MONTANA COWBOY HALL OF FAME Living INDUCTION
BETTY MAE (WEMPLE) SCHALL
DISTRICT 10 - YEAR 2024
Betty Mae Wemple was born January 20, 1925, in Missoula, Montana at the Elmore Maternity Hospital, to Elmer Hooper Wemple and Della (Couture) Todd Wemple. When her parents were living in Evaro, Montana; her dad flagged down the train and her mother boarded, riding into Missoula to give birth to Betty Mae. She was the only child born of this marriage, although had four half-siblings from both parents. Her mother passed away from leukemia when she was five years old. She then went to live full time with her grandparents in the Bitterroot Valley, attending first grade at Florence-Carlton Elementary School, returning to live with her father and stepmother in the Jocko Valley when she was eight years old. Betty Mae attended both grade school and high school in Arlee, Montana, helping her parents on the ranch, gardening and working the fields from the time she learned to drive a team, until graduating from high school in 1943. Betty Mae earned a scholarship to Northwestern Business College (later Kinman Business University) in Spokane, Washington.
She moved to Florida in 1945, to the Tampa area and rode the bus back and forth to Arlee every six months, appeasing her homesickness. Two years later, when Betty Mae returned to the Jocko Valley and got off the bus, she told her dad, “This country girl is home to stay. I’ve seen all of the bright lights I need to see!”
On August 2, 1948, after a rodeo in Sandpoint, Idaho, Betty Mae married William W. “Billy” Schall at the Hitchin’ Post in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. A one room log cabin along the Jocko River, rented for a gallon of wine per month, became their new home.
Betty Mae chauffeured Billy on the rodeo circuit and used her skill with a stopwatch in the announcer’s stand, while paying close attention to the competitors and the judges. She began her early years in the announcers stand timing at amateur rodeos, later becoming a cardholder for the Rodeo Cowboys Association (RCA), number 6823. Betty Mae said, “Every spring was like a big family reunion. We met up with all the cowboys; the champs and the ones that wanted to be. It was nice to get together, as we knew them all, not just the top competitors, all of them. They were not just our friends either; they became our family.”
Betty Mae and Billy first settled on 20 acres adjacent to the W. E. Schall ranch on South Valley Creek and with the help of family, built their first home. Each spring they would put on several rodeos for the University of Montana Rodeo Club out of Missoula. Betty Mae ran a tight ship, cooking and sewing shirts for Billy, which became famous when Billy began “trading” them. Everyone wanted one!
In 1951, Betty Mae and Billy welcomed their first child, Rodney Jay, with daughter Nancy Jo coming along two years later. In the summer of 1956, Betty Mae packed up her toddlers for a six-week trek to New York City’s Madison Square Garden and Boston Gardens in Massachusetts, to support her husband in the World Championship Rodeo Finals. In 1959, the family welcomed another daughter, Tracy Kay. Five years later, they moved from the Jocko Valley, taking up residency and ranching between Ravalli and Dixon, Montana.
Betty Mae and Billy retired from the RCA in 1965, however, continued ranching, raising longhorn cattle and Thoroughbred horses. The family supported the logging industry during the 1950s, 60s and 70s, being a gypo logging operation by owning a variety of trucks and heavy equipment through the years. Betty Mae took part in this endeavor in that she was handy with a chainsaw, “bumping knots” from the logs so that they could be cut to length, and driving a log truck when the need arose. The family cut and bought Christmas trees in the fall of the year, sending many semi-loads to Iowa and Wyoming. Betty Mae did all the baling and tying of the trees, she was a stickler and perfected tree-baling.
The couple moved back to the Jocko Valley in 1975, across the river from their first one-room rental, building a home which tragically burned, taking two lives. They rallied and rebuilt in a slightly different location. During construction, Betty Mae bought a semi-load of firewood in anticipation of the coming winter. Returning home one evening after work she found that Billy had cut the logs into slabs. A one-of-a-kind, “slab home” was created that has marveled many.
Betty Mae went to work for the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes in 1971. After becoming a widow in 1995, she worked part time, until 1998. Deciding she could stay at home and look after a few head of cows, she purchased a 4-wheeler and a bale feeder truck to manage the cattle by herself, until 80 years of age, concluding that maybe a few chickens would keep her occupied. She has kept the family brand of Lazy B bar S, should she decide to buy another cow or two.
At age 98, Betty Mae still resides along the Jocko River with her guinea fowl, beloved dog, and her cats. She has survived many life adventures. A fractured hip and ribs, breast cancer, tipping her 4-wheeler on top of herself into the floodwater that ran along the driveway when in her 90s, and being pinned against the corral by her pickup. She drives back and forth to the mailbox, having given up highway driving, knowing she could drive the highway if she had to. Having an occasional beer or sip of whiskey, reminiscing about the days gone by and making plans for whatever strikes her fancy with friends, warms her heart. She is adamant about mowing her own lawn and occasionally splits a piece of firewood for the stove. Her good health tells of her enduring western spirit and zest for life.