Mary A. “Mickey” Thoman rode into the Wyoming Cowboy Hall of Fame five years ago and on Saturday her late husband William “Bill” Thoman will join her in the elite group of women and men recognized in the Cowboy State for their cowboy work.
A cowgirl, role model, a mentor, and a genuine leader, Mary A. “Mickey” Thoman is a Wyoming cowgirl straight out of Western folklore. While life has not always been easy, agriculture and ranching are in her blood. Her love of riding began at an early age when her dad put her on the back of a draft horse that was pulling haying equipment.
Before she was even in school Mickey was already driving the team. She learned to ride bareback and didn’t get her first saddle until she was nearly 14.
Mickey owns and manages the daily operations of the family ranching business, W & M Thoman Ranches, LLC, along with her three daughters, Mary, Kristy, and Laurie. The ranch is located on the Green River below the Fontenelle Reservoir, 50 miles north of the town of Green River
Mickey was inducted into the WCHF in 2018 and on Sept. 16 her husband Bill Thoman will be inducted as a member of the class of 2023.
The family operation has been in business since 1900. They raise sheep, cattle, and horses.
Mickey’s parents, Phil and Mary Ferentchak, came to Wyoming from Austria. Her grandparents spent time in Big Piney and eventually ended up on the Hamsfork near Kemmerer. Her parents homesteaded on the Hamsfork in 1916 and that is where Mickey was born and raised. In 1948 she married William J. Thoman and raised seven children. The three eldest children were raised in a sheep camp before they moved to the ranch on the Green River.
Throwing a cherry bomb
Mickey says, “the secret to raising kids is to work with them and do things together. I suppose that would include throwing cherry bombs in the willows to scare the boys.” Teaching the children about progressive agriculture came into play when the first powered mower was purchased after the horses had a runaway that put the rake up on top of the family station wagon.
In 1957 Mickey and Bill established the Thoman Ranch School to keep their children on the ranch while still giving them an education.
Bill was born May 24, 1921, in Kemmerer to the late William and Emma Angeli Thoman. Horses and riding were a big part of his life. He would peek in the church window to give his mother a report of the happenings, then escape on his horse to make the 20-mile ride to the Angelo Ranch southwest of Kemmerer.
When Bill was only 20, he took over the family sheep operation in 1941 when his father became ill. Ten years later Bill and Mickey bought the Barnhart homestead on the Green River known for being an outstanding horse ranch. In 1957, they purchased the sheep operation from his mother. Extensive grazing rights covered Lincoln, Sweetwater, and Sublette counties.
They had holdings in Rock Springs Grazing, owed the Alkali Stage Stop on the Green River, and owned the 100+ year old Elk Mountain Homestead at Kemmerer.
Bill caught and trained wild horses and started running cattle in the 1950s. Additional sheep outfits were acquired and many summers the family was horseback on forest allotments tending sheep on the Greys River and Bridger Teton National Forest. To carry their supplies, they had a pack string. They lived in a tent.
Horse teams were used extensively to feed livestock in the winter. Progressive agriculture came into play when the first powered mower was purchased after the team of horses had a runaway with Bill that put the rake up on top of the family station wagon.
The family and Thoman Ranch have received several awards for stewardship and community recognition. They participate in the Resource Rendezvous to help educate the public about agriculture. Each year classes from town tour the Thoman Ranch School and the ranch to learn about agriculture, ranching, food, and fiber.
In 2004 the Thoman Ranch received the Bureau of Land Management Director’s 4Cs Award for consultation, cooperation, communication, all in the service of conservation.
In 2012 the family received a Partnership Appreciation Award from WLCI (Wyoming Landscape Conservation Initiative) and in 2013 the Thoman Family was recognized as the “Farm Family Today Award” on behalf of the Sweetwater County Fair-Wyoming’s Big Show.
Mickey and Bill served in many organizations from 4-H to school board. They received the Sweetwater County Ranch Couple of the Year award in 1988 and the Upper Green River Valley Cattlemen’s Lifetime honorary member award in 1997.
Besides managing the daily challenges of dealing with foreign labor, the family has battled with grizzly bears and wolves on the summer sheep range in the upper Green River until an inevitable buyout in 2016 forced them to give up 40 years of use on the forest allotments. The Thoman family has faced flood, fire, death, and the loss of the family ranch through condemnation when it was inundated by the Fontenelle Reservoir.
Two children died in accidents: Catherine who drowned in the Green River while riding her horse and Bill, Jr., who was killed in a tragic trucking accident leaving a widow and two young sons. Bill Sr., also died in an automobile accident in 1998, leaving Mickey to continue the ranch management with daughters, Mary, Christy, and Laurie.
Retirement is not in Mickey’s vocabulary. She feeds livestock, moves sheep camps, and says her aerobic program consists of driving bigger tractors.