WILLCOX Cowboy Hall of Fame inductees


In 1913 Bill Prestridge was born in Nimrod, Texas. The early years of Bill's life were not so great. His mother died when he was eight years old. He lived with a grandmother and an uncle, then grandma left and the uncle got married and there was Bill, tending all of the rest of the kids. At the age of 12 he said, "I've had enough" and he struck out on his own, working up and down the Panhandle of Texas. Nimrod, Texas is now a ghost town, the town didn't make it but Bill Prestridge did.

At the ripe old age of 19 Bill arrived in Duncan, Arizona and he had come here to rodeo. He won the bronc riding and the bareback riding. Right after the rodeo Bill was approached by a Mr. Lunt, who wanted to know, "Where did you learn to ride like that?" Bill said, "On a ranch". Well Mr. Lunt made him an offer he couldn't refuse and Bill Prestridge started breaking wild horses. It didn't matter if they were corral balked or just plain nasty they were no match for this dark haired cowboy. During the next few years Bill ran wild horses in the Black Hills and the Turtle mountains. The horses he caught and broke were sold to the San Carlos Apache Indians.

But even this bronc stomp'en, wild horse chas'en, mule driven, rodeo rider had a soft spot in his heart. That soft spot belonged to Margaret Jones. They fell in love and married in 1935. Soon along came daughter Viola, then Bill, then Katherine, then James (Jimmy), and finally there was Deborah. Now remember this scenario of Viola, Bill, Katherine and Jimmy and finally Deborah covers about a 10 year period.

Ya know this ranching/cowboy lifestyle is a romantic kind of lifestyle, but it also comes with its share of tragedies: as Bill and Margretís youngest son Jimmy was only 7 years old he was kicked by a horse and passed away.

Between the time Bill was married and before arriving here in Willcox, Bill and the family had moved back to Texas to farm and ranch. Now back in Texas they have these sandhill cranes like we do out here. One day Bill was riding along when one of these big birds flew up. Well this bird wasn't gaining altitude very fast, so Bill decided to rope it.

Now you have to picture Bill leaning forward in the saddle, riding hell bent for election, with his eye on this bird.

Bill is riding a horse that could run a hole in the wind and they are gaining fast. Just as he raises up in the stirrups to get a throw, his horse runs off the edge of a creek bank and they end up in pile at the bottom. Needless to say the crane got away.

But now we know why, every time Bill sees one of our sandhills, he gets a little sparkle in his eye.

In 1945, Bill and family moved to the Willcox area and Bill first worked at the Sierra Bonita running a feed lot, but he wanted to ride more so he quit and went to the Rancho Sacatel to break horses. Bill even "moonlighted" as a weekend bouncer at the Western Bar on Railroad Ave.

It was the summer of 1959 when Jessie Hooker called and asked Bill if he would come back to manage the Sierra Bonita Ranch. At this juncture in his life we begin to see another side of Bill Prestridge.

Bill was much more than a bronc rider and weekend bar bouncer. He was what I would call "A range technician'*. He, in conjunction with the University of Arizona, conducted 3 years of range land research to improve the land. He wanted to know: Was it more profitable to creep feed your calves or feed the mother cows directly. How did the location of your waters effect the carrying capacity. Can you make money by using permanent pasture.

The fruits of his work with the U of A paid off as the carrying capacity of the Sierra Bonita was increased by 25%.

Bill was at the Sierra Bonita for about twenty years and he said this ranch has lots of history that nobody will ever know. Bill spent time in Duncan and Clifton and back in Texas too, but he said, "Willcox was sure a good place to be, as everybody around would help. He had a wonderful time here, the people were so good,"

I asked him what is the best part of being a cowboy: He said, "If you know it, running a ranch is a real pleasure. It is a free life, you just feel free. If you're a good hand, you don't have anything to worry about. You just went out and did your job."

He said, "I've done everything a man can do, and I've never found anything better than ranching." Bill is the root of his family and at his 80th birthday party his grandson Jim Neal wrote this poem:

I'd like to tell you about a cowboy named Bill,
wandered out of Texas lookin for thrills,
he had wavy black hair and solid good looks,
just the kind you find in them Louis Lamour books.
Well he broke a trail down the Mogollon rim.
the work was hard but that didn't much matter to him,
ya see times was awful lean *n so was he,
ended up chasm' wild horses cuz they was free.
Now that old Bill has a story or two,
and sometimes they're kinda hard to believe by the time he
gets through,
but there's one important thing folks got to remember,
he lived it! He lived it from January to December.
Back when there was no such thing as a cattle truck,
and the only thing to ride was a bronc with a certified
guarantee to buck,
heck he's broke more horses than some of us have ever saw,
the kind that could kick an fight an were just downright
When you take a herd through those Black Hills rocks,
and not lose a one you're a pretty smart fox,
Bill did that all the time for what little he got paid
we sit here callin' ourselves cowboys but would we have
There'll come a day when that old hand takes his last ride,
He'll be on old Bullet with that familiar long stride,
and when he tops that last ridge he'll hear a voice call from
I know you, you ride for the 7 bar 7.