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Functional Craftsmanship: Bill Ferreira is a renowned rawhide braider creating unique and functional gear

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Growing up on the Big Island of Hawaii, Bill Ferreira was immersed in the Hawaiian paniolo culture. These island cowboys were heavily influenced by Californian vaqueros, adopting many of their styles and tools, including braided rawhide gear. 

Hailing from a long line of paniolos and rawhide braiders, Bill has become a revered industry expert in the art. 

Bill moved to Montana to attend college, but after a few short weeks, he found himself a job working on a ranch for Curt Pate instead of attending class. Pate helped to cultivate Bill’s love for vaquero-style rawhide gear. 

“You can take the kid off the ranch, but you can’t take the cowboy out of the kid,” Bill says with a laugh.

Getting a foot in the door

In spite of growing up in a culture full of rawhide braiders, Bill says he has encountered a lot of closed doors on his journey to learning the craft. 

“The hardest part for me was at the time, when I was really wanting to learn, there was still a very closed-minded network of makers, and it was hard to find anyone who would show me anything,” explains Bill. “Fortunately, this has long since passed. Today, myself and many others are so willing to share the craft.”

Over the years, Bill did pry some of these closed doors open to learn from a few very talented braiders. He says it took years of practice to prove he was serious about the art before these braiders finally started to share their knowledge. 

From saddle makers on the Big Island to workshops hosted by the Traditional Cowboy Artists of America (TCAA), Bill says fellow artists have made a big impact on his craft. 

“I guess at this point they saw enough of a heart there. They saw the love of the craft, and the doors started opening. They were finally willing to share. Once I started attending workshops, I just improved 100 percent. The guys at TCAA have done a really good job of promoting the art and perpetuating it. They’ve also done a really good job of teaching and sharing it,” says Bill. 


Bill has been braiding rawhide for over 25 years and doing it as a full-time job for the last five years. When asked what advice he would give to those interested in learning the art of braiding rawhide, he has one word – perseverance.

“It’s the idea of nothing ventured, nothing gained. What you put into it is what you get out of it. It’s a very time consuming craft, and rawhide is a material that can’t be rushed. It tells us when it’s ready to go, and every single hide tempers differently,” explains Bill. 

“It’s important to understand when the moisture content needs to be worked in all of the stages, from cutting string to actually braiding. We can’t force it,” he continues. “It has to be ready to go. It needs to be worked when it needs to be worked. If we push it too far, our results won’t come out as well.”

Rawhide braiding dates back thousands of years, and is constantly evolving. Bill says he enjoys the continual challenge the art provides, noting even his best pieces will always have room for improvement. 

“It’s what keeps me going and it’s what makes it fun, because I’m always challenging myself to do better,” he says.

Bill enjoys sharing his knowledge of the art with others. In fact, he can be found giving braiding workshops at different events throughout the year, with the help of TCAA. And, he can even be persuaded to give one-on-one lessons. 

Bill’s shop is located in Helena, Mont., but he travels across the country sharing the tradition of rawhide with others.

For more information on Bill Ferreira’s rawhide business or to contact him, visit or call 808-769-2512.

Tressa Lawrence is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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