Two named to Hall of Fame

Rhonda Sedgwick Stearns

Submitted photo

Jean ready to receive her Pioneer Woman award, 2010 National Cowboy Symposium.

Rhonda Sedgwick Stearns


Two Weston County residents have been named to the 2020 Wyoming Cowboy Hall of Fame. Jean Sherwin Harshbarger and Francis Sedgwick were selected by the WCHF Board of Directors in early May. In this issue, the News Letter Journal presents the first of the inductees, Jean Harshbarger.


NOMINATOR’S STATEMENT: I want to nominate Jean Harshbarger as a 2020 WCHF honoree because she’s been a cowboy all her life and one of the hardest working women and best ranchers and neighbors I’ve ever known. Jean abounds with energy and joy, always smiling and laughing and moving fast — a Tennessee Walker can hardly keep up with her afoot! She’s endured a lot of tragedy and hardship — both her husband and her son were murdered by guns and nobody ever did time for either; her lovely ranch home burned to the ground during her aging widow years; she’s endured floods and droughts — yet through it all she continues to be a pillar of the community and a marvelous friend and neighbor. Since early childhood Jean’s probably ridden more miles than most women would ever imagine, and she’s still eager to saddle up and head out for a full day’s horseback work — or to bake a delicious sour cream raisin pie! 


Pioneering runs deeply in Jean’s blood. Her Sherwin paternal family helped save the buffalo in Colorado; and her grandfather Len Sherwin instituted and produced a traveling Wild West Show around 1904. 

Jean’s personal ranching/cowboy legacy was honored at the American Cowboy Culture Awards during the 2010 National Cowboy Symposium & Celebration in Lubbock, Texas. The American Cowboy Culture Awards, instituted in 1989, are “presented to those found to best represent the life of a cowboy,” and have honored outstanding westerners from 20 states, two Canadian Provinces and Germany. Awards NCS&C founder/director Alvin G. Davis presented Jean’s Rancher/Pioneer Woman award for 2010, saying, “It is indeed a pleasure for us to recognize your outstanding western accomplishments.” Her award, which the NCS&C called, “The most unique award that has ever been created for honoring great westerners like you,” is a miniature saddle (approximately two feet tall) on a laser-etched wood saddle stand. 

Onstage to receive their mini-saddles alongside Jean that 2010 evening were Rex Allen, Jr of Las Vegas, Nev., Western Music; Bob Hinkle of Royse City, Texas, Western Movies and TV; Harold Holden of Enid, Okla., Western Art; Jim Jennings of Amarillo, Texas, Western Writing; Keith Martin of San Antonio, Texas, Rodeo; Bob Nolan’s grandson Calvin Coburn of Las Vegas, Nev., receiving Bob’s posthumous Western Music award; North Dakota Hall of Fame, Medora, N.D., Western Museum; Jennifer Welch Nicholson, Riata Ranch International, Exeter, Calif., Ranching; Kelly and Pat Riley, Fort Worth, Texas, Western Wear & Western Museum; and George Strait, Nashville, Tenn., Ranching/Rodeo/Western Wear/ Music. It was suggested accepting winners speak of the “things they’re proudest of.” Jean complied, saying her highlights were “being the first woman to graduate from the University of Wyoming with a Range Management degree.” She’d never worked a day in her life — because she’d never drawn a paycheck, she said, and she’d quit smoking when she was 11!

Jean’s life, as long as she can remember, is working hard on the historic 4W Ranch, where beef has been raised since the late 1880s. She loves it! Her youth was spent in the saddle across the miles and miles of rough country the ranch encompassed in Weston, Converse and Niobrara counties, where she perfected the myriad skills of horseman and cattleman. Beef to be sold was trailed horseback cross-country roughly 60 miles to railroad shipping yards at Dewey, S.D. In-the-saddle management of that event fell on Jean from an early age, with elders hopefully catching up with a vehicle toting beds and grub before the first nightfall. Now into her eighth decade, Jean continues to help run the 4W Ranch Family Limited Partnership from horseback, four-wheeler and pickup, handling any ranching duty that arises — feeding, doctoring, branding, fencing, managing water, cooking big meals for branding — whatever is needed. 

She’s a longtime and still active member of Weston County CowBelles, Wyoming Stock Grower’s, Farm Bureau; always supportive of community. Jean and husband Bob are good neighbors and take an active part in many organizations and efforts pursuant to being good stewards of land, livestock and the environment through management, protection and improvement. They dwell at the original 4W Ranch headquarters, one of Wyoming’s oldest. Nestled against the twisting banks of the upper Cheyenne River, not far from her headwaters, the 4W Ranch stood alone on 1880 maps of Wyoming Territory. Early owner and Longhorn rancher J.W. Hammond first branded cattle there with the ‘4W’ that names the ranch. In its heyday, guided by Texas-native foreman William Keating, the outfit carried 10,000 head of cattle. Some of the cottonwoods shading Jean’s yard and some logs comprising her well-preserved barn, bunkhouse and blacksmith shop have known the outfit from its inception. Jean and her family value history and tradition. Bob bought her a real antique chuckwagon some years ago, and they served the branding meal from it, at working pens in the pasture miles from the house.

Today’s “4W” covers roughly 29,000 acres of deeded and leased land, home to the six-generation ranching family’s 500-600 mostly-Red Angus cows, some high quality Red Angus and Charolais bulls, and their offspring. Jean and engineering student Bill Sears
met at the University of Wyoming in the mid-1950s. After becoming the first woman to receive a UW degree in agriculture, Jean married Bill and began raising the 4th 4W Ranch generation: Nicky, Tony and Elana. Gus Sherwin’s accidental death on a Florida fishing trip in 1964 left Jean’s mother Char alone with the ranch, so the Sears family moved back to help, allowing that generation to grow up there. 

After Char’s passing in 1970 Jean and Bill managed the ranch until his untimely death in 1981. That dumped the whole load on Jean’s shoulders, but with good neighbors and the competent help of her kids she managed it all — from drought to flood to her house burning down — raising and campaigning race horses and winning Old Timer’s Rodeo Queen titles for diversion. 

According to 4W legend, “a new set of wings dipped over the horizon in 1987,” and in 1989 Jean was swept into marriage with Illinois native Robert Harshbarger, highly-decorated Air Force major, retired. If that version of the legend doesn’t suit you just ask Bob — he’ll tell you he “came to the 4W to hunt and got shanghaied!” 

The 4W Ranch is primarily grassland, but Jean’s pilot dad Gus Sherwin (who pioneered ‘ranch management on wings’ in Wyoming) bladed a strip near the house for his runway. That led to an adjacent alfalfa field, and now a few small fields of crested wheat or alfalfa can be found near the main headquarters. 

The original 4W Ranch was massive. Eventually the portion Jim Sherwin (Gus’s brother) owned and operated sold to a neighboring rancher. That coming up for re-sale some years ago seemed like destiny. Jean and Bob, thoughtful of their age and future needs for help, purchased half the available land. That restored one broken edge of the old 4W, which became home to Jean’s grandson, Chad (fifth 4W generation) and wife Gill after he retired from military service in 2004. With their daughter Laynie (sixth generation on the ranch), they’re active participants in the 4W’s ongoing adaptation for survival.

4W Ranch’s beef herd was once colorfully eclectic — hardy, healthy, and happily acclimated to their range — but money follows trends! When livestock uniformity trended, the 4W bovines began bending toward order in size, class and color. From an early-1990s calico mix of black, black-baldy, a moderate amount of red, plus a few Hereford, Dutch belted, and Beefalo crossbreds, that mob has transformed into very uniform size and shape with just two basic colors — the vivid henna/cinnamon/gingerbread glow of Red Angus and the vanillacaramel/creamedcoffee/rodeodust of Charolais-crossbreeds. They’re uniform — except for the few colorful misfits Gill fell in love with from birth and Chad enjoys keeping for marker cows.

The 4W Ranch program involves calving 50-80 two-year-old replacement heifers each spring, and they shoot for a 70-pound birth weight. Jean says she’s not “up on all the EPD stuff” and likes having Bob and Chad involved in bull buying. She knows they’ve done well when most of the heifers “just calve on their own.”

Jean and Bob are amazingly active octogenarians, heavily involved in spring and fall works with the cattle, and trading work with their neighbors. Laynie visits often to hike, explore, cook and play cards with Jean. The little cowgirl has two horses and rides confidently on the ranch, plus winning buckles in arenas. Cowgirl-Gramma Jean shed a few tears and figured she might be passing the legacy down when 5-year-old Laynie, watching the corral gate close behind cattle she’d helped gather on a lengthy ride, sighed and quipped from her saddle, “I suppose I’m go’nna be doing this for the rest of my life!”


Look in next week’s edition of the News Letter Journal to read about the second Weston County Wyoming Cowboy Hall of Fame inductee for 2020, Francis Sedgwick.


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