Newcastle to receive a bunch of Southern steers, which he had purchased. He trailed them toward home and finally turned them loose on the open range on Cow Creek, however, the water had dried up until it was black in color from the mud. That fall, he gathered as many of the cattle as he could find after a dry summer and took them home. He purchased hay at one hundred dollars a ton, delivered, and cottonseed cake at one hundred and fifty dollars a ton, but they could only be trucked within four miles of the ranch because of the snow. It had to be hauled the rest of the way with a team and wagon. The cattle were starving, but when they smelled the slough grass hay from Nebraska, they would just turn and walk away. The steers purchased were run until they were four years old and topped the market the day of the sale, but lacked ten dollars a head of initial cost for Bill.
Kruse cattle were run on deeded land and the open range until it disappeared in the early 20’s, and then homesteads were leased for pasture and purchased as they became available. The cattle were trailed to Lusk to load on the train and then sold in Omaha for many years.
Bill and Jennie moved to town when A.D. took the ranch over in 1948. Bill came out and helped quite often, staying in the bunkhouse, until his death in 1965.
Bill never owned a pickup or a tractor, staying true to the cowboy lifestyle. In later years, he owned a car to drive back and forth from Lusk to the ranch. He always had a working team of horses and was never without a saddled horse in the barn, ready to go at a moment’s notice.