February 11, 1926 – November 13, 2004
Bernard C. Burgess grew up in the Nebraska Sandhills ranching and cowboy family. His father, Edwin Harrison Burgess, settled on a ranch near Ashby, Nebraska, where Bernard was the third of four sons and the 7th of eight siblings. Ranch life included cowboy life for this Burgess family. Father Edwin, brothers Bob and Ed are all members of the Nebraska Sandhills Cowboy Hall of Fame. Bernard grew up riding first bucket calves, then a few cows, a bull or two, and worked up to being a pretty fair bronc rider. As a young man, he took an interest in the Nebraska rodeo circuit, calf roping in particular. For twelve years, he competed with brother Bob and friend, Jack Dubs, in regional rodeos, until cut short by the needs of a growing family and ranch. Bernard became one of the top calf ropers in the State of Nebraska. Among his accomplishments were wins at Dunning, Hyannis and Burwell. His family proudly displays his buckle recording his “fastest time” buckle win at Alliance Rodeo in 1951. He placed at numerous other rodeos.
In his later years, he joined brother-in-law Bill Stevens and life-long friend, Jack Dubs, as the team penning “Ashby Grandpas” team. They had wins at Sidney, Stapleton and Burwell and placed in the money at many other events. Bernard’s team won the Nebraska State Team Penning Championship in 1988 and competed for the national title at Fort Worth, Texas. Bernard also competed in several of the “Old Timers Rodeo” events at Hyannis, Nebraska where this popular event was founded. On several occasions he placed in calf roping or team roping. A lot of weekends were spent at the “Stan Huffman Arena” team roping with his sons, Gary and Dave, and many others.
Family life was more important to Bernard than rodeo life, he gave it up for the latter to devote himself to a family which grew to three sons and one daughter on the 1850 acre ranch south of Ashby. He taught his kids that a man’s word was his bond, believing that if you can’t trust a man’s word, then you cannot trust what he puts on paper either. The oldest son, Bernie, graduated from the University of Nebraska and is retired Air Force officer and pilot. Son, Gary, followed the family as a Sandhills ranger. Youngest son, David, lives in Valentine and is a State Brand Inspector. Daughter Debra, preceded her father in death in her thirties. Bernard’s wife and partner, Ruth, continue to have interest in the ranch, along with her sons, even while living, retired, in Alliance. Bernard’s legacy includes many grandchildren and great grandchildren.
As a rancher, Bernard earned the reputation as a man of honor, character, dedication, attention to excellence and trustworthiness. Even seemingly mundane chores, such as fencing, were accomplished with an attention to detail and focus on “doing it right”. He was very competitive in everything he did, and was never willing to settle for less than his best effort. Few could work or count with the graceful and calm skill which he possessed. Few ranchers knew their cattle better than he knew his. He was always asked to help work the cattle pens and do some or most of the roping at the many brandings he attended.
Besides his ranch south of Ashby, Bernard leased the elder Ed Becker ranch, Cherry County, for 17 years and for lessor times, the Pew ranch near Bingham, and the Eckerle ranch near Lakeside.
At one time, he was considered one of the best trainers of quality roping horses in the region, and his horses were known especially for their smooth and complete stops, and reliability in working the rope. Several rodeo cowboys contracted Bernard to train their competitive roping horses.
In his later years, Bernard entertained many readers of his columns published in the Grant County News and the Fence Post articles, wherein he helped preserve the history, culture, and humor of the Sandhills ranch life. He published a book “Images of the West” which is a collection of short and often humorous stores about growing up as a cowboy and rancher in Nebraska. He is a distinguished member of the International Society of Poets for his poem “The Cowboy Ranch Woman” competed nationally and internationally in 2000 and 2001.
Our brother, husband and father, Bernard Clifton Burgess, died of flu and pneumonia in 2004 but even posthumously he is very deserving of inclusion in the Cowboy’s Hall of Fame. We are proud to nominate this man, who epitomized the essence the goodness and the best qualities of a husband, father, rancher and a real cowboy.