WILLCOX Cowboy Hall of Fame inductees


Bill Winkler and his wife Doris have been married for 61 years and they have traveled all over the western United States. Bill said, “We had a good truck and a travel trailer and we have seen most of the west." I asked Bill, “Why do you keep coming back home?" He smiled and chuckled, "Because this is God's country." For Bill, God's country is his Rucker Canyon Ranch. A ranch with some pure grama grass pastures coupled with some rough canyons with lots of rocks. This is where he grew up. Bill was born in 1924, and from the time he was two years old until today this has been his home. The ranch was started by Bill's Granddad in 1917, passed down to Bill's Dad and then in 1947, Bill took over the operation.

Bill was an only child growing up on a ranch. He was just a country kid. He went to grade school at the Rucker School House from 1st thru the 5th grade. There was not a school bus traveling in Rucker Canyon in those days so Bill made the five-mile trip to school on a horse. When Bill was going to high school in Douglas he met a young gal named Doris Seabaugh. Their high school courtship was interrupted when he went into the Navy at age seventeen. For three years Bill served on the USS Reno during World War II. When he was on leave, he would always make time to see Doris. Bill drove a Model T Ford that was so loud you could hear him before you could see him. Doris would climb up on the windmill tower to watch him coming down the road. They have now been married for 61 years, and they have two children, Rusty and Karen.

The ranching life has been pretty typical with some good years and some bad years. The Rucker Canyon Ranch weans some pretty big calves, and Bill remembers when the order buyers would come to the ranch to buy his calves for $45.00 dollars per head. Now Bill hauls his calves to the Willcox Livestock Auction where they recently brought $1.31 per pound.

If you're going to work on a ranch and ride the broncs, you will have your share of wrecks. Bill said, “I been thrown off a lot and I have been crippled up a little, but nothing that wouldn't heal." One of his wrecks was when Bill's horse spooked and ran off. The horse ran under a large oak limb knocking Bill off the horse. Bill came off, but his foot hung in the stirrup. He drug for about 200 yards. He was out cold for four hours. He was in intensive care for nine days. He had 36 stitches, three broken ribs and some liver damage. But as Bill said, "Nothing that wouldn't heal." This whole ordeal started rather innocently. Bill was riding a young horse that day and decided to make another little welty before lunch. All was well until they rode up on a deer that was hiding in some tall grass. The deer jumped up right under his bronc and the wreck was on. Doris started to look for him when he didn't come home for lunch. It was Bill's cow dogs that led Doris to where Bill was down. Thank God for cow dogs and wives.

Bill was an entrepreneur. He had a little store up in Rucker Canyon, where he sold beer, groceries, and gas to the tourists. It was known as Bill's Place. He put up some signs made out of a post and hoards and each sign had a little riddle. "Out in the hills to see a deer, let's stop by Bill's to have a beer." Something happened in 1955 that made the Winkler house a very popular spot for all the neighbors. Especially on Saturday nights, any of Bill's neighbors would arrive at the Winkler's to gather around to experience the new phenomenon. What was it you ask? Well, many of the neighbors had a DC Kohler plant to provide lights, but the Winkler's had an AC Kohler which made it possible for the Winkler's to have the first TV in Rucker Canyon. The picture was pretty wavy, but hey a TV is a TV.

Bill was a musician. He played the guitar and the fiddle. He played many a song at the Rucker School House. For many years Bill hosted the annual Old Time Musicians' picnic and played for the Rucker dance. Songs like Red River Valley, You Are My Sunshine, and Fraulein were some of his favorites. Bill was as hard a worker as you will ever see and other than the three years in the Navy he has virtually lived and worked his entire life on his ranch. He has made his living working his cattle and he still says, "It has all been fun for me." But the best part for Bill was when his kids were around all the time before they went off to school.

Bill is a member of the Arizona Cattle Growers Association and is a Mason. Today at age 83 he doesn't ride anymore as two back operations have slowed down his cowboy days. There will be no more riding the broncs, but as a rancher he will always worry about the rain and the price of cattle. Bill, you don't have to do anything anymore except enjoy your little slice of God's country.

Prepared and presented by Eddie Browning