Ferguson Ranch, Inc.History
Passing the Torch
This story was written before Walter Ferguson passed away in December 1996. His progeny now carry the torch.
Left to right back row: Mark Anderson, Matthew Anderson, Walt III (Bus) Ferguson, Walt Ferguson Jr.,
Dorothy Ferguson, Angie Ferguson, MaryLou Anderson, Chuck Ferguson
Front row Left to right: Dan Ferguson, Luke Anderson, John Anderson, Micah Anderson,
Kristi Anderson, Joshua Anderson
More than 120 years have passed since Walter Ferguson’s grandparents, William and Martha Ferguson, set up housekeeping in the windy, rolling hills of Wyoming. Walt’s father and his two brothers were among the first white children born in the Cheyenne area. It was Indian territory.
The old homestead, built in 1874 is gone now—under 5400 acre-feet of water at Granite Springs Reservoir, 40 miles west of Cheyenne, Wyoming. Still, the Ferguson Ranch legacy lives on.
Seventy-two-year-old Walt and his wife, Dorothy, along with two of their sons own and operate Ferguson Ranch, Inc. located about five miles from the original home site. Bus, the oldest son, handles the ranch while Chuck manages the family farm in Pine Bluffs.
Back in 1902, the city of Cheyenne bought first rights to the water and built dams along Crow Creek. Crow Creek had supplied water to the Ferguson’s cattle and the irrigated fields. Fergusons retained second and third rights. It worked out well at that time.
In 1904, when the dam was completed and water began to fill the reservoir, Walt Ferguson’s grandmother wrote a detailed description of how the outbuildings and farm looked the day they left.
In 1980s the reservoir dried up due to a drought. The foundation of the house and barn were again visible. Grandfather’s anvil and grandmother’s rock garden and pathways were just as she described. With tears in their eyes, each family member chose a rock from the garden while thoughts of a hammer on anvil rang in their ears.
Walt, his brother, and his sister divided up the original 26,000 acre ranch in 1966. Walt retained 10,000 acres, a small amount of Bureau of Land Management land and 208 head permit with the Forest Service.
"Our forest permit costs us more to run our cattle than our private leases," Walt says. "We do all the work, cater to when they want the cattle moved and even where to put the salt. They used to provide supplies to fix fences but they don’t anymore. Whatever we put into the permit becomes government property. We can’t drive our pickup onto the permit so all of our work has to be done of foot or horseback. We are required to ride the permit three times a week."
Fergusons have the oldest Angus herd in Laramie County and one of the oldest in the state. In 1976 the ranch received the distinguished honor of Centennial Ranch to celebrate Wyoming’s first 100 years.
Fergusons got into the Angus business in the early 1930s as a result of a near disaster. It was early spring and Walt’s father had 400 head of Herefords that had just calved. A snow storm left eight inches on the ground. Cloudy skies coupled with the brightness of the snow sunburned the cow’s teats.
Walt recalls he stayed home from school to help the hired man and his dad rope and hobble the cows and drag the calves into suckle. They worked into the night but didn’t get through the herd. Many of the calves died.
"I remember Dad saying, ‘I swear the first chance I get I’m going into black cattle,’" says Walt.
A few days later they rounded up the shorthorns and took them to the sale. With the money, they bought a few black cows and three black bulls. The bulls bred the Hereford cows until the herd was black. Later they bought 14 head of two-year-old registered Angus heifers.
In 1939 they started selling bulls at the National Western Stock Show. They showed a few heifers as well. In the late 1940s they bought "Woodlawn Bellboy the 10th" in Canada. He was a champion at Calgary and at the Wyoming State Fair. Walt recalled that after using him hard, he placed second in a class of 40 bulls at Denver. They participated at Denver until 1960. In 1953, Wyoming Angus Association Champion bull and female honors went to the Fergusons.
Walt and his farther, with the help of Wilber Brettel, founded the Wyoming Angus Association in the 1940’s. The senior Ferguson was the president. Twenty years later, Bus and two other young Angus breeders started the Wyoming Junior Angus Association. Walt’s two daughters, Kathie and Mary Lou, were Wyoming Angus Queens. Mary Lou raised and showed many champion steers, heifers and bulls at the Wyoming State fair in 4-H and FFA. In 1971 she won the showmanship contest in Wyoming and went to Nationals. Walt’s son, Tom, duplicated Mary Lou’s success both with his cattle and winning the State Showmanship contest in 1972. He also showed the Grand Champion Open Class Angus Female in 1964.
Sixteen years ago, Fergusons bought the reserve champion bull at the National Western Stock Show. He weighed 2,500 pound and improved the herd. The Bellboy cows had averaged a weight of 900 pounds. Now the cows weigh between 1,100 and 1,200 pounds. Today, none of their 400 cows are registered although the Fergusons maintain a purebred herd.
"In 1985, times were tough," Bus says. "We had to cut somewhere so we quit registering the calves."
They artificially inseminate 60 of their purebred cows a year. The bulls used on the commercial herd come from the purebred herd. They use five bulls per hundred cows. The bulls rotate throughout the breeding season with half of them being put in with the cows for ten days at time.
In 1987 and 1988, Ferguson culled the herd severely. They have a computer record on every cow—purebred or commercial. Bus says they know what every cow is doing from her first calf to her last. Recent culling consists of older cows and cows that do not calve. Chuck says now the replacement heifers are stringently culled as yearlings. Four years ago their culled cows brought $900 but with today’s market, they feel lucky to get $400.
"I wish the Angus Association would require every breeder to cut 50% of their bulls," Bus says. "It would help the industry significantly."
In addition to their 400 cows, the Fergusons lease out pasture for 200 head. Bus says they do it for cash flow. The cattle are on pasture in the summer as long as the grass lasts and fed in the winter as needed.
"My dad always said never sell hay; it’s money in the bank," Walt says. "We have a lot of hay left this year, but it’s dry. We may have to feed all summer."
Quality cattle, good feed, competitive prices, and ease of handling have kept the Fergusons in the Angus business all these years.
Besides being busy with the ranch and farm, Fergusons have always been politically active. In 1990, President Bush and Wyoming Senator Simpson went fishing with Walt on the ranch. The pre-arrival preparation was extensive—to the point of having secret service personnel climbing pine trees to survey the roads.
Walt and Dorothy are especially proud of their 17 grandchildren. The entire family is active in church and has been instrumental in church planting in several communities in the Cheyenne and Laramie area.
Nearly all of the grandchildren show cattle and sheep and have received many championship ribbons. Chuck’s wife, Angie, says the common thread that runs among the grandchildren is a strong work ethic.
The Ferguson legacy began in 1876 and remains as strong and steady as Wyoming’s wind. It can’t be seen, yet the children and grandchildren feel it. They are living up to the distant sound of a hammer on an anvil.
©Angus Journal, June/July 1996
This is the "Home Place", where Walt was born and raised. It was here he brought his bride, Dorothy to live in a little log cabin in the early 1940s. They moved during the 50s to the Haygood Place, and then returned to live here in 1966.
This is a view of "The Haygood Place" where Walt and Dorothy lived in the 50s and 60s. There are great memories for the family members growing and working together on this little part of the ranch. Another Article about the Ferguson Legacy
Article in WREN
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