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William Vaughn Schoening

(Sept. 13, 1926 - March 10, 2013)

William Vaughn “Big Chief” Schoening, 86, of Cody, died peacefully early Sunday, March 10, 2013 at West Park Hospital with his daughter by his side.

Bill was born Sept. 13, 1926 in Genoa, Colo. He was the second of seven children born to William A. and Velma B. (Graves) Schoening. Bill entered the U.S. Army on March 10, 1945. He served in the Philippines during World War II. After his discharge, Bill met and married the love of his life, Betty Jean Miley, on Feb. 10, 1951. They were loving partners in life for 50 years. Betty died unexpectedly on Oct. 13, 2001.

Bill was a very hard worker all of his life. When he was 11, he would hoist 100 pound bean sacks onto railcars. Bill and Betty lived in Limon, Colo., where Bill worked for Lincoln County operating heavy equipment. They moved to Richmond, Calif., and Bill was employed at a chemical company and landfill.

Their first child, Linda Jean, was born March 10, 1952 in Richmond. They returned to Colorado where their second child, James Michael, was born on July 15, 1954. The family moved to Cody in 1956 and Bill was employed by Parker Harris of Harris Trucking. He also worked for several years at Buffalo Bill Station for Walt Hoffman. In the mid ‘60s, Bill went to work for the Big Horn Gypsum Plant for several years. In 1968, Bill, Betty and their children moved to Phoenix, Ariz., and Bill worked for Exxon, first as a mechanic and later as manager. Bill retired in 1979 and bought a small acreage in Goldthwaite, Texas.

Bill was extremely artistic and enjoyed woodcarving and painting wildlife. He was a self-taught silversmith and he began designing and making Western jewelry and attended craft fairs and gun shows throughout the West. His jewelry designs were sought after throughout the United States, especially the elk ivory jewelry he custom designed and crafted.

In the late 1980s, Bill and Betty decided to return to Cody permanently and built and opened Big Chief Western Gifts on the West Strip to Yellowstone. Bill especially enjoyed making custom turquoise and elk ivory rings, necklaces, belt buckles, earrings and other pieces for many local residents. He also made and shipped many pieces throughout the U.S. Bill loved people and spent many hours visiting with his customers and friends while he painstakingly built jewelry. He continued making jewelry until the age of 85 when he suffered a stroke which led to other physical ailments.

Bill enjoyed fishing, hunting and arrowhead hunting. He also enjoyed collecting coins. He accepted Christ as his savior in the early years of his marriage and was a strong and faithful Christian his entire life. He taught Sunday school and Bible studies. He also served as deacon and trustee in most of the churches he attended. Bill helped build First Baptist Church in Cody. He was also a member of North Phoenix Baptist Church and Grace Baptist Church in Cody. He had a strong testimony and shared it with everyone he met, leading countless family, friends and acquaintances to the Lord.

He was preceded in death by his wife, Betty; grandson, Micah; his parents; his brothers Robert and Jack; his sister Joyce; sisters-in-law Lena Schoening, Marie Schoening and Maxine Smith; and brothers-in-law Doug Simon and Bonnie Smith.

Bill is survived by his daughter, Linda Schoening-Sparks of Cody; his son, Jim Schoening of Texas; his grandson, Aaron “Willie” Sparks of Texas; granddaughter, Peggy Sparks of California; his brothers Larry (Barbara) Schoening of Cody and Jenner (Carrol) Schoening of Riverton; sister Peggy (Tim) Power of Cody; sister-in-law, Mary Simon and many nieces and nephews.

In memory of Bill, please consider a donation to the Livingston Elementary School Veteran’s Day Program, 2001 12th Street, Cody, WY 82414.

Funeral services will be held Friday, March 22 at Ballard Funeral Home at 2 p.m. Burial will follow at Riverside Cemetery with full military honors provided by the VFW Honor Guard.

An online memorial is available at

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