One Tough Hand
Regarded as “the toughest four-event cowboy around,” 1946 world champion team roper Chuck Sheppard was one of the old-time greats. He carried Cowboy Turtles Association (CTA) # 68- a number held the rest of his life. Of course, CTA eventually became known as the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association (PRCA). He also won a world championship in calf roping during 1951 in the International Rodeo Association and twice finished up as the reserve all around champion.
He competed in every event in rodeo at one time or another, but calf roping, team roping, bulldogging and saddle bronc riding were his main events. Calf roping and bronc riding being where he thrived in the early days. In an interview, Chuck once said, “ I only quit riding bulls and bareback cause I’d get sored up and it made my other work tough.”
Along with working every event, Chuck also judged rodeos for over 25 years. One year, at Cheyenne, he entered the steer wrestling and steer roping events and judged the others! Amazing! He was also honored to flag the team roping at the National Finals Rodeo (NFR) and the steer roping at the National Finals Steer Roping (NFSR).
Chuck was inducted into the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum Hall of Fame in 1985, the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in 2000, the Phippen Museum’s Arizona Ranchers & Cowboy Hall of Fame in 2008 and was awarded the Ben Johnson award for rodeo excellence in 2001. First and foremost however, Chuck Sheppard was a cowboy… and a good-natured one at that!
Born on a ranch near Globe, Arizona in 1916, he was a cowboy from the word go. Chuck’s parents had traveled from Texas in a wagon. They set up their own ranch on Mescal Creek southeast of Globe in the Pinal Mountains, an area so rough and remote, the only way in or out, with or without supplies, was to pack in by horse or mule. Good cow dogs are more practical than a fence in that country.
His dad, Horace (AKA Shep), thought nothing about putting Chuck on a horse at a very young age. He expected his son to “keep up.” By the age of nine, he was riding the rough string horses to gentle them down for his little brother and mother to ride. He learned to catch and “lead” wild cattle as a mere boy. By the time he was a teenager, he was one tough cowboy, able to do things with horses and cattle even some seasoned hands are unable to.
Younger brother, Lynn Sheppard, once wrote, “Dad and Chuck roped the wild cattle on broncs and tied them to trees. They were led out the next day... The Pinal Mountains were covered with brush… dogs were a necessity.”
During the “dirty 30s,” at 16 years of age, Chuck moved to California to be with his mother, hoping to find work there. What he did find was an event that changed his life forever – he entered a rodeo at Hayfork, California. Chuck once said, “I won some money, had fun doing it and I think that’s what amazed me so much.” For the next 25 plus years, Sheppard’s life revolved around rodeo. He became known as “Mr. Everything.”
As a testament to his all-around abilities, he won numerous titles at both ends of the arena. Denver, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Pendleton in calf roping and Salinas, Tucson, Chicago, Los Angeles in bronc riding and all-around titles at Denver, Tucson, Prescott, Lewiston and Boise to name a few. But winning titles was not first in Chuck’s book – putting food on the table was. He rodeo'd because it was a way to make a living.
Chuck’s youngest daughter, Lynda, once said, “Rodeo wasn’t like it is now. Back then we’d get out of school and be gone all summer. You’d stay eight or 10 days in Salinas, drive all night to get to Cheyenne and stay in someone’s home. They did not have hotels (or living quarter trailers) like they do now, they all did it - it was about survival. They worked hard back then.”
“I rode bucking horses for 24 years,” Chuck said. “You can tell that by looking at me. I rode some of the best there ever was and got bucked off some of the sorriest.”
Chuck also spent 10 years as a board member of the Rodeo Cowboys Association (RCA), which is what the association was known as between the CTA and PRCA. During that time, he is credited for coming up with the design on the world-champion saddles, among many other accomplishments.
In about 1951, the Sheppard family moved from California to Arizona where Chuck spent the rest of his life. In ‘59 he retired from full-time rodeo, although he made the NFR in team roping during 1963 while only competing part time. He used to say, with a smile, “When I was rodeoing, I always ate chicken…not superstitious - its just when I did good, I ate the meat – when I did bad, I ate the feathers!”
During the late 1950s he went to work for historic K4 ranch near Prescott, Arizona. He worked there until he finally retired at 82 years of age, but he’d stayed so long he was just like family...he never really retired. As a matter of fact, he did become family - his youngest daughter, Lynda, married John Kieckhefer (grandson of Bob Kieckhefer who started the ranch) and they reside there to this day - amongst others of the Kieckhefer clan.
K4 ranch owner, John Kieckhefer and Chuck were instrumental in the purchase of the great stud “Driftwood Ike” in 1963 from Roy Wales. He stood at stud there for 17 years. This was a big influence in taking the breeding program at the ranch to a new level. Sheppard was in charge of the breeding program as well as the large cattle herd for the ranch. Chuck partnered with John on many horses and ran a couple hundred head of cows, owned with wife Gwen, on leased ground around the Prescott area as well.
Along the way, and as a method to show their remuda, Chuck got into showing and racing horses. He did very well in the show ring and showed just about all classes including halter, cutting and reining. He found great excitement in horse racing and, just as with rodeo, Chuck found success on the track. “I got to running horses just for fun and then one summer I won 13 races over at Prescott Downs.” One of his horses named “Ant Hill” won 15 races in a year. Chuck wound up winning many stakes races over the years.
He was one of those all-time great cowboys who excelled at just about everything he did. Grandson, Rick Kieckhefer, said, “If you didn’t learn something from him (Chuck), you weren’t listening very good. He would help out anybody as long as they had a little try. He was just as proud as he could be of people when they did well. He was a great guy to have in your corner whether you were related to him or not.”
Every day Chuck Sheppard woke up, he loved what he did, he was fun to be around, always upbeat and he had a whimsical saying for just about everything.
Grandson, Charlie Lewis, told a story on Chuck: “We were going into a big pasture in search of some remnant cows, I was probably about 18 or 19. Granddad gave me instructions to make a circle; boy it was a hot day, about 105. When I got back to the truck, probably an hour and a half later, he was nowhere in sight. I loped up to the top of a hill about half a mile distant to scan the country for him; a little worried about him to be honest…he was pretty old then. When I got to the top of the hill, there he was, asleep under a tree with his horse unsaddled. I noticed right away the horse was not sweaty; he had probably ridden straight from the truck to the tree to take a nap! When I woke him up, he said with a grin, ‘Horse got hot, needed to cool him off!’”
Chuck was very fond of his family. He and wife Gwen had two daughters, Stella and Lynda and a whole herd of grandchildren, many of whom are well known in rodeo/cowboy circles to this day. Not long after passing on to the next realm in 2005, some of the grandchildren helped organize the “Chuck Sheppard Memorial Roping,” which raises money for the Chuck and Gwen Sheppard memorial scholarship fund. The scholarship is given to students who are enrolled full-time at Yavapai College and seek a degree in agricultural or equine studies programs and are involved in organizations such as FFA, 4-H, Arizona High School Rodeo Association and Arizona Junior Rodeo Association. The event will enjoy its 6th year in 2012.
During an interview prior to being inducted into the “Cowboy Hall of Fame” Chuck said, “We’ve had an exciting life – started out with nothing so there was nowhere to go but up…”
Jim Olson © 2012