Bill Thurston Nebraska Sandhills Cowboy Fall of Fame

Bill Thurston spent his career doing custom haying and fencing work for Panhandle ranches before buying his parents’ operation where he still works with his kids and grandkids.

Bill Thurston cut hay and built fences for many Nebraska ranches, working with his well-mannered team of horses, and this year the 82-year-old Hyannis native is being honored with an induction into the Nebraska Sandhills Cowboy Hall of Fame.

William E. “Bill” Thurston was born May 17, 1938 to Gene and Polly Thurston. He was the eldest of their four kids, Bill, John, Joy and Marilyn. He attended school in Hyannis, and finished his last three years of high school in Curtis, graduating in 1956.

He competed at rodeos from a young age, starting with Little Britches and competing in the very first National High School Rodeo Finals in Harrison, Nebraska. He went on to win the broc riding in his home town of Hyannis at age 16 before settling down to raise a family and start his lifetime of ranching.

On June 29, 1958 he married Twyla Marsh and together they had three children: Kathy, Skeeter and John.

Right after their marriage, Thurston, went to work mowing and bunching hay on the Dumb Bell Ranch with Elmer Treat. That fall Bill and Twyla moved to the Abbott Graham Ranch north of Ashby, where he worked with all of the Abbott ranches for the next eight years.

While there, he was the president of the North Ashby School Board. Then, the young family moved to Ashby, where Thurston started his hay and fence contracting business. Contracting hay jobs for the JHL, Finnegans, Abbotts and other various ranches. He was also a member of the rifle shooting club in Ashby.

In 1971, Bill and Twyla moved to their present home in Hyannis. He continued to do contract haying, all the time using a team of horses on the slacker, the dump rakes and occasionally using them on the four-horse sweep.

It was also during this time that Thurston contracted fencing at the Star, the Joy, for Steve Sterns, Monahans, Sid Thurston, the Dumb Bell and various other ranches, at times running two fencing wagons. During the winter for several years, he could be found across the meadow northwest of Hyannis feeding Minor’s calves with his four-horse team. He spent one winter breaking draft colts at the Ravenscroft ranch near Valentine.

In 1978-79, he managed the Spike Box Ranch north of Mullen, enduring one of the worst winters on record.

After moving back to Hyannis he continued contract haying and fencing for ranches including the Dumb Bell, Monahans, Sibbitts, Abbotts and Pete Becker.

In 1998 he leased the home ranch that belonged to his parents and then in 2008 he purchased the ranch. He continues to run the ranch as a cow/calf operation, with the help of his daughter Kathy, her husband Dan and their children Josh, Alisha and Kaci.

As a teamster, Thurston competed in team pulling events around the area, mostly with his team Roscoe and Robin. With these two horses he was always in the top three placings, even with the professional teams from Iowa. However, the thing he was most proud of with this team was all the teamster and sportsmanship awards he received for having not only a good pulling team but one that was very well mannered.

Thurston broke many saddle horses and teams back in the day when horses were used for pretty much everything.

Although he won numerous awards in rodeo, his proudest moments came from his children’s accomplishments. His daughter Kathy played on the Torrington Lancers volleyball team that played in the NJCAA National tournament in Baltimore, Maryland. Skeeter was the 1978 Nebraska High School Rodeo Finals Champion Saddle Bronc Rider, and John was the 1981 Nebraska High School Rodeo Finals All Around Champion.

Skeeter and John both qualified for the National High School Rodeo Finals. Skeeter went on to qualify for the National College Finals four years in a row and also qualified for the PRCA National Finals Rodeo six times in saddle bronc riding.

Eight of Bill’s eleven grandkids — Jordan, Ace, Colby, Brady, Wyatt, Zeke, Sam and Tess all qualified for either the National High School Finals, the National College Finals or both. Jordan was a two-time National College World Champion Goat Tier, and Zeke was the 2016 and 2019 PRCA World Champion Saddle Bronc Rider.

For 40 years, Thurston was a fixture at the rough stock out gate at any rodeo held at the Hyannis Fairgrounds - from high school events to amateur, to the old timers rodeo. For his services he was awarded life-time admission to any rodeo held at the fairgrounds.

While these are great accomplishments the thing that he is most proud of is that all 11 of his grandkids can saddle a horse, mount up and work cattle with the best of them.

Editor’s note: Each year the Nebraska Sandhills Cowboy Hall of Fame recognizes longtime ranchers from western Nebraska. Leading up to this fall’s planned induction ceremony, the Midwest Messenger will be featuring profiles of each of the nine inductees.