WILLCOX Cowboy Hall of Fame inductees


The following biography was written at the time of Mr. Sander's induction.

Ben Sanders indicated that he is content with the surroundings and the place from which he came, and as a result has never left it. After 71 years he still lives in the house he was born in, in the Turkey Creek area.

"Six years after the day I was born I became a cowboy," he said. What is a cowboy? Sanders describes a cowboy as "a boy who has grown up from infancy on a ranch and performed all the duties on that ranch from the time he was old enough to do it. Those duties that make a cowboy are not just sitting on the back of a horse. I can do all the work on a ranch because that's the way I was brought up."

When he was ready to get married, he found himself "one of the best cowboys he's ever known." He and his wife, Ethel, have been married for 54 years. "She's a typical cowboy and I've seen her do just about anything any good hand could do," he said. "I just wouldn't have been around or managed to do it through all these years if it hadn't been for Ethel."

Working and learning from his father taught Sanders most of what he knows about being a cowboy. The rest came from hard work and "plain old day-to-day living. I guess the real beginning of my cowboy days came from being a coffee-grinder to quench the thirst of 40 hardworking cowboys. That taught me a lot," he said.

From about 1924 until he got married, Sanders did some cow punching work for his brother-in-law, his half brother and his father. "Sometimes I think I worked more before Ethel and I were married than I did afterward," he said, chuckling. "I remember working all day for $1 a day," he said, "and that was pretty good living."

The ranch has more or less been a family affair and is made up of 11 sections. His sister, Sybil Smith, still lives on the ranch in her own home.

The only times Sanders was away from the ranch was for a short time in the 1940's when he lived and worked in Bisbee, and again when he ran a service station in Willcox for 8 years. He sold the station in 1969 and devoted all his time, again, to ranching.

He and Ethel raised three children on the ranch, their son, Jerry Sanders, and daughters Janice Graham and Sybil Thompson. "It was a good setting for raising a family," he said.

Ranching, and the way a ranch is worked, has changed as far as Sanders is concerned. "There weren't no fences back in the early days," he said. "Just big ranches and cowboys working with the cattle. That's why I don't think there's any real cowboys coming up today, because most of them have never worked cattle. You've got to own a ranch and work it to know what it's like to be a cowboy."

"But times are hard today and, in these days and times a fella would have to do something else besides being a cowboy, just to make a living. It ain't like it used to be and it's not easy to have your own place today."

Sanders still has about 40 head of cattle on his place and says he's "still going strong right now. I have to just keep on top and keep things going," he said. The ranch has been a "a little bit of everything" to Sanders and he says that he and Ethel have made the most out of their lives, right there in that same house, all these years. They've raised cattle, chickens, worked roundups and mended fences; they've raised kids; she's done housework and cooked for hard-working cowboys; and he's had a gun blow up in his face in their bedroom after a hunting trip. "There's a lot of memories on this place," he said.

He also remembers a few hard times, especially 1936-37. "But we learned from those times," he said, "and going through them didn't hurt us that much. Not in the long run."

Sanders would be a "ranching cowboy" again, if he had it all to do over, "I went into ranching because it was the only thing I knew and I sure didn't have no other place to go. "But I'd do a few things different if I was starting out again. First thing I'd do is work like hell and save all the money I could get. Then I'd show them how the United States ought be run. There's one thing I'd really like to do before I die. I'd like to have 30 minutes time on nationwide television to tell everybody exactly why the poor are poor and the rich are rich. I've got my own ideas on that."

Sanders has no advice for a young cowboy starting out today. "But there's one thing I'd have him do," he said. "I'd tell him to get out here and we'd build a fence, fix a few holes and then ride after the cows and put them back in the pasture. Then after we were all done, I'd ask him if he still wanted to be a cowboy."

Ben Sanders passed away June 29,1985 at age 73.