February 21, 2011 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.
Twenty years ago I wrote a column about an American cowboy from Arizona being inducted in the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. This was a proud moment for this man, his family, citizens of Arizona and all the members associated with his nomination committee.
He was nominated for this honor because of all the respect other prominent Arizona cattlemen and citizens had for him. He was selected for the first Chester A. Reynold’s award, named for the main contributing founder to the National Cowboy Hall of Fame. Many distinguished Americans have been selected for this honor since. Actor Sam Elliot introduced William Harding Martin Jr. at the night of his Wrangler Award presentation at the banquet for the Western Heritage Award at the National Cowboy Hall of Fame.
I first met William Harding “Billy” Martin Jr. in late spring of 1957 at Manny Ruiz stock corrals along Queen Creek. Billy was helping his father and Ruiz with roundup. This particular day they were branding yearlings. Even as a young man Billy was cordial and friendly. They all took a break for lunch and invited Barkley and I to join them. I never forgot this introduction to these cowboys.
William Harding Martin Jr. was born on August 9, 1925, at the old Hewitt Station, which was located on the Martin Ranch. His parents were William Harding Sr. and Lenora Martin. Billy attended school on Hewitt Station Road about two miles from where he was born. He attended high school in Superior, Arizona.
Bill worked on the famous Cleman’s Cattle Ranch for his father who was foreman of the ranch for forty years. Bill won the title World’s Champion Junior Cowboy at the Florence Jr. Rodeo in 1942. This rodeo was known as the “cowboy cradle of the West.”
On September 11, 1943, Billy Jr. married Helen Gillette of Globe, Arizona. Shortly after they were married, Billy Jr. joined the United States Navy and served honorably from 1944-1946. Bill and “Teta” (his wife) owned and operated the Neighborhood Market in Superior while Billy worked for Magma Copper as a hoist operator. Their son George was born in 1952. Billy Martin Jr. purchased the Martin Ranch from his father in 1958. He operated the ranch for 50 years and in 2008 he sold the ranch to his son George.
Billy Martin Jr. was known nationally as a Mountain lion hunter. I recall one time I was riding with Billy and Bob Corbin over the top of Fraser Mountain following one of Billy’s lion hounds. This ride was an experience of a lifetime.
That old hound was trailing and Billy was right behind him hell or high water. The old hound went down into a canyon so steep you couldn’t ride down it. Billy jumped off his mule and handed me the reins and went after his dog into the canyon. A couple of hours later Billy came climbing out of that canyon back to where we were. He said, “It wasn’t a lion he was after, it was a Bobcat.” Billy was quite disgusted with his hound.
As we trailed down off Fraser Mountain Billy came to a bad place, stepped off his mule and walked for about twenty yards. I wasn’t use to stepping off my horse, but I figured it would be a smart thing to do when a man of Billy’s reputation dismounted and walked, it was certainly time for me to do the same. As I walked by the bad place in the trail and looked down into a deep canyon some four or five hundred feet I realized hell was just inches away.
Everyone that knew Billy Martin Jr. probably had a story to tell. He was a true Western cattleman, a traditional cowboy and gentleman respected by his peers and friends. Bill was certainly a friend to his fellow man and he was recognized for this when he was presented the Wrangler Award at the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in 1990. Billy passed away on Tuesday, January 18, 2011 in Mesa, Arizona.