July 27, 2020 — William “Bill” Hamann was a mover and shaker in the western North Dakota cattle industry. He was born near Richardton in March 1904 and began working with livestock in the late 1920s. Along with his associates, he established the Western Livestock Company in Dickinson; that was in 1948 – it grew to become the largest cattle auction in North Dakota.

People of Hamann’s generation remember him as an honest and trustworthy businessman. There were plenty of enthusiastic livestock buyers when the market was up, but if prices took a dive, Bill wasn’t one to walk away – whether the auction was in his ring or someone else’s.

Belfield auctioneer Pat O’Brien became friends with Hamann. “When Bill Hamann was at an auction,” he said, “everything that came through the ring had a value. I don’t care if it was a Billy goat or a boar pig or a semi load of cattle. There are a lot of great people in the livestock business, but of the people that I knew, Bill was the greatest.”

One morning Hamann caught a ride with O’Brien to a Montana auction. “He’d get in your car, and two miles down the road he’d be sleeping,” O’Brien said. “About halfway to Glendive he wakes up and says, ‘STOP!’ I ask, ‘Stop here?’ He said, ‘No, no, no. When we get to Glendive. Stop. I gotta make a phone call. I just remembered that I sent a man down in [Colorado] six loads of cattle a while ago, and I ain’t got paid for them.’” O’Brien laughed, saying, “That was when cattle probably cost $50,000 a load.”

Hamann was often a person young ranchers would turn to if bankers wouldn’t help them get started. With solid advice and strong loyalty to ideals, Hamann would put cattle out on ranches on shares. A Medora rancher name Adolph Burkhardt said that by the time he got his place going, “We didn’t have much money for livestock so Bill furnished us with 300 Hereford cows on shares. We’d sell in the fall and split the check. Bill was real good to us.”

Hamann liked to tell a story about a bachelor living down near the South Dakota border. When the man asked Hamann to come and look at his hogs, Bill complied. Expecting to see hog pens, he was surprised when the guy asked him to get up and drive a horse and wagon filled with corn. The fellow got up on a saddled horse and told Hamann to follow him. After a mile or so, the farmer started calling his hogs – they were loose on the range!

“Hogs come out of every draw,” Hamann said. “Old ones, young ones, good ones, crippled ones!”

With his wagonload of corn as his flute, Bill became a sort of Pied Piper leading more than a thousand hogs to a nearby stockyard. And, Bill bought every one of those pigs, although he had no idea what to do with them. He ended up loading them into stock cars and sending them east. Then, he called a Minnesota feeder to tell him he should expect a rather large shipment of hogs.

“What am I going to do with them?” the buyer asked.

Bill said, “I don’t know. That’s why you got ‘em.” It turned out the buyer was happy with the shipment and wanted more just like them. Bill told him, “I don’t think there’s any more like that in the world!”

Bill and his wife, Viola, raised 10 children over the years. He never retired, but he was seriously slowed down by a stroke when he was 74; he died six months later – on this date in 1979.

“Dakota Datebook” is a radio series from Prairie Public in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota and with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council. See all the Dakota Datebooks at prairiepublic.org, subscribe to the “Dakota Datebook” podcast, or buy the Dakota Datebook book at shopprairiepublic.org.

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