“Ira and Edna McWilliams are the last of a rare breed of cowboys.” A quote taken from an article titled “The Last Cowboys” featured in Wyoming Electrical News by Irene N. Jeppson.
Edna May Wardell was born March 30, 1916 on the Green River near Big Piney, Wyoming. She started working in the hay fields, driving a team of draft horses before she was even big enough to reach the foot lever to dump hay from the rake. “Anytime I could find some excuse to get outside, I would saddle my horse and stay gone all day to get out of the house work. I would rather clean the barn then clean the house” Edna always had a love for horses.
Ira McWilliams was born June 22, 1912 in Big Piney, Wyoming. As soon as he was old enough Ira was put to work helping his father Jasper Howard with his freight and lumber wagons.
At the age of 14 Ira started wrangling horses. He then went to cowboying taking care of Charlie Noble’s cattle until 1926. It was then that Ira went to work for the Piney Wagon until it was no longer in operation due to fencing of the range. Ira worked at different places until 1949 when he went to work for the La Barge Roundup Association. He worked for the La Barge Roundup Association for 27 years, until the range was fenced again… after one year of working with the association being fenced Ira decided that he was “fenced in” and no longer willing to work for the large associations.
In 1932, Ira and Edna were married and their life as a husband and wife cowboy team begun and lasted for 50 + years riding for the brands of Sublette county. They worked for many different outfits during the winter months and the La Barge Roundup Association in the summers. Spending their lives together, in the saddle, living what is remembered as the good old days by those of us alive today. Edna not only cowboyed but was well known for her camp cooking with Dutch ovens on the open range. Everywhere he went she followed. An article in American Cowboy says this about Edna, “Marriage did not domesticate the new Mrs. Ira McWilliams one bit. From cow camp to cow camp she and Ira would go, together. Ira would have his string of horses and she would have hers; he would have his country to ride and she hers. When it came time to scatter salt, Edna would take her pack string and go in one direction and Ira would take the lead rope of his pack string and head out in the opposite direction. The only time that she didn’t ride was during the round up, when she cooked.” The stories are endless and their dedication to the cowboy way is proven in the life they lived. Though it was rough, they were happy and dedicated to the very end. Ira helping at brandings (Cowboy of 70 + years) and Edna (cowboy of 50 + years) cooking up meals that are still talked about today.
Though they did not live a life of championships, fame and ranch owning they are what so many believe are the true cowboys. The Last Cowboys…