An only child, Bill was born on May 13, 1924, to Katherine (Turner-Jones) and Wallace Cunningham in Denver. After a brief time in Iliff, Colo., they moved to the family ranch, north of Cisco, Utah, in 1927. Bill was the third generation to be on the Cisco ranch. When not in school, Bill spent time with the cowboys, following the cows as they wintered on the desert around Cisco and migrated up into the Bookcliffs for summer grazing. Weaned calves would be trailed from the ranch headquarters to the stockyards in Cisco where they’d board the train to Kansas City. His life on the remote ranch taught him the value of hard work, good people and family. A rain on the desert, grazing cattle in the rims and “a horse watching a cow” were his greatest pleasures besides his family.
Boarding with family and friends, Bill attended school in Fruita, Colo., until going to Wasatch Academy in Mt. Pleasant, Utah, where he graduated from high school. He served in the U.S. Navy in the South Pacific during WWII. Upon returning, he attended Colorado State University for two years before joining his parents on the ranch in Utah.
He married Joyce Allen from Eagle, Colo., on July 12, 1952. Joyce and Bill had one son and two daughters, Greg, Carolyn and Leslie. The kids spent their summers with Bill, trailing cows to the mountain, packing salt, cutting trail and fixing fence. Learning from their father, sharing time with the cowboys and making meals from a sourdough jug, they helped with the cattle operation. The family operation continued and their son Greg joined Bill and Joyce in 1973 full time, and later, Greg’s wife, Mary. In 1991, the Cisco ranch was sold and the cattle operation moved to Kaycee, Wyo., with Greg and Mary. Bill has lived in Grand Junction since then, remaining involved in his children’s lives, watching the cattle market and staying abreast of the world affairs.
Of life, Bill often said, “All I ever wanted was good horses, good cows, good dogs and lots of good country to run them in.” A cowman and conservationist, he was a longtime advocate for grazing on public lands, Bill served on the BLM Grazing Advisory Board in Moab for 38 years, and also served on the Utah State Advisory Board and the National Public Lands Council. He was area director and vice-president of the Utah Cattlemen’s Association for several years. The American Society of Range Management, Utah Section awarded him the Rancher of the Year in 1968, and he was recognized as the Utah Cattleman of the Year in 1989.
A fair, accepting man, Bill knew no strangers and could tell a story with the best. Bill has friends scattered from the seats of Ethel’s Café in Cisco and the rodeo grounds of Green River, Utah, to the streets of Denver and Salt Lake City and beyond.
He is survived by his wife, Joyce, of 60 years; Greg and Mary Cunningham, Carolyn and Tony Litfin and Leslie and Dale Heikes; and six grandchildren, Ben, Charlie (Cami) and Hannah Cunningham, Kate and Will Litfin and Tanner Heikes.
His love of the range and regard for his fellow man will be the lasting mark this true cowboy leaves on his family and those that knew him.
A memorial service is planned for later in the spring. Contributions in Bill’s memory can be made to Hospice and Palliative Care of Western Colorado, 3090 B North 12th St., Grand Junction, CO 81606.