Lifelong cattleman remembered as trustworthy and fair
Maui cattlemen last week remembered local rancher William “Bill” Eby as a quiet, gentle man who loved animals and mentored a younger generation of paniolo.
Eby, 89, died Oct. 18 at his home in Haiku under hospice care. Services were held Friday.
A lifelong cattleman, Eby ran Honolua Ranch for 31 years and Nahiku Ranch for a decade before leasing Erehwon Ranch in Kula, which he operated in his later years. He was also known as the founder of Pacific Airlift, a business that introduced air transport for horses, cattle and other livestock to and from Hawaii. He was honored by the Paniolo Hall of Fame in 2001.
“If everybody could be as humble and be a quarter of the gentleman that that man is, the world would be all right,” said Jimmy Gomes, operations manager of Ulupalakua Ranch. “He had one of the biggest hearts.”
In addition to raising his own cattle, Eby often bought livestock from other ranchers, and had a reputation as a trustworthy and fair businessman.
“You never had to put it in writing,” Gomes said. “He’d look at you and say, ‘I’ll take these cows, and this is what I’ll pay.’ His word was gold.”
Fellow Paniolo Hall of Fame member Carl “Soot” Bredhoff said Eby’s business, Pacific Airlift, had an impact on the local beef industry because it allowed ranchers to fly valuable bulls, horses and other livestock into the state overnight. Previously, cattle had to be brought in by boat, a week-long journey that stressed the animals and often caused them to get sick or lose weight.
“Instead of seven days, it would be hours,” Bredhoff said.
Eby was born Nov. 20, 1920, on Kauai, and moved to Maui with his family as a child, growing up in Hamakuapoko. In a 2002 interview, he recalled being fascinated by the cowboys at nearby Grove Ranch, who later invited him to ride with them.
“He knew when he was very, very young that that was what he wanted,” said Eby’s sister, Barbara Cook.
But Eby’s parents, who had no connection to the ranching industry, were “very leery,” she said. They told Eby he could live at home for six months while he tried his hand at the cattle business.
“At the end of the six months, there was no doubt how well he was doing,” she said.
After the U.S. Navy took control of Kahoolawe in 1941, Eby helped round up the cattle and horses that were pastured on the island and ship them to Maui. The job required him and other cowboys to swim the cattle from the beach to boats waiting offshore, a practice that had been common in Hawaii in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but ended with the construction of deep harbors.
Later in his life, Eby leased land in Kula and called it Erehwon Ranch – “nowhere” spelled backward.
Bill Grundhauser, whose wife Debbie Von Tempsky’s family owns the land, said Eby was careful and deliberate in his management of his pastures and animals. After a big rain, when other ranchers were sending their cattle out to graze on the new grass, Eby removed his cows from the pasture instead, Grundhauser said. He waited a month or more for the grass to go to seed before allowing his animals to graze. The practice ensured more grass for the next year.
“He was very conservative like that,” Grundhauser said. “Just about everything I know about pasture management came from him. He took very good care of his animals and always had the best cattle and horses.”
Hugh Starr, who managed a feedlot at Ulupalakua Ranch in the 1960s, recalled being impressed by Eby’s animals.
“He always had very gentle cattle,” he said. “They were easy to work around and very gentle. He handled his animals very well.”
“As far as his horses, his cattle and his dogs, he just loved animals and had respect for them,” said Vince Genco, Eby’s partner in Pacific Airlift.
Eby was especially fond of buckskin horses and was “famous” for breeding them, Genco noted.
He described Eby as “more of a mentor than a business partner.”
After his declining health made it hard for him to help run the company, Eby called Genco and told him to stop sending him his share of the business’s profits.
“I told him, ‘That’s not the way it works,’” Genco recalled. “But that’s the kind of guy he was.”
Gomes said Eby had been in declining health for more than a year, after being gouged in the leg by a steer. He said he visited Eby a few weeks before his death and noticed that Eby’s horse was standing strangely outside the window, positioned so that it was faced in the same direction as Eby.
“It was like the horse was telling him, you need to go, and I’m here with you,” Gomes said. “I knew he could hear me, so I just told him, ‘Let go. You’ll go to a world where you can be with all your friends, and you’ll ride the best buckskins.’”