Jim Harris/Last Frontier
When Tom and Fredda Bingham wake up early on spring mornings in their home on the north side of Hobbs, they have on their minds a multi-volume encyclopedia of Bingham family memories from which to remember.
Married 70 years, they could, for instance, talk of Tom’s grandfather and grandmother Bingham, or his great-grandfather who came to Southeast New Mexico in 1898 and established and operated the Bingham Ranch. In sand country, it stretched from just north of the future town of Monument to halfway between the future site of Hobbs and the already long-time established cowboy town of Carlsbad.
However, this spring of 2023 Tom and Fredda don’t have to dig through their mental archives and albums, or thumb through Bingham genealogies to remember the past and talk about earlier generations of the Bingham family.
Sitting on the coffee table between their two comfortable living room recliners, their grandson Ryan Bingham looks straight at them from the cover of the April, 2023 edition of “Cowboys & Indians: The Premier Magazine of the West.”
Ryan is on the cover of a magazine with almost a million subscribers for each of the eight annual issues each because Ryan is not only one of the stars of Kevin Costner’s “Yellowstone” television series, but also because he is an Oscar-winning musical artist who spends most of his annual working time touring with his band to sold-out stadiums and concert halls across the country and in Europe.
In America we have had a lot of cowboy kings, and plenty of them, like Roy Rogers, the Lone Ranger, and the Cisco Kid, rode through Hollywood to get into our hearts.
Playing the character Walker in “Yellowstone” and performing for an increasing number of fans in standing-room only music venues, Ryan is about as close to being king of the cowboys as Clint Eastwood was a few years ago in “Unforgiven,” or Steve McQueen was in “Wanted Dead or Alive”, or James Arness was in “Gunsmoke.”
He is without question the king of the cowboys in Southeastern New Mexico and West Texas where he was born and grew up, learned to rope cattle and ride bulls, and taught himself to play the guitar and sing.
He is also, of course, the king of cowboys for his grandparents, Tom and Fredda.
Most of the American cowboy kings lived in Hollywood, and so does Ryan. He lives in and has West Coast acreage for his horses in Topanga Canyon just outside of Hollywood.
However, he has already re-established territory back in Texas with the creation of his new company called Bingham’s Bourbon.
In addition to that business, Costner’s “Yellowstone” movie company is doing some filming in Texas at the 6666 Ranch east of Lubbock.
That makes Ryan’s grandparents mighty happy that their grandson will be closer to them and will be able to visit more often. Tom and Fredda say he has a pickup truck with a camper in its bed he uses as a second home sometimes when he is touring or filming in different locations.
When I met Ryan a few years ago and heard him perform at two different Midland-Odessa venues, he donated to the Lea County Museum several memorabilia from his singing career, including a leather jacket, which he used for several years while he was touring primarily in New Mexico and Texas back-road honkytonks and bars.
The Ryan exhibit can be seen at the museum on the second floor of the 1931 Lister Building across the street from the Lea County Courthouse.
Fredda Bingham says Ryan has mentioned several times that he would really enjoy coming back home and performing at the Lea County Rodeo some day. He’s done a lot of rodeo concerts. Of course that’s something else his grandmother and grandfather would enjoy too. It would be a real homecoming for him, they say.
Ryan’s mother and father passed away when he was still a young man, but the Binghams have very deep roots in Lea County’s history and in the ranching community. The Binghams have a huge presence in Lovington’s Cemetery.
Tom’s great grandfather, also named Tom, was the first of the Binghams to move from Texas into New Mexico Territory.
Tom Swindoll (TS) Bingham was born in Italy, Texas, on July 25, 1872. His parents were Thomas and Mary Bingham. His wife was Louella May Simcoe, and their children were Mary Frances, Tommie Lou, Hope Evelyn, Edna Catherine, Mildred Holham, and George Hightower. T.S. died in 1944.
When he came to Southeast New Mexico, the region was still a frontier land, and T.S. did much for the people here. He doctored cattle and people. He built and repaired wagons, buggies, saddles, fences, and windmills.
In addition to ranching he served as a judge, county tax assessor, and a deputy sheriff.
T.S. was one of the first inductees in New Mexico Junior College’s Lea County Cowboy Hall of Fame, being awarded a Bronze Cowboy Award in 1979.
Other members of Tom and Fredda Bingham’s extended family include many ranchers, cowboys, business people, and public servants.
I’m not sure what kind of businesses Roy Rogers owned when he was the cowboy king, but here are a few words from Ryan found on his bourbon spirits web site:
“A good friend once told me, take care of your art and your art will take care of you. Authenticity and integrity have always been at the heart of the songs and stories I tell, so when it came to making a whiskey that could enjoy and share with my friends and fans, I knew the same standards would have to apply as well. I’ve spent years travelin’ the world playing honkytonks and bars looking for a whiskey with enough kick and flavor to sip on the rocks, but smooth enough for a celebratory shot at the bar. After searching high and low I decided to head home to Texas and make my own, I’m proud to now bring you Bingham’s Bourbon.
Although Ryan went to public school in more than one Texas town, his late mother and father, Cynthia Ann and George Bingham were graduates of Hobbs High School in 1973.
There are so many Bingham kin in Lea County that Tom and Fredda have connections to dozens of individuals, including members of the Frier and Cooper families of ranching and rodeo fame.
In fact, if I had to pick two cowboy kings for this corner of New Mexico, I would choose Ryan and his distant kin of
Roy Cooper, one of the greatest rodeo ropers in the history of the National Cowboy Hall of Fame.
If Tom and Fredda were to count and list all the uncles and aunts, nephews and nieces, they would create a book-size list.
Right now they are content to have their grandson Ryan’s magazine-cover picture next to them in their living room.
The photograph of Ryan and the long article about him inside “Cowboys and Indians” tells the story of the Bingham’s longtime presence in the ranch country of the American West.