Monday, April 10, 2006

The Legend of Billy Clark Crader

April 10, 2006 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved. 

Billy Clark Crader was born in Clarksville, Texas in 1936. From his early childhood he lived his life the cowboy way. He found the great outdoors of Arizona and Colorado had room for him and his horse to roam.

Near the end of 1967 Crader took over the operation of the Superstition Mountain Inn’s stables in Apache Junction. He eventually called his new business Crader’s Wilderness Safari. During the long hot summers on the Arizona desert he roamed the Colorado Rockies with his friends and customers. During the winter months he rode the trails of the Superstition Wilderness Area.

Crader was a dynamic, robust and tactful cowboy diplomat. He earned this title because of his ability to work with his customers. Men and women admired him and most worshipped his way of life. He was symbolic to those who wanted to live his way of life, but never had the nerve to do so.

He was often late at the trailhead to meet his customers, but he could calm the most frustrated dude with his charm and charisma. When the chips were down, Billy Crader was a good man to have in your corner. You could always depend on him in an emergency to save a life or provide immediate first aid to an injured person or animal. He was no phony, and those who knew him understood why. He did and said what he wanted, but still respected a person’s individual rights. He was a modern icon of the Old West for those of us who cherish and love the West.

He challenged death like most men challenged an adventure. Even after triple bypass heart surgery Billy Clark Crader continued his never-ending pace. He once said, “I would rather die with my boots on with everyone cheering than in a hospital bed.” Billy Crader lived faster and harder in one year than most men lived in a lifetime.

Crader socialized at night with his customers and was a businessman during the day. This would best describe Billy Crader’s business plan. Many a person wanted to follow in his footsteps, but those footsteps were often too big for ordinary men to walk in.

Billy Clark Crader was a true snowbird by the old cowboy’s definition. A snowbird defined in cowboy lingo originally was a man who worked cattle up north in the summer and down south in the winter. These old snowbirds wanted to avoid the cold winters of Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and other northern states, so they moved south when winter arrived.

On a warm winter afternoon in February of 1984, while unloading horses at the Quarter Circle U Ranch in Pinal County, Billy Clark Crader bid farewell to this world. He was doing what he loved most; working with horses and people, the two things he cherished most in life. He was preparing for another one of his famous guided tours of the Superstition Wilderness. We all believe, those of us who were his friends, that he died the way he wanted – with his boots on.

Shortly after his bypass surgery I witnessed Crader betting a man he could lift a 1,000 pound horse off the ground. I stood in amazement as he first lifted the front quarters of the horse off the ground, then walked around to the rear of the horse and lifted the hindquarters off the ground. It takes one hell of a man to [lift] a horse off the ground, especially the hindquarters.

He was a legend in his lifetime. He left behind a legacy of a man who could have been anything in life he wanted, but chose to remain a “Son of the West.” He was a friend to humankind and he never met a person he couldn’t like if given half a chance. He was loved, cussed and discussed, but was still respected by most people in such a way he became a legend. Billy Clark Crader’s epitaph was those who bid him farewell in Apache Junction and Durango. These men and women came from all walks of life to say goodbye in their own respective ways to a man who was a legend in their lifetime.

Billy and Rowean Crader founded and operated the Wilderness Safari Stable each winter at the Superstition Mountain Inn from 1967-1980 and each summer they moved to Colorado and operated another stable out of Durango. The Wilderness Safari Stable was one of [the] early riding stables and pack outfits within the boundaries of Apache Junction after the community became a city in November of 1978. The same stable and outfit was previously run by Slim Fogle until his death on January 31, 1968.

Billy’s friend Ted DeGrazia once said of him, “He was the kind of man legends are made about.”