Billie Jean Shepperson Beaton
1919 – 2014
Billie Jean Shepperson Beaton spent her childhood and early years around Salt Creek, Wyoming. The railroad passed through the area and there were stockyards there, which became her hangout. Ranchers from all over Johnson, Campbell, and Natrona counties would trail their sheep, cattle and horses to the stockyards to ship them. She would always know where the good grass was so the ranchers could graze their livestock and rest them before shipping them. She would ride out to meet the herds and help bring them to the stockyards and then she helped work the stock before loading the animals on the train.
Billie Jean attended grade school in Salt Creek and Midwest, WY graduating from high school in 1935. While in high school, she and a friend spent all one summer helping a rancher trail livestock from North of Midwest to Alcova and Mills to put on rodeos. Of course, there were no corrals, rodeo arenas or facilities so they had to herd the livestock while they were there. It was all open range at that time. If she and her friend wanted to go to a dance, they had to go horseback, sometimes riding 25 to 30 miles to the gathering.
She could buy colts for twenty-five cents during the Depression so she always had many horses to ride.
After high school she attended Colorado Teachers College in Greeley, CO, for three years. Billie taught herself to swim and dive in her youth and while she was in college she competed in the swimming program. They had a 3-ring water circus and she got to be in the center ring because of her diving and swimming ability. She also passed her water safety instruction classes many times throughout her life.
After teaching school several years, she then went back to college and received her BA degree from the University of Wyoming in 1961. Along with ranching, she taught school for 20 years at Midwest. She would teach wherever they needed her: sometimes junior high, sometimes in the elementary grades, but always PE as she was very athletic and loved all sports.
Billie Jean bought her first cattle and the diamond heart brand about 1937 from money that she had saved. When she married Frank Shepperson they lived in a sheep wagon and built reservoirs with horses. Later they lived in a tarpaper homestead shack before moving an oilfield house onto the ranch. There was no electricity or running water. She and Frank raised horses and cattle. To brand cattle they headed and heeled them. She became an adept roper in order to catch and work the cattle since they had no chutes or corrals. They trailed the cattle to the railroad at Bucknum or Bishop to ship in the fall.
She canned food, made soap out of lye, and packed water for washing clothes and taking baths. She was a good cook and the family plus visitors never went hungry. Her homemade pies were a favorite as she would put brands on the top crust to make them special. She used a treadle sewing machine to make western shirts and other clothes for the family.
During the bad winter of 1949, because she knew the country she rode in the airplanes with hay and supplies to drop to sheepherders or ranchers who couldn’t get out. She rode horseback through her 93rd year. Helping out with the livestock was her passion whether it was branding, trailing or shipping. Family was always number one. She loved passing on stories and history of the early ranching years to her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
She was instrumental in starting the barrel racing event at the women’s rodetto in Casper in the 1950s after she had seen the event at bigger rodeos in other states. She competed many years and was always training a horse.
Billie and Frank L. Shepperson were married for 31 years ranching on Castle Creek and raising their three children: Sally, Frank E. and Jim. Several years after Frank passed away, Billie married a family friend and neighbor, Johnny Beaton. They loved the range, the Black Angus cattle that they raised, and watching wildlife. They were married for 32 years ranching on the historic Teapot Ranch.
In 2008 the Shepperson Ranch and Teapot Ranch were both awarded the Centennial Ranch awards for ranching in Wyoming over 100 years. She was part of both these awards. In 2010, she and her family participated in the documentary “The Code of the West: Alive and Well in Wyoming.”