Roping and Ranching with Bill Spratt
Bill Spratt is a Wyoming native who’s spent a lifetime in the saddle with a rope in his hand. The 78-year-old Bill and his wife, Pat, raised their two cowboy sons, T.J. and Ace, in the wide open spaces of the sprawling family ranch in Lysite, Wyoming. These days, Bill and Pat Spratt spend the winter months in Wittmann, Arizona, where they’re neighbors to the likes of brothers Brady and Riley Minor, and share their home with cousin Jake Minor.

QTell us a little about the family ranch in Wyoming.

A: We run about 3,500 mother cows. Cow Camp is up in the Big Horn Mountains at about 9,000 feet. The lower land, which is desert country, is about 5,000 feet above sea level. Half or more of the ranch is land that we lease from the government.

QHow do you split your time between Wyoming and Arizona, and why?

A: We’re home in Wyoming from the last of April/first of May until the middle of October, so I’m about six months each way now. I’ve worked the ranch all my life, but I don’t miss the cold weather now. In the winter, all I do is rope, so that means Arizona. My bones won’t take the 20-below weather anymore.

QWhat do you look forward to about moving back to each place?

A: By October, it starts getting cold and we can get snow in Wyoming. I look forward to getting out of that. All the good team ropings are in Arizona in the wintertime, so that’s the place to be. I’ve made a lot of friends in Arizona over the years, so it’s always good to see those people (Spratt has coffee at Arizona neighbors Judy and Ozzie Gillum’s house at sunup every morning all winter). I get back to the ranch in Wyoming just before branding season. I’m just like an old, worn-out horse—along about spring, I get to lookng over the fence and thinking about home. It’s always good to get back out in that open country horseback again.

Q: How far back does the ranching tradition go in the Spratt family?

A: My great-grandfather was a rancher, so my granddaughter Coralee (who’s T.J. and Jennie’s daughter) is the sixth generation of Spratt to ranch in Wyoming. Ranching is just like rodeoing—it’s bred into you. It’s a great life, but it’s got its tests, too, like surviving the markets, the weather—hoping for rain. It’s pretty tough when you’re hoping for rain, it’s dry, and your cows aren’t doing well—or when you’re wondering what your calves will bring, and if you’ll be able to pay the banker.

Q: Talk about your main event(s) back before you started team roping.

A: Steer roping and bronc riding were the two main events in Wyoming when I was a kid. Calf roping was down south, and all the team roping was in California. Steer tripping was my main event to start with. (In 1976, Spratt won the steer roping at the Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo, won the steer roping year-end title in the Mountain States Circuit, and qualified for the National Finals Steer Roping).

Bill Spratt, left, and son T.J., right, being awarded saddles by NTR producer Ty Yost. NTR Photos by Kari DeCastro

Q: You roped a few calves, too, right?

A: Yes, I spent one winter right out of high school with (ProRodeo Hall of Famer) Toots Mansfield. He worked me hard, and taught me everything about steer roping and calf roping. We rode seven or eight horses a day. He was a super good guy, but he believed in hard work if you wanted to learn to rope. It was your job. You got up in the morning and went to work until it was time to eat supper that night.

Q: If I remember right, your rodeo career ended early and abruptly.

A: Yes, my dad (Tom Spratt) broke his back in a fencing accident. They called, and said I needed to come home and take care of the ranch. I took over the ranch when I was 19, and have been here ever since.

Q: When did you start team roping?

A: I never team roped until I started going to Arizona, about 25 years ago. I only spent a couple months a year in Arizona back then, but that’s when I first started team roping.

Q: You’re known for raising and riding good horses. Which bloodlines do you prefer, and what do you look for in a rope-horse prospect?

A: Driftwoods are my favorites. They’ve just been awful good to me and a lot of other guys. They’re good horses for ranching and rodeoing. I like a horse that can run a little bit and stop. We ride our horses on the ranch for a couple years before we ever take them to the arena. T.J. puts a lot of miles on our young ones before I ever rope on them. I take the best ones down to Arizona and piddle around with them down there all winter.

Q: What’s a typical winter day look like for you in Arizona?

A: I rope every day. That’s my job—to get up in the morning and rope. I don’t get any better anymore (Spratt’s a 4-elite header these days), but I just like to do it.

NTR Photos by Kari DeCastro

Q: What’s your roping goal at this stage of your game?

A: Everybody likes to win, but I’d be starving to death if I had to live on what I win now. I worked all my life so I could rope now and not have to worry about the money.

Q: Which ropers really stand out in your lifetime, in your eyes?

A: Like Toots, Olin Young was a really good friend. Clay O’Brien Cooper, too. Those are all great cowboys. And they’re not only top hands, but top guys, too.

Q: Which teams today do you really root for, and why?

A: I always root for guys like Jake (Barnes), Clay, and Walt (Woodard). They’re older, but they’re still tough. And of course I have to pull for the Minor boys. Jake’s (Minor) lived with us for years in Arizona, and Brady and Riley are my neighbors there. We rope together all the time. They’re my favorites of the younger guys. I’ve known them all their lives. They started going to Arizona and staying with Grandpa Jerry (Anderson) when they were little. So the Minor boys are our home team. 

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