Grand Lady of the West

Reg 4 Billie Jean Shepperson Beaton Reg 4 Billie Jean Shepperson Beaton2

Billie Jean Shepperson Photos courtesy Wyoming Cowboy Hall of Fame

It’s not every day you come across individuals who pave the way for others like Billie Jean does in this story.  When you read this article about how she lived through many different stages of ranch living. Like the open ranges to having their livestock fenced in so they didn’t go on other people’s land. She was born in 1919 and grew up in Midwest, Wyoming. As soon as she could she was working livestock with the many horses she owned. Billie Jean Shepperson Beaton was a true pioneer of the west. Read and share this article about the Cowgirl Legend.

During the depression, she was able to buy colts for 25 cents each and she bought many of them. She broke and trained the colts and started working at the stockyards as a youngster. The Salt Creek stockyards were located on the railroad and it became her favorite place to hang out. She had lots of horses and her help was always welcome by the ranchers who brought their stock in to ship.

Ranchers from all over Johnson, Campbell and Natrona counties would trail their sheep, cattle and horses to the stockyards. Billie Jean would always know where the good grass was so the ranchers could graze and rest their stock before shipping. She would ride out to meet herds coming in to the stockyards and help trail them to the railroad where she would help work and load them onto the trains.

During high school, Billie Jean and a friend spent summers helping a stock contractor trail livestock from north of Midwest to Alcova and Mills, Wyoming to put on rodeos. It was open range at that time so they had to herd the animals as they traveled more than 70 miles.

There were no corrals, rodeo arenas or facilities so they also had to ride herd while they were there. When she and her friend wanted to go to a dance, they had to go horseback, sometimes riding 25 to 30 miles to the dance.

Billie Jean graduated from Midwest High School in 1935 and attended Colorado Teachers College in Greeley, Colorado. She bought her first cattle and the diamond heart brand in 1937. In 1938, she married Frank L. Shepperson in Ft. Collins, Colorado. They ranched on Castle Creek near his parents, just south of Midwest, Wyoming, raising cattle and horses. They lived in a sheep wagon and later lived in a tarpaper homestead shack before moving an oilfield house onto the ranch. There was no electricity or running water. They had no chutes or corrals. To brand the cattle, they headed and heeled them. She became an expert roper in order to catch and work the cattle. They also built reservoirs with horses. When they were ready to ship the cattle, they trailed them to the railroad at Bucknum or Bishop to ship in the fall.

In the 1940’s and 50’s, the young Shepperson family became heavily involved in rodeo. Frank bulldogged in local rodeos and traveled a few years participating at Madison Square Garden and other legendary rodeo venues. Billie Jean loved participating also and later, she would take great joy in watching her children and grandchildren carry on an impressive legacy of rodeo successes. She loved all school sports especially when the family was participating.

Billie Jean Shepperson played a significant role during the most fearsome blizzard in Wyoming’s history. From January 2, 1949 to February 20, 1949, snowfall in parts of eastern and southeastern Wyoming measured up to30 inches. High winds created drifts 20 to 30 feet high. Ranchers were stranded and cattle became immobilized in the high snow drifts. An emergency was declared and an airlift of supplies for isolated ranches and bales of hay for stranded livestock was implemented. In “Operation Hay lift.” U.S. Air Force pilots in C-47 ‘Skytrains’, C-45 ‘Expeditors’ and C-82 ‘Flying Boxcars’ airlifted countless tons of hay to stranded herds of cattle and flocks of sheep throughout the region. Billie Jean’s vast knowledge of the country was called upon to fly in .the airlift directing pilots where to drop the supplies to ranchers and hay to starving livestock.

She was instrumental in starting the barrel racing event in the 1950’s at the Women’s Rodeo in Casper. She had seen the event at bigger rodeos in other states: She competed for many years and always had a horse in training.

Billie Jean later finished her college education at the University of Wyoming in 1961 and taught at ‘the Midwest Schools for 20 years. Frank passed away in 1969 and she later married longtime friend and neighbor, Johnny Beaton in 1972. They ran Black Angus cattle and some sheep on the Teapot Ranch. Johnny passed away-in 2004. She continued to be. Involved on the ranch with brandings, roundups, trailing cattle to the mountain and riding every chance that she had until she was 93.

Both sides of the Shepperson family came to Wyoming up the Chisolm trail. Her and her family’s roots are firmly planted in Wyoming.
A famous location, the Shepperson Ranch, is owned by a family of rodeo cowboys. Les, Frank Jr’s son, won the WNFR in 2012 and was ranked 3rd in the world standings, while his dad, Frank (Billie Jean’s son), was the world champion in steer wrestling in 1975. They both work a big spread that was homesteaded by Frank’s granddad near Midwest, WY in the late 1800s. It is 140,000 acres and includes the famous Teapot Dome, and is just a stone’s throw from Butch Cassidy’s Hole-in-the-Wall outlaw hideout.

In 2008 the Shepperson Ranch and Teapot Ranch were both awarded the Centennial Ranch awards ranching in Wyoming over 100 years. Billie Jean was part of both of these awards. In 2010, Billie Jean and her family participated in the documentary, “The Code of the West: Alive and Well in Wyoming.”

The Wyoming Cowboy Hall of Fame honored Billie Jean Shepperson Beaton by inducting her into the first class of inductees in 2014 in the newly formed organization. The Wyoming Cowboy Hall of Fame was founded in 2013. Their chief goal is “To preserve, promote, perpetuate, publish and document Wyoming’s rich working cowboy and ranch history through researching, profiling and honoring individuals who broke the first trails and introduced that culture to the state.”

Billie Jean passed away in February of 2014. She left an honored legacy to be chosen in the first class of inductees of the Wyoming Cowboy Hall of Fame. Billie Jean has surely become a Wyoming Cowgirl Legend.
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 By Ralph Galeano