WILLCOX Cowboy Hall of Fame inductees
TOM SELLMAN (87)
2005 COWBOY HALL OF FAME POSTHUMOUS AWARD
There are a lot of words you could use to describe Tom Sellman. You could call him a cattle trader, you could call him a steer man, or you could even call him a gambler.
Tom Sellman came to Willcox in 1943 and worked for Joe Lane on the O Bar O Ranch. Tom's influence on the Willcox cattle industry started when he began to buy and sell cattle on his own. He learned the business with Boozer Page, but it wasn't long before he branched out on his own. Tom acquired land on Pattie Road to establish his headquarters for his cattle trading business. Even though he only owned a few acres of land, he had leased almost every ranch or pasture in the valley at one time or another.
Tom would buy cattle, usually from Mexico, East Texas, or Louisiana, but it really didn't matter if there were cattle to be looked at, Tom had probably been there one time or another. The basic structure of his operation was that he would purchase cattle from around the country and ship them to the Sulphur Springs Valley. He would put them out on pastures and ranches until they were ready to be shipped on to California or to the high country in Nevada. It is hard to visualize the amount of cattle Tom brought to the Willcox area. One summer it is estimated that Tom had over 10,500 head of cattle scattered all over this valley.
Butterfly Cowan worked for ten years taking care of Tom's cattle. Butterfly said he could almost put up an electric fence horseback. The cattle would arrive from September to January. They would arrive by truck or by train. Butterfly said, "You worked all times of the day or night and you spent half your life waiting on trucks. For ten years you never knew what was going to happen next. You could be working with 5 or 5,000 head. But, I have nothing but good to say about Tom. He was a person who would do anything in the world for anybody. I also have lots of stories, and they are all good."
Once we had 700 head in the corrals in Douglas that were to be delivered to Jim Hudson's ranch. We couldn't get any trucks so we just drove them to the ranch. It took three days.
When it was time to bring the cattle off of the pastures we would have huge herds to get to a set of corrals so the trucks could pick them up. The largest single herd was 2300 head. Now that is a lot of steers.
One Saturday afternoon Tom called and said, "Put out feed for 1500 head." So we did, but at ten o'clock that night Tom called and said, "Don't unload the trucks until you hear from me." So on that Saturday night there were 15 semi trucks (also known as pots) sitting in front of Bob's Home Cafe. At 2 a.m. Tom called and said, "Don't unload them I just leased a ranch just south of Benson; take them there to unload." So at 2 o'clock in the morning Butterfly was leading 15 pots out of town headed for Benson.
Tom would buy a train load of cattle in El Paso and ship them to California without having a buyer on the other end, Tom knew the train would have to stop in Willcox, Casa Grande, and Gila Bend and the cattle would be unloaded, fed, watered, and rested. Tom was gambling that he could get the cattle sold before they reached California. Yes, I'd say he was a gambler.
Tom also bought lots of cattle from the local ranchers. It was not uncommon for Tom to purchase cattle from the same ranchers year after year after year. The ranchers trusted Tom for a fair price and an honest deal. He also was a very active trader at the Willcox Livestock Auction. Tom was born in Texas and he grew up in Roswell, New Mexico. Shortly after he arrived in Willcox he married a lady named Lassie Mills, and they had two daughters. Daughter Sue Sellman Parmelee, still lives here in Willcox.
Sue talked about how she would follow her Dad around every step she could. "I just enjoyed being with him. I idolized the man." Sue was there as they sorted cattle horseback at the head-quarters, and she was also there at the railroad shipping pens sitting on the chutes watching them unload railroad car after railroad car.
Tom was proud of Sue. He thought she could do anything. Sue said, "I don't ever remember him getting mad at me when he probably should have. Like the time I snuck out to smoke and burned down the corrals. Or the time I hooked up the horse trailer and forgot to roll up the jack stand. The wheel was slightly bent.
Tom Sellman knew cattle. He knew how to buy cattle. He knew how to package cattle. He knew who wanted cattle. He knew what size, shape, and color buyers wanted. He knew who had pasture and who had rain. He knew the cost of feed and the cost of shipping. Maybe most important he knew how to sell cattle. He could take all the variables put a plan into action and make it work. Nobody has ever done it better before or since.
So, when you pick words that best describe Tom Sellman, it could be cattle trader, steer man, or a gambler. But maybe the most important thing to remember about Tom Sellman is that he was a good person who would do anything to help anybody.