Thursday, June 8, 2017

Paul Carney - A Lot in a Short Time

        Paul Carney was one of sixty-one men who walked out of performing at the Boston Garden Rodeo in 1936. They demanded better treatment. While the show’s organizer, Col. Johnson, was livid and originally refused to give in to the cowboys, a truce was eventually reached. This event led to the formation of Cowboy Turtle’s Association (CTA) which was the beginnings of the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association (PRCA).
Paul was born in the small town of Galeton, Colorado on September 21, 1912. His father, N.V. Carney, had a homestead where they farmed and ran livestock. Young Paul became interested in the livestock operation and respectfully left farming alone. He developed a knack for breaking and training horses, and from thereafter, he just wanted to be a cowboy!
Paul was always proud of his small-time Colorado roots (Galeton, in far Northeastern Colorado, only had about 150 residents). He would always list his address as “Galeton, Colorado” for the announcer to call out.
He entered his first rodeo, the Greeley Stampede, at the young age of fifteen. The following year he won the rookie saddle bronc riding at the Cheyenne Frontier days and thereafter was a rodeo cowboy for most of the rest of his life.
Stock contractor, Verne Elliot, took young Carney under his wing, giving him a job. This allowed Paul to compete at rodeos as he worked for the contractor. He even got to compete in London, England in 1934 (he was only twenty-one) thanks, in part, to Elliot. Paul was soon off and running with his rodeo career and he did not need the safety-net of a job any longer (although he and Elliot remained life-long friends).
Paul regularly competed in four events: bareback, saddle bronc, bull (steer) riding and steer wrestling. He was versatile at both ends of the arena (he also roped calves) and won world championships in the bareback riding in 1937 and ’39. Also in 1939, he became the first man from Colorado to win the title of: All-around Champion of the World.
Was it because he was good at four events? Perhaps. Or could it have been a shirt? Burel Mulkey, who had won the 1938 All-around World Championship, gave Paul the shirt he was wearing...they joked about it, but you know how rodeo superstitions are. Carney was also known to have a dry, but active sense of humor, taking a joke just as good as he gave one out.
In 1937, when Paul was at the top of his rodeo game, he drew a bad bronc called, Hell’s Angel, who had gone unridden the previous nineteen tries. Paul rode Hell’s Angel that day at Madison Square Garden. He rode him again in 1939 at the same rodeo, but Paul once said, “....Hell’s Angel was the toughest bronc I’ve ever been on.” Even though Paul won the world in bareback (Hell’s Angel was a saddle bronc), each year he drew the “Angel” and covered him, Paul became a World Champion.
Carney was also given credit as the first man who figured out that if you bent the shanks of your spurs in and down, that it helped keep contact with a bucking animal. Rough stock spurs have been designed that way every since and he was jokingly called  “Shanks” Carney for many years.
Paul was easy going, yet popular and a leader. World Champion, Gene Pruett, once said, “Paul was one of the world’s greatest riders. Although quiet and unassuming, he was a leader among rodeo cowboys.” He was actively involved in the early CTA, holding card number twenty-one. He was on the board as the steer riding representative (It would be “bull riding” now-a-days, but back then they rode long and lanky, thousand-pound plus steers—some as big as horses.)
Shortly after winning the World All-around Championship in 1939, Paul and his wife, Lillian, moved to the Phoenix (Chandler), Arizona area and started a construction company along with his brother, Albert. The couple also raised horses on their “Diamond Two” ranch. In 1942, the Carneys purchased the champion quarter horse, Little Joe Jr. (out of the great stud, Joe Bailey), and brought him to their ranch. During this phase of life, Paul continued competing in rodeos, although more on a local level. All-the-while he raised good quarter horses and ran the construction business.
Although in the prime of life, while working on a road project near the Grand Canyon on June 24, 1950, Paul Carney fell over dead from a heart attack. It seemed hard to believe he was only thirty-seven because he had accomplished so much.
Out of respect for this great cowboy, whose impact was wide-felt in the short time he was here, Paul Carney was inducted into the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum’s Rodeo Hall of Fame in 1961. In 1965, he was inducted into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame and in 2001 to the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs.

Jim Olson (c) 2017

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Clay Carr - Second All Around Champion of the World

          Clay Carr is not a household name (like many of his contemporaries) when discussions about old-time rodeo greats are held. However, this quite and unassuming man was a two-time World All Around Champion Cowboy (1930 and 1933), won World Championships in saddle bronc riding in 1930 and steer roper in 1931 and 1940, competed in six events (saddle bronc riding, single steer roping, steer wrestling, team roping, calf roping and wild cow milking) and was (in his day) called a throw-back from the old-time cowboys who came before him. Clay was the real deal.
He was born April 18, 1909 in Farmersville, California and grew up working on the Gill Ranch. He competed in his first rodeo at Visalia in 1928 and within two years, was the second man to win the honor of All Around Champion of the World (Earl Thode was first in 1929). Most of his adult life, he lived on his California ranch near Visalia, where he also rodeoed out of.
In spite of being such a versatile and accomplished cowboy, one of the reasons you may not hear as much about Clay is that he went about his business without much fanfare. Some men have the spotlight follow them wherever they go (even cultivating and craving it), while others go humbly about their business. Clay was the latter.
Author Clifford Westermeier wrote of Clay in 1947, “Clay Carr, holder of the Jo Mora Salinas Trophy, is a strange man, difficult to meet and extremely hard to get acquainted with. He is, without a question, one of the great cowboys of the age; a man of many complexes, one of which is inferiority; yet he is one of the smartest, shrewdest, and cleverest individuals is rodeo. He has an air of indifference toward the desires and opinions of others, and appears to lead a rather lonely life, perhaps because he has a very suspicious nature? In spite of this, Clay has the respect and admiration of everyone in the business and is regarded as a very tough customer in a business deal, fight, or a poker game.
“One does not try to figure out this man of moods, but rather accepts whatever friendship he offers; one is flattered by any politeness, consideration, interest, or attention he may show. He seldom goes east to contest, but in the West and particularly at the California shows, he is a master and can “take,” in his own inimitable way, most of the boys competing against him.”
Following his death in 1957, the Visalia Times-Delta wrote, “He was not a man for sentiment and cared little about his own personal aggrandizement.”
Roger Bean of San Francisco once said Clay, “...was not of the new breed, but was somewhat of a throwback to the old-time cowboy.”
Not one to worry much about the opinion others, Carr, at times, wore unusual hats for a cowboy of that era. One hat he wore for a while had a very wide brim and low crown (similar to that of a Quaker, or more recently might be thought of as a modern “buckaroo” style hat) and another he often sported was a fedora style—at the opposite end of the spectrum. It is thought he wore these simply because they were available and definitely not to make any sort of a statement. Little things like this only added to the strangeness and separateness of this great cowboy.
Although the Bowman brothers from Arizona have been credited with hauling the first horse trailer seen on the rodeo circuit in the 1920s, Clay was known as having one of the first “nice” ones. His was constructed of metal (unheard of at the time). It was a one-horse trailer that stood out from the few being hauled at the time and was reported to have been “neatly painted and stylish.” This was also out of the norm back then.
Although he was a full-time rancher and tough rodeo competitor in the West, Carr did take a few extended rodeo trips, most notably to Australia, England and back East where he won his All Around and World Championships. He was known as a versatile competitor (competing at both ends of the arena) and was counted to be “in the money” most anywhere he went.
The fledgeling Cowboy Turtles Association (organized in 1936), which is the predecessor of today’s Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association, received Clay’s support. He signed up and was member number fifty-five. Clay wound up competing in rodeo for over twenty-five years.
Carr served in World War II as a Marine in the South Pacific. In 1948, he married Eleanora Curtis, from the well-known Curtis rodeo family. Sadly, on his birthday in 1957, Clay Carr, one of the best (and possibly most mis-understood) cowboys from the early days of rodeo passed away from a heart attack.
Because a he shied from the spotlight, may have been a little reserved and different, he never received the wide-spread recognition like many of similar accomplishment have. Sadly, his is not a name often talked about in discussions of rodeo history today. This does not mean however that a man of such great talent went completely unnoticed. As an All Around World Champion, Clay Carr was inducted in the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in 1979.

Jim Olson (c) 2017

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Jesse Stahl - First Black Bronc Rider


        Most everyone has heard of Bill Pickett, the man credited with inventing the bulldogging event of rodeo. Bill was also the first black man to be inducted into the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum Hall of Fame and is often referred to when people talk about historical black cowboys. A lot of people may think Bill was about the only black man to make a name for himself in those early days of Wild West Shows, Stampedes and Rodeos because he garnered so many headlines. 
Arguably however, one of the best bronc riders of all time was another black man, Jesse Stahl. Jesse was a professional bronc rider from the early 1900s thru the late 1920s. Things he did while riding a bronc are the stuff legends are made of and are still talked about to this day.
Not a lot is known about Jesse’s childhood. Most reports say he was born in Tennessee sometime between 1879 and 1883. Others say he was born in California or Texas. What we do know is he had a brother named Ambrose who also rode broncs.
Rodeo Historian, Willard Porter, wrote about Jesse, “He was a tremendous athlete—quick, coordinated and physically able to respond to the unpredictable action of rough stock.”
Jesse competed in bulldogging, steer (or bull) riding and bronc riding. He became legendary however for his bronc riding skills.
We first hear of Stahl at a big-time show in Salinas, California in 1912. The attendance of that event was reported at around four-thousand spectators. It was the first time Cowgirls were included in the performance and it was also the first time a black man performed there.
One of the highlights of the show was reportedly was none other than, Jesse Stahl, riding a bad bucker named, Glass Eye. After being awarded third place, Stahl climbed aboard again, on an exhibition horse who had a bad reputation as well. He rode this bronc facing backwards! 
Why did he ride this exhibition horse? Why did he ride facing backwards?
Although Salinas was the first big show we hear of Stahl riding at, he had probably been competing at smaller venues for quite some time before. Stahl later became known for his famous exhibition rides. He usually did this facing backwards or with a suitcase in his free hand or on occasion in tandem with another black cowboy, sometimes George Fletcher or Ty Stokes, in what was dubbed as the “Suicide Ride.” Many felt he did these outlandish exhibitions just to prove he could ride better than anyone else. Other reasons have also been given.
It has been said that Jesse was mostly remembered for winning (or earning) first but placing third. Accusations abound that Jesse was never placed higher than third by judges because of his skin color and prejudices of the day. Many have reported that Stahl put on these extraordinary exhibitions to mock the judges for their placing decisions. Perhaps skin color had something to do with being placed third when everyone else thought he placed first, but if he was truly mocking the judges, that probably did not help either.
It is also said that some white cowboys would refuse to compete if Jesse was entered. Perhaps because of prejudice and Stahl’s reputation as one of the best bronc riders around, these men did not want to enter because they thought it would make them look bad if they were bested by a black man. This could be another reason Stahl rode so much in exhibition.
Producers desperately wanted Stahl to ride in their shows because it pleased the public. It has been speculated they could make everyone happy by paying Stahl to ride exhibition horses instead of competing.
To mock Judges for perceived bad decisions? To prove he was the best? Because of prejudice and segregation? All of the above has been suggested as reasons why Jesse Stahl rode so many exhibition horses while preforming wild stunts at the same time. What ever the reason may be for the extraordinary rides, they have become fodder for numerous tales and legends.
After a long and colorful career in which he made headlines from New York to California, the great Jesse Stahl retired from bronc riding in 1929. Most rodeo historians say he was one of the best ever. He died in Sacramento, California in 1935. The first well-known black bronc rider, was posthumously inducted into the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum Rodeo Hall of Fame in 1979. Making him the second black cowboy (after Bill Pickett) to receive such an honor. 

Jim Olson ©2015

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Fox Hastings, One Tough Gal...

        When you think of pioneer ladies from the early days of rodeo, Fox Hastings name has to be there. She was one of the first female bulldoggers in rodeo history. She also rode broncs and was a trick rider. She was a crowd favorite. It has been said she could smile at the camera, while lying in the mud, and still be holding the horns of a steer she had just thrown.
Eloise Fox was born during 1898 in Galt, California to Wesley Galveston and Susie Agusta Fox. Somewhat of a maverick from the beginning, the rebellious girl was sent to a boarding school at age fourteen. Two years later she ran away. At sixteen, she joined the Irwin Brothers Wild West Show, and met and married Mike Hastings―a well-known performer on the rodeo circuit. She dropped her first name and became known thereafter as “Fox Hastings.” The press loved her name.
It was Mike who first taught her the ins and outs of rodeo. She started by riding broncs and doing trick riding events. Soon, her ability to ride rough stock became renowned. She was known for her enthusiasm, her physical strength, and her expert horsemanship.
In the early part of the 1900s, women competed right along side men in many cases. Fox served as a reminder that women thrive on competition just as men do. She became an inspiration to many young women who previously thought a woman’s place was strictly in the home. By 1924, Fox and Mike had a new plan however.
It was 1924 at Houston, Texas where Fox made her debut as a bulldogger! This was practically unheard of for ladies of the day. The main reason being, bulldogging steers were much bigger and wilder than what you find in today’s competitions. It was dangerous, even for the toughest of seasoned cowboys. She was a huge hit however and wound up being voted the best specialty act of the rodeo.
Thereafter, Fox and Mike gained fame as husband and wife bulldoggers. She put on exhibitions at Wild West Shows and rodeos across the country. Foghorn Clancy, rodeo personality and promoter claimed Fox, “was the most photographed and interviewed cowgirl of the 1920s.”
Fox was quoted in Hoofs and Horns magazine as saying, “I like bulldogging better than bronc riding. Bronc riding is a question of strength and endurance, but in bulldogging you don't tackle two steers exactly alike. You have to learn the difference in the animals size, strength, formation of the horns, build of neck and shoulders and a lot of things. Every move has to be perfectly timed to a split second.” Of course, the steers she was bulldogging usually weighed around 1,200 pounds, about twice what today’s bulldogging cattle weigh—and back then, they literally “bit them on the lip” to help bring ‘em down (hence the name bulldogging)!
Along the way, she suffered a myriad of injuries and broken bones. However, the old adage, “The show must go on,” rang true with Fox and she would continue putting on exhibitions, injuries or no.
In 1935, at the Fiesta De Los Vaqueros rodeo in Tucson, Arizona, Fox was a contract act performing a ladies bulldogging exhibition. On the first day, she suffered a broken rib. She still went on to perform during the next several days of rodeo in spite of the pain. She did not want to let show management down.
She remained one of rodeo's top performing women athletes through the 1930s. Fox was always a press favorite. Unforgettable is an image of her having just turfed a steer, covered in dirt or mud, and smiling at the camera, grinning from ear to ear. There are numerous photos like this in the archives. She literally traveled the world while rodeoing. She proved to be a charismatic, crowd pleaser whenever she appeared in the arena.
Fox summed up her ability this way: "If I can just get my fanny out of the saddle and my feet planted, there’s not a steer that can last against me."
Sometime in the latter half of the 1920s, her first marriage ended in divorce. However, in 1929, she remarried. Her second husband was another champion rodeo hand, Charles "Chuck" Wilson. Together they traveled the circuit from New York to Los Angeles, hitting all points in between. They also relocated their home operation to a ranch near Winslow, Arizona.
During the last half of the 1930s, there were great changes in rodeo. The Wild West shows had pretty well phased out by then (and with it the exhibitions such as Fox performed). Also, the new Cowboy Turtles Association (CTA) was born in 1936, and they soon became the primary sanctioning board for professional cowboys. The new association however, did not allow women performers to enter rodeos. As a result, the Women’s Rodeo Association was formed thereafter.
Whether it was the changes, or just her age (approaching forty by now) Fox Hastings retired from rodeo towards the end of the ‘30s. She and Chuck settled in and became full-time Arizona ranchers.
During the 1940s, Fox became plagued with health problems. Several reports have been given as to what it was, but the most popular theory is tuberculosis. Reports say that Chuck stood faithfully by his wife during this difficult time, often nursing her himself.
Tragically, on July 30, 1948, Chuck Wilson died in Winslow of a heart attack, leaving behind a sickly widow. Two weeks later, at the Adams Hotel in Phoenix, Fox took her own life. The coroner's report states she died of self-inflicted gunshot wounds to the abdomen and head. She left a note, saying, "I don't want to live without my husband."
In 1987, Eloise Fox Hastings Wilson was inducted into the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum Rodeo Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City. It was noted her career had included steer wrestling, saddle bronc riding, and rodeo trick riding. On October 26, 2011, Fox was also inducted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame at Fort Worth.

Jim Olson ©2014