Cowgirl, role model, mentor and genuine leader.
Those are the words Laurie Thoman used to describe her mom, Mary A. “Mickey” Thoman, in a biography she compiled upon Mickey’s induction into the Wyoming Cowboy Hall of Fame last year. Hardworking, resilient and loyal are just a few adjectives that could be added.
The Wyoming cowboy lifestyle started for Mickey before she was even born, when her pregnant mom would ride horseback to make the Hamsfork mail delivery. At the age of 2, Mickey could be found in the corral hugging the horses’ legs. She rode horses behind her dad and brothers as a toddler, and drove the team that pulled hay equipment before she was old enough to attend school.
Agriculture and ranching have been in her blood ever since, and she has persevered in her love of that way of life despite tragedy and hardship; an attachment that has been passed on to her children and grandchildren.
Mickey will turn 90 years old on Oct. 8, 2019, yet retirement is not a word she would ever use. She owns and continues to manage the daily operations of the fifth-generation family business, W & M Thoman Ranches, with her three daughters Mary, Kristy and Laurie. The women raise fine-wool Rambouillet sheep, a herd of Hereford cattle and thoroughbred quarter horses at their ranch located along the Green River 50 miles north of the town bearing the same name. Son Dick and his family reside close to home on the Green River, and son Bob and family farm in Riverton and help when they can. Mickey’s family now includes 20 grandchildren and more than 24 great-grandchildren.
As the matriarch of the family, Mickey continues to play a major role — managing the budget, paying bills, keeping the payroll updated, doing house and yardwork, feeding animals and milking cows. She can be seen on her horse working cows at roundup time.
“After an honest day’s work when the crew is rubbing saddle sores, Mickey just rides off with a smile to go prepare yet another meal,” her biography states.
Her husband William J. (Bill) Thoman was known to say that Mickey was worth five hired men. She was always willing and able to do everything the men would do and more.
Mickey’s cowgirl qualities and lifetime of contributions to the state’s livestock, ranching and agriculture industries is reflected in her induction to the Wyoming Cowboy Hall of Fame. She and other 2018 inductees from Sublette and Lincoln counties will be honored at an open house Sunday at the Sommers Homestead Living History Museum north of Pinedale. Mickey was also selected to be grand marshal for the Overland Stage Stampede Rodeo in June.
Mentor and role model
Mickey’s family is quick to sing her praises. Taylor Hernandez said her grandmother has passion, and a theme echoed by Mickey’s three daughters is the family togetherness woven throughout their growing-up years on the ranch, and the fact that Mickey always led by example.
Mickey married Bob in 1948, and the couple had seven children over a span of more than two decades: Mary, Kathy, Billy, Bob, Dick, Kristy and Laurie. The first three lived with their parents in a sheep camp before they all moved to the ranch on the Green River.
It was a family operation. Each member worked together on whatever needed to be done and enjoyed doing it.
“We grew up with ranching in our blood and developed a love for it,” Mary said.
According to Kristy, ranch life was more like a vacation than work.
“Everyone waited to see who would get to go with Dad,” she said, referring to the saying, “If you love what you do, you never work a day.”
The children learned to ride at a young age, and Mickey helped each one train a colt of their own from start to finish out of the ranch-raised herd.
For adventures, Mickey would load up all her kids and a number of youth from Green River, along with their horses, in a 2-ton truck and drive to Pilot Butte for a nice ride and picnic lunch. Many summers were spent with the sheep in the Greys River area, riding horseback with a pack string and passel of kids riding behind.
There’s a favorite family story about the time Mickey and others saved a wild stallion from drowning in the Green River. A herd had been stranded on an ice chunk in the middle of the river and fell in. Family members carefully made their way across the ice to the stallion, got a rope around his neck, and helped him onto the bank. Once on solid land, he was ready to eat out of Mickey’s hand and follow her anywhere. Unfortunately, the other horses drowned.
Tragedy and hardship
Despite the fact that the Thoman family has experienced what seems like more than their fair share of hardship and tragedy, Mickey has never wavered in her love for the ranching lifestyle.
“Her grit, determination, love and commitment to her family and ranching have overshadowed everything else,” according to her biography.
The family has faced death, fire, flood and the loss of land due to condemnation.
Daughter Catherine drowned in the Green River while riding her horse in 1971. A short six years later, their son Bill Jr., was killed in a trucking accident, leaving behind a widow and two young sons. The Bill Thoman Jr. Memorial Wrestling Tournament at Green River High School was named in honor of his dedication to the wrestling program. Mickey’s husband of 50 years, Bill, died in 1998 in a vehicle-related accident.
In the early 1960s, the ranch flooded due to a break in the Fontenelle Dam. In the 1970s, a careless camper started a wildfire that burned several hundred acres of trees and nearly destroyed ranch buildings. Then, in 1980, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service served a final eviction notice after the conclusion of a lengthy court battle. The size of the ranch shrank as the area dedicated to the Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge increased. Other problems have included the daily challenges of dealing with labor from other countries, loss from grizzlies and wolves in summer ranges and losing the use of forest allotments.
Through it all, though, Mickey and her family have thrived.
“It’s all about family and perseverance,” Laurie said. “Giving up is not in our vocabulary.”
Mickey said the best thing for her to do when she’s upset by life’s hardships is to go outside and work with the animals.
“It gives me peace of mind,” she said. “You can tell them your troubles.
No matter what, Mickey said God can be found in the beauty of the outdoors and agriculture, and she feels closes to God when she is tending his creatures.
Through it all, family members also say that Mickey’s moral compass has never wavered.
Honors and achievements
Mickey’s achievements and awards over the years could fill a book. From rodeo queen to a member of the Wyoming Agriculture Hall of Fame and Wyoming Cowboy Hall of Fame, she has been recognized by numerous groups and organizations.
She has also been a key figure in Sweetwater County 4-H, and family members have been fairgoers and participants since 1950. She has served on the county and state level in 4-H leaders councils. She was among the 33 original founding members of the Green River Valley Cowbelles/Cattlewomen and served on the Board of Directors for the Wyoming Stockgrower’s Association. The list goes on and on.
Many of the awards earned were for the ranch itself or the entire Thoman family. It all goes back around to those close-knit family ties her role of mentor.
The Thoman family mission is to continue the family ranch as a way of life for future generations. Mickey is at the helm of that effort, and her legacy will continue to live on in her own life and the lives of her family members and others in the days, months and years ahead.