In the early morning hours of September 13, 2019 William D. Saunders (93) was sent to guard the heavens after a fatal motor vehicle/ATV accident outside of their home in Bondurant, Wyoming. William Saunders, affectionately known as Billy and Bill, was born to Roy and Mabel (Seaton) Saunders on December 19, 1925. Dr. Huff, who rode by horseback, was unable to make it in time for the delivery before Bill decided to make his own entrance into this life. He was delivered by Mabel’s mother on the Roy McBride Ranch, thus setting in motion a life rooted in independence, wild abandon, and never-ending adventure with his older brother, Bobby, and younger sister, Darlene.
Bill spent his early childhood on his Grandparents’ ranch at the north end of the Jackson Hole Elk Refuge until the age of eight. He enjoyed what all young cowboys did in the early 1930’s, riding his horse, getting dirty in the hot sun, swimming in the creek, working cattle with his father and grandfather and taking care of his family and livelihood. Unexpectedly, Grandpa Jabez (Jesse) Saunders lost his small cattle herd to wolves; therefore, the decision was made that the Saunders’ would move into Jackson. Both Bill’s grandfather and father, Jesse and Roy Saunders, were carpenters by trade. They began making a new living in the construction business in the Jackson Hole area.
The summer that Bill was just eight years old, his mother fell sick rendering her unable to care for her family for a period of time. Out of desperation, she sent him to her father, Grandpa Seaton, at the Black Rock Association on Togwotee Pass where he ran his cattle. He rode a pack saddle covered with a quilt because that was all they had for him. This was the beginning of Bill’s days spent in the saddle helping his parents and grandparents operate their cattle and horse ranch in South Park, which is now known as Rafter J Subdivision in Jackson, Wyoming. If Bill wasn’t in the saddle working the ranch, he could be found competing in horse races, rodeos or on the ski hill. At one time, Bill even considered becoming a jockey, but he quickly “outgrew” that dream.
Bill and Snow King Mountain were soulmates. At a very early age Bill, his brother Bobby and most of the town kids skied every bare slope in Jackson Hole, Elk Refuge Hill and Cache Creek to name his favorites. Since his father was a carpenter/cabinet maker, the family skis were handmade. Billy remembered clearing timber at the base of Snow King. He helped Neil Rafferty install the first tow rope by placing the rope and securing the turnaround for safety. Next to the tow rope was a ski jump that Bill simply couldn’t resist… naturally. In true Billy fashion, he learned and experimented with countless new ski tricks. Bill didn’t compete, but he was undeniably blessed with the talent and skill for jumping. Bill also recalled learning to handle a wheelbarrow full of cement when he helped the volunteer crew build The Snow King Ski Shelter, as well as numerous wonderful memories made on the mountain over the years. One of his most notable achievements was approved when Bill was in high school. He went before the school board requesting that skiing become a sanctioned school sport. The board gave him financial support and so began the efficacious High School Ski Team.
Bill attended school in Jackson, graduating the class of 1943 from Jackson-Wilson High School. Post-graduation, he quickly and eagerly enlisted with the Marines. Being only 17 years old, his mother told him that before she would sign his papers to enlist, he had to spend the summer riding cattle at the Black Rock Cow Camp. Bill enlisted and joined the 1st Marine Core Division. Private First Class William D. Saunders served from 1943-1946 in the USMC. Bill received the Presidential Unit Citation and served in World War II.
Bill returned from the Marine Corp in 1946. While he was away, his Grandpa Seaton sadly sold the ranch in South Park, guiding his decision to return to work for the Black Rock Association, where he was most comfortable… back in the saddle. He also rejoined the clearing crew for Snow King ski runs and used his previous experience to install a rope tow for their practice runs in 1947. Bill’s legacy and success at Snow King reigns in his hard work and dedication, talent, grace and fearlessness as a skier. He was the first person to schuss (straight down as fast as he could go in a tuck position) Snow King from top to bottom. He always told that story with a big grin. Billy’s good friend Jimmy Huidekoper, who worked with the American Olympic and Pre-Olympic teams in Europe, had a pair of Kneissl skis made special for Bill. In 1951, while attending Utah State, Billy tried out for the Olympic team with races in Reno and Salt Lake City. Billy had a great run going in Salt Lake until he fell at the second to last gate. Unfortunately, there was no financial support at the time to help with trying to make the Olympics, and the newly married Billy, had to retire his dreams of qualifying. He recently donated those skis, which are now hanging in the Snow King Sports and Events Center. Billy was president of the JHAC (Jackson Hole Alpine Club) and during his time Little Waxers was formed. The first year 83 children participated with 11 volunteer coaches.
On January 10, 1951, Bill married the love of his life, Martha Ann Graham and set out to raise their three boys Zane, Fred, Tony and two daughters, Sheryl and Laurie. That same year, he and Martha decided to share their love of the mountain with other skiing enthusiasts when they built and opened “The Ski Shop” located at the base of Snow King. Inside the store was a small café his wife Martha ran for lunch and breakfast. This type of seasonal retail business was appreciated in the 1950s and 1960s. In addition, they opened and ran the food concession at the Ski Shelter during weekends and race days. The opening weekend of the concession, his wife, sister-in-law Carol May and Babs Yokel cooked 200lbs of burger. Another success. Billy continued coaching and was chosen for “Coach of the Western State Ski Meet” in Sun Valley, Idaho. Each year racers had to qualify for this big meet and a coach was chosen for the team. This was an honor to his coaching skills. Bill had a keen eye for the winning line. Thirty years later, Bill reconnected with one of the racers that he coached, who credited that meet and Billy’s coaching, to helping him receive a full ride four-year scholarship to the University of Wyoming. However, Bill didn’t stop there; he also coached for the Jackson Intermountain Ski Team. He created a very competitive and successful team with skiers including Karen Budge, a World Cup and Olympic alpine racer; and Dallas Dunlap, a member of the U.S. Women’s Ski Team and an alternate for 1968 Olympics.
Living a life on the edge and always eager for the next challenge and adventure, Billy found himself among a group of scouts in search of the next great ski destination. Scouters included Barry Corbet (who Corbet’s Couloir was named after), Willy Schaffer and Paul McCollister. Areas such as Cache Creek were considered before settling on the Crystal Springs Girl Scout Ranch at the base of Rendezvous and Après Vous Mountains. After a full day of scouting in the snow cat, the crew was ready to head back down the mountain, except Billy and Barry. They took their skis and hiked higher so they could ski down what was probably the first run of the future Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.
Four of Bill & Martha’s five children; Sheryl, Zane, Fred and Laurie grew up skiing in the Little Waxers program and continued onto the Jackson Intermountain Team. Taking after their father, his oldest boys competed in the “four-way,” which included jumping, cross country, downhill and slalom. Billy hung up his skis in 1972 when the family moved to Bondurant to ranch. Billy enjoyed the new improvements on Snow King and watching his grandsons, from his youngest son Tony, ski the mountains he enjoyed for so many years.
After a short stint with AT&T, in 1954 Bill took a job with Gilman Ordway at the Fish Creek Ranch in Wilson, Wyoming. There, Bill and Martha raised their children and taught each of them to work cattle, ride horses, rodeo and ski, all while operating a successful cattle and dude operation. In the late 1950s, Bill bought the Wilson Rodeo from Walt Callahan. After two years of operating the rodeo in Wilson, Bill moved it to Jackson, where it has been in operation since. He also kept himself busy guiding hunters for the Toppings at the Moose Head Ranch in Moran, Wyoming. Bill decided it was time to sell all and moved his family to the Schwabacher Ranch in Wilson, Wyoming. There, he operated a successful cattle operation and had three ranches leased. Bill made quite a name for himself as he became a highly respected cattle buyer across the country.
In 1972 Gilman Ordway bought the River Bend Ranch in Bondurant, Wyoming. Bill and Martha were given the opportunity to join Gil in the startup. Bill agreed to two years and moved his family to the ranch to begin another very successful cattle operation. Bill, Martha and their youngest son Tony Saunders, along with his wife Stacy, took up operation of the ranch which is still running today - 47 years later.
In 1989 Bill was named an honorary member of the Teton Barrel Racing Association, a local club started by, Martha, to which he donated countless hours. He is also an honorary member of the Green River Valley Cattleman’s Association. Bill is a lifetime member of the U.S. Marine Corps Division #1. In 2015, he was inducted into the Wyoming Cowboy Hall of Fame as a lifelong cowboy, rich in grit and tenacity. Three years later he was honored with an induction into the Jackson Hole Ski Club Hall of Fame for his pioneering and trail breaking contribution to the local ski industry.
Bill was highly respected by not only his own children, the ski, rodeo, and ranch communities, but everyone who has had the pleasure of his friendship. He was the first to lend a hand, a saddle, or a horse, but above all, a kind honest word. Billy spent 93 years living on the edge and chasing adventure. He loved his family, his home, teasing and laughing with his grandchildren and playing cards with anyone up for a game (which he always won). He has left his mark in this world and will do the same in the next.
Funeral services will begin with a private gravesite service in Wilson, Wyoming. The family asks that all who shared their lives with Bill please join them for a celebration of life at their home, River Bend Ranch, in Bondurant, Wyoming at 2pm on Saturday September, 21, 2019. Dinner and refreshments will be provided. Libations are welcome. In lieu of flowers, the family gratefully requests that donations be made to Shriners Hospital, Disabled American Veterans, and Bondurant History (POPS). For any further information, please contact Stacy Saunders at firstname.lastname@example.org.
He is preceded in death by his parents, Mabel Seaton James and Roy Saunders; brother, Bobby Saunders and sister, Darlene Calvert; and beloved son Zane Saunders. He is survived by his wife of 68 years, Martha Ann Saunders; children, Sheryl Saunders (Chris), Fred Saunders (Jennifer), Laurie Hanson (Ron), Tony Saunders (Stacy), and daughter-in-law Lynell Saunders; grandchildren, Darrell Saunders, Claire Saunders, Camilla Saunders, Gretchen Kimble, Jason Blanco, Britni Blanco, Brody Blanco, JT Saunders, Kinze Saunders, Luke Morss, Bailee Burgess, Garrett Saunders, Preston Saunders, Brady Saunders; and 13 great grandchildren with one on the way.
Condolences may be sent to: Martha Saunders Box 188 Bondurant, WY 82922
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