Thermopolis Independent Record - Your source for news in Hot Springs County

By Mark Dykes

Three from HSC to be inducted into WCHF


September 12, 2019

Hugh and Mary Sue Vass, as well as Norman Sanford, of Hot Springs County will be inducted as members of the Wyoming Cowboy Hall of Fame (WCHF) Class of 2019 at the Casper Events Center September 22, during the First Annual Wyoming Cowboy & Cowgirl Legacy Week.

Hugh and Mary Vass

Hugh and Mary Vass began their ranching life together on August 5, 1949. They lived at the mouth of Prospect on Cottonwood Creek until 1959 when they moved to their ranch on Owl Creek 34 miles west of Thermopolis where they raised three children. They lived there together until 2007 when Mary reluctantly moved to Thermopolis for health reasons. Hugh visited Mary frequently, running errands for her. Hugh continued to live on the ranch until 2009, when he moved to town for health reasons.

Hugh G. Vass was born on January 27, 1928 to Hugh and Jennie Vass of Thermopolis, who ran sheep in Hot Springs County. Hugh was the youngest of three children.

Hugh’s childhood was spent in sheep camps from one end of Hot Springs County, in Kirby, to the other end near Washakie Needles where his father homesteaded on the South Fork of Owl Creek. During his adolescence, as well as working sheep, he also helped his mother start a herd of cattle using milk cow calves as starter stock. After Hugh came home from the Navy, serving 1945 to 1946, he took over running the cows. To improve the herd, Hugh began culling heifers and keeping the best as replacement heifers. This was upsetting to his mother, as you always kept all of your heifers to grow your numbers. Throughout the years, Hugh continued improving the cattle herd using registered bulls and any other way he could. Hugh always looked for ways to be more efficient and improve productivity.

Mary S. Nichols Vass was born on May 5, 1932 to Lee and Susie Parm Nichols of Holt, Wyoming where they homesteaded and ran cattle. Mary was the youngest of seven children.

Mary was happiest when she was horse back. She would spend hours riding to gather for branding, trail or weaning, then go to the house and cook for her family. She would cook meals at the ranch house, pack them up and take them to the branding corral several miles away or meet trail hands where ever they were on the trail.

It would take three days to trail the cows to and from the winter range on Spring Creek of Cottonwood Creek and the summer range on the South Fork of Owl Creek. Hugh would ramrod the trail hands while Mary pulled camp and cooked in a sheep wagon. One time while on trail, some out-of-staters stopped to visit. When they heard what was for dinner, (roast beef, mashed potatoes, gravy, salad and chocolate cake), the out-of-state lady said she had no idea such delicious meals would be eaten on cattle drives and would come out of a sheep wagon.

Hugh and Mary exemplified the Wyoming ranching way of life. Their husband and wife partnership lasted 58 years. Mary passed away March 23, 2007 at age 75 and Hugh passed away September 15, 2009 at age 81.

Norman Sanford

Norman Sanford moved to Thermopolis with his parents Tom and Kate Sanford when Norman was four years old. He lived and ranched in Thermopolis until his death on September 9, 2003. Norman worked for his father Tom on the ranch from the time he was 14 years old. Tom and Norman gathered horses for the U. S. Army in the 1930’s.

Norman said he would just get a horse going good when Tom would take the horse and sale him, and give Norman another bronc to ride and train. Norman rode on the wagon for The Padlock Ranch until it was sold to the Arapahoe Tribe and became the Arapahoe Ranch. Norman ran track at Hot Springs County High School and won second place at State.

Norman graduated from high school in the spring 1941 and enrolled in the University of Wyoming in the fall of 1941. On December 7, 1941 the Japanese Empire bombed the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. Norman enlisted in the Army Air Forces in January of 1942 and later became a tail gunner on a Martin B-26 Marauder medium bomber. He flew 65 combat missions and was shot down twice. Once they had to ditch in the English Channel and the second time — December 25, 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge — Norman had to parachute out of a burning plane. He came home from the war and resumed his studies at University of Wyoming and graduated in range management in the spring of 1947.

On August 12, 1947 Norman married Kathleen “Kay” Elizabeth Long whose family were long time ranchers from Buffalo, Wyo. Norman and Kay have four sons Tom, Brian “Barney,” Norman Lee, and Frank. Norman worked for Tom Sanford until the mid 1950’s, when Tom sold Norman Red Canyon west of Thermopolis and the Reck Place on Lysite Mountain.

Formed for exclusively historical, cultural, literary and educational purposes, WCHF’s chief goal is “To preserve, promote, perpetuate, publish and document Wyoming’s rich working cowboy and ranching history through researching, profiling and honoring individuals who broke the first trails and introduced that culture to this state. WCHF plans to collect, display and preserve the stories, photos and artifacts of such individuals and anything else that will honor and highlight their contributions to our history.”

This year WCHF members lobbied for and were successful in passing a bill creating an annual “Wyoming Cowboy and Cowgirl Legacy Week” the third calendar week of September. The law becomes effective July 1. The accompanying encouragement of school studies to commemorate this time through appropriate activities is being supported by WCHF with educational Cowboy activity booklets distributed to all fourth grade classes across the state.


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