A Page Out of the Book Cliffs
Page 37 - Bill Cunningham - Part 1
by AJ Rogers
Jan 10, 2019 | 147 views | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
I grew up in Thompson Springs as a distant neighbor of the folks at Cunningham’s Ranch at Nash Wash. It’s about 21 miles as the crow flies and 35 miles by the main roads from here to there. My dad and his siblings had spent some of their school years with Bill Cunningham and all were fond of him and had a lot of respect for him. I can remember visiting Bill and family at the Cunningham ranch off and on my entire life. It was always an awesome experience to arrive there because those folks had a certain aura about them that made me feel I was in the presence of special folks and special surroundings from an extra special corner of the world. To me it was kind of like going to visit the Cartwrights on the Ponderosa, only in real life. You couldn’t be around The Cunningham’s and their ranch without feeling you were lucky to be a little part of a big experience.

Bill was born William Wallace Cunningham May 13, 1924 in Denver, Colorado. He was the only child of Wallace and Katherine Cunningham. He passed away at home in Grand Junction, Colorado on Feb. 4, 2013 of natural causes at age 88. He is survived by his wonderful wife, Joyce, and their children as well as grandkids. Bill probably died with his boots off, but there are plenty of stories to tell of him with his boots on. I probably only know about one percent of the good ones, but even that small amount adds up to a few and I look forward to sharing them.

Bill’s first home was in Iliff, Colorado. Then in 1927 the family moved onto what would become known as the Cunningham Ranch north of Cisco on Nash Wash. This wonderful place would be the headquarters of Bill’s home range until 1991 and I’m sure it remained his favorite place in all the world. Their brand was the Lazy Y Cross and Bill grew up with real cowboys for playmates. It was a damn far piece to town in those days with Cisco being the closest, and that was still about 20 miles away. Maybe a tad closer by horseback, but not much.

One of Bill’s favorite cowhand friends was a black man called Charlie Glass, one of the most famous buckaroos on the Book Cliffs range. Charlie was foreman for Bill’s uncle’s, the Turner Brothers, who headquartered at Cottonwood Ranch which is a little farther northeastward from Nash Wash. Mr. Glass was often around Nash helping out with some of the family work, or just visiting. He had a homestead about three miles south of Cunningham’s ranch and another one about 20 miles north of there in the head of Bogert Canyon up on the East Tavaputs Plateau.

I don’t know what the exact dates were that Charlie held those homesteads or which he had first but it was certainly during the 1920s into the ‘30s. There are several photos of Charlie at the Cunningham Ranch. To look at them now, it seems like they could have been taken last summer as so very little has changed around the house and outbuildings.

Bill often told the story of the time when Charlie sold his homestead south of the ranch to the Crystal Carbon Company, which became a small carbon black factory. This was around 1930 and Bill says Charlie was feeling a little rich with the proceeds which came to around $2,500 if I remember right. Bill said Charlie told his dad Wallace and his uncles, the Turners that, “This cowboy life is getting pretty damn monogamous so I’m hanging it up and going to town for a while.”

Bill always laughed hard about the way Charlie pronounced the word monotonous. He said Charlie showed back up at the ranch two or three months later and had nothing to show for his windfall other than a new pair of wooly chaps, an ivory cigarette holder, and a big grin on his mug.

In some of my previous articles I’ve tried to draw a picture of the roadless Book Cliffs country on the East Tavaputs Plateau for any of you readers who have not ever experienced it personally. That large chunk of beautiful country was basically the summer range for the Cunningham and the Turner cattle operations. They had several cabins strung across the range. I think they all can be found to this day though most are in a state of abandon and decay. The exception is the cabin in Bogert Canyon which was the summer range headquarters. It consists of two log cabins built about eight or ten feet apart with one continuous roof and a breezeway in between. The breezeway always contained a screened-in meat keeper and there was usually a big slab of bacon as well as a haunch of deer or elk cooling within.

I first saw the place in the spring of 1970 and when I stepped inside, it felt like I had actually stepped into the 1870s. There was a bunkhouse nearby, an outhouse, a horse barn and several corrals. There was even a hay shed where grass from the nearby meadows that was cut with horse-drawn equipment could be stored for the late fall or early spring times when there was little grass for the horses. The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources owns the whole shebang now. It no longer has the same feel, nor is it as homey as it did when the Cunninghams and their cowboys lived in it for most of the best nine months of each year, but it’s still a very special place.

I bet Bill Cunningham had a million adventures as he rode out from Bogert camp doing his daily cowboy work over the years. I’ll tell you more next time.


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