Albert Hebbert was born in a log cabin in the Pine Ridge area of Nebraska on April 30, 1905 to Harry and Kate Hebbert. He had two brothers, Roy and Merrill Hebbert, and a sister, Naomi (Hebbert) Courtier. He moved to the sandhills homestead with his parents in October 1909, in Sheridan County, south of Gordon and approximately four miles north of the Spade Ranch. At that time, you only had six months to furnish proof of the claim, so they began in April, at the tail end of the Kincaiders, and moved in exactly six months later to the day.
Albert said, “he didn’t know how they ever got it pulled in. Dad had our supplies and goods on a good wagon, but not for the Sandhills. He got in here and unloaded all the furniture, tarped it down, and set up a tent. He left mother and us boys, I was four, Roy was five and Merrill was three. He left us out there on the prairie where we didn’t know anybody and went back to Dawes County for lumber.” Albert’s father was gone for six days, but when he got back, we nailed a little house 12’ x 22’ and covered it with building paper and that’s what we wintered in.” According to Albert, the house was cold, but they had a stove. He chuckled as he said, “You had to sit pretty close to stay warm.”
Eighth grade was the conclusion of his educational and “book” learning. After school he worked on different ranches all over the country as well as helped on the homestead when needed. He said of himself that he was just “fair to middle hand,” but he worked for the bigger ranching outfits and always held his job. He freighted for everyone he worked for and worked four head of horses, sometimes six. Albert was 14 years old when he got his first job, where he helped his brother Roy, age 15 and Steve Haywood, age 17 as a mowing crew.
The J6-Springlake and Bar C were all owned by the Margraves at the time. Tom Arnold had the Spade Ranch leaded at this time. In 1924, Albert and two other men were sent to the town of Scenic, South Dakota. Tom Arnold had rounded up quite a few horses. One morning, they cut out 31 head, put them in some pens, front-footed them and held them down til they quit struggling. After they let them up, they opened a gate and sent Albert, age 18, to drive the 31 head of horses back to the Spade Ranch. He and the horses spent the first night at the Maddador Ranch in porcupine, South Dakota. He made Gordon, Nebraska the next day and finally on home to the Hebbert homestead. He left his horse there and then went on to the Spade Ranch. When asked why he left his horses and went to the Spade Ranch, his reply was, “to get cleaned up for the Thanksgiving dance.”
When the Spade Ranch sold out, Albert purchased some of the land and moved a house on it. He also leased a section from his aunt and was very proud that he was now a rancher.
On June 8, 1929, he married Ima Fern Shepard, of which to this union, five children were born: Mose, Gene, Janiece, Roger and Gary. Mose was born in 1930 with the fifth child, Gary, in 1937.
In 1944, his aunt sold her section of land to a neighbor. Albert had two of his sons ready for high school, so he went to the Spring Lake ranch and got a job with Don Vinton. He stayed there two years and then leased a place south of Gordon and moved on it in the spring of 1946. He later moved to the old U-Cross camp to hay and then to the C-Camp. In 1952, he bought a home and property in Ashby, Nebraska. His family moved there in the fall of 1952 and made well drilling a business until the fall of 1975.
During his career, he put in 2,000 wells, of which the majority probably still remains throughout the Sandhills.
His “semi-retirement” included time on horseback and “day work,” helping area ranchers whenever they needed cowboy labor or advice. Favorite pastimes were branding and moving cattle. It had been known that he had gotten kicked or bucked off even in his elder years and his wife and family would be very concerned, but you never asked about the ordeal, and just knew it was “in his blood to be tough” and that things would be alright. His advice was always with great wisdom, never sarcasm. He loved nature and could tell stories based on what nature had provided.
Ed Burgess and Howard Parker have written poems about the lifestyle of Albert Hebbert. In 1995, Kim Foreman published an article titled, “A Visit with the Sandhills’ Oldest Rancher.” Troy Smith also wrote on article about Albert, which was included in the Sandhills Survivor. The Angus Journal, Western Horseman magazine and many other publications have also featured Albert Hebbert’s life.
There were many family gatherings where Granddad Albert taught the cowboy way to his grandchildren. Even the girls could be found in his ol’ red barn, scuffling through something or just staring at the meadow, listening to his stories. Many a traveler wore a path down the east of Main Street to Albert’s house in Ashby. Albert passed away on April 25, 1999. Even on the day of his funeral, they closed the school so everyone could attend. Yes, there was even a dog that paraded in and around the pews. It brought a few laughs, but no one chased it out as Albert would have enjoyed that.
Albert’s most famous quote is, “If you get a chance to look at something in Mother Nature, you’d better look, you may never get another chance.” He once stated, “People are always worried about the sandhills blowing away. I don’t know where they think they’ll blow to….they used to be nothing but sand, and they stayed right here.” If you ever asked Albert how he was, his response was always, “Remarkably well!”