Monday, November 5, 2012

In The Beginning...

There was Rodeo. It started as a contest between cowboys to see who was the best roper and rider.


Soon it evolved into ranches competing against each other to see who had the best cowboys - much like a ranch rodeo of today. Before long, organized events were taking place in towns like Prescott, Arizona which claims to have the world’s oldest rodeo (started in 1888) and Payson, Arizona who argues they have the world’s oldest continuous rodeo (started in 1884). Then you have Pecos, Texas who claims the right to the world’s first rodeo (1883) but history tells us that William F. Cody (AKA Buffalo Bill) staged his first Wild West Show (which also had rodeo events) in 1882 at North Platte, Nebraska. 

But wait! There is more; Santa Fe, New Mexico also claims the first rodeo based on a letter dated 1847 written by Captain Mayne Reid from Santa Fe to a friend in Ireland: "At this time of year, the cowmen have what is called the round-up, when the calves are branded and the fat beasts selected to be driven to a fair hundreds of miles away. This round-up is a great time for the cowhand, a Donny-brook fair it is indeed. They contest with each other for the best roping and throwing, and there are horse races and whiskey and wines. At night in clear moonlight, there is dancing on the streets." 

Many will argue exact historic dates of the sport, but none will doubt the birth of rodeo was a contest of the cowboy.

In the early 1900s, rodeos were largely unorganized and scattered. The events as we know them today were mostly acts mixed in with wild west shows - which were more common at the time than a rodeo, as thought of in today’s terms. As a matter of fact, rodeos and wild west shows enjoyed a parallel existence in the early days and one was really not much different than the other (they even had a lot of the same stars and contestants). 

Many towns held annual “rodeos” but these shows were more commonly known as cowboy contests, stampedes, frontier days celebrations and of course, wild west shows. The term rodeo was not widely used until organization started to infiltrate the sport (in 1929). While rodeo had become a way of life for a select few in its earliest days, there was no standard to the event schedule, rules, judging, etc.. You might have a steer roping sandwiched between an Indian relay race and a shooting exhibition. Then they might go on with saddle broncs and steer wrestling followed by the “chicken pull” and trick roping. It’s been said there were over a hundred different events or acts to choose from, including a unique event held each year at Chicago where mounted cowboys went to lake Michigan, were floated out on a barge, and were then forced off, having to swim their horses several hundred yards back to shore! The first one back was the winner. Buffalo Bill Cody obviously had the most recognizable wild west show, and his show was more act and less rodeo, but rodeos of the day were a lot more wild west show than you think of in terms of your typical rodeo today.

These shows were very entertaining and popular with the crowds. However, cowboys competing in these performances were not thought of like a modern independent cowboy athlete is today. The organizers thought cowboys should be happy with cowboy wages and payouts for winning events were reflective of this mindset. At the time, cowboy wages were about a dollar per day ($30 a month). So if a cowboy could win (or was paid) that much, or sometimes even up to $100 for winning an event, he ought to be happy - and most were. Many cowboy from back in those days have been quoted as saying that winning a hundred dollars or so at a rodeo was more money than they had ever seen at one time in their whole life and that is what got them hooked on the shows. There were problems with this system however.

Cowboys still had to pay an entrance fee, much like today, and the amount of fees paid by the contestants was not reflected in the winning payout. Then there was the problem of each producer or town having their own ideas of how the show should be ran and which events to include. There was little standard in judging the riding events and rules varied from place to place. Then there were always those few who worked the system to their advantage and sometimes winners were determined before the show even started! (Unofficially of course.)

Accusations of bribes and crooked judges ran high. The rodeo cowboy became disgusted with this situation over time. It took a while, but he finally realized he was the star of the show; folks paid to see him perform, and he was not getting a fair share. There were thousands of dollars being made on some of the bigger shows from ticket sales and contestant entry fees, but only a few hundred would be paid back to the winners. This was fine for a few, but it was starvation for the overall lot. Just enough was being paid out to keep them coming back, with hopes it would be their turn to win the next show; kind of like dangling the proverbial carrot.

All of this changed however in 1936. That was the year professional rodeo was born. Rodeo organization was actually started in the northern states in 1929 with the formation of the Rodeo Association of America (RAA). This association was made up of managers and producers and did not include the cowboy in decision making and therefore was often contentious, seldom recognized and eventually it was merged with the Cowboys Turtle Association (CTA). They called themselves “turtles” because they were slow to organize but eventually stuck their heads out. They were the first cowboys to have a say in how the show ran. In 1945, the Cowboys Turtle Association changed their name to the Rodeo Cowboys Association (RCA) and in 1975 it was changed to the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA).

It was Boston Garden, 1936, and the cowboys were fed up with one Colonel  William T. Johnson of Texas; promoter and organizer of major rodeos such as Madison Square Garden and the Boston show. While Johnson had a knack for producing spectacular shows and attendance was usually high, he refused to listen to the complaints of the cowboy. So they went on strike, demanded their entrance fees be added to the payout and that standard rules and judging be implemented. 

Johnson was livid and told the cowboys to leave the grounds; he would put on a show without them. As they rode out of Boston Garden, a-horseback, the press was there taking pictures. The press sympathized with the cowboys and the public was soon on their side. That night Johnson attempted to put on the performance using stable hands, grooms and wild west performers. The cowboys sat in the audience and booed. It became such a spectacle, with a poor performance, that the audience joined the cowboys in their disapproval. The Boston committee told Johnson to stop the show and work with the cowboys. Johnson said, “I’ll drive my stock into the bay before I give into their demands!” Cowboy Hugh Bennett, one of the strike organizers hollered, “We’ll saddle up and help you!”

Johnson eventually agreed to negotiate when the managers of the Garden told him to come to an agreement with the cowboys or he would be thrown out as well. Negotiations lasted throughout the night and into the next day, however, an agreement was finally reached. The seed of professional rodeo had been planted. There were sixty-one men who signed the original document which eventually led to the formation of the Cowboys Turtle Association that fateful day in Boston. Only one of those men remain alive at the time of this writing, Bart Clennon was a contestant at the Boston Garden show that October/November 1936. He turned 102 on November 5th, 2012. More on Bart soon.

(c) Jim Olson 2012

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Lee Anderson

Lee Anderson, Vaquero!

Horseman of the Old School
Living historian, author and superb horseman, Lee Anderson, is a student - shall we say master - of the old Vaquero “Bridle Horse” methods. He jokingly admits, “I am probably the only Swedish vaquero you’ll ever meet.”
Born in Iowa, Lee has had a life-long affection for horses. He has ridden and trained in just about every genre of horsemanship, from Western to English and from the show ring to the pasture. He can drive two, four, six and even an eight-up team hitched to a wagon! He has trained and shown in reining, pleasure and trail and also worked with dressage, hackney, jumpers…and of course, the western cow-horse. His passion however, is the “Bridle Horse.”
For those who aren’t quite sure what a “Bridle Horse” is – it refers to a horse trained in the old Vaquero methods – methods not seen much in this country for 100-plus years. A layman will recognize a bridle horse as one which eventually ends up in the use of a spade bit. Many people are taken back by the spade and automatically assume it is a harsh bit based upon its appearance. Not true. In the wrong hands, any bit is harsh. Lee quotes, “All souls criticize that which they do not understand.” A horse trained in this method responds to a feather’s touch of the reins.
In the hands of a true bridle horseman, a well-trained bridle horse is pure poetry in motion. For example, it has been recorded that the old Vaqueros were big sportsman and loved to show off at festive occasions. One such game played went something like this: A hair was plucked from the horse’s tail and the “breakaway” in the reins was replaced with said tail hair. This meant if you pulled any harder than necessary to break the hair, your reins broke. The horse was then blindfolded and put through a series of intricate moves, showing its pure trust in the rider. For the finale, horse and rider ran full-tilt, straight at a solid wall. The team stopping closest to the wall, without hitting the wall or breaking the “breakaway hair” was the winner and the Vaquero considered a top horseman. (Before criticizing a contest such as this, keep in mind it was a different time, place and culture.)
When asked why old methods such as these are fading, Lee responds, “In today’s day and age, not many are willing to spend half a lifetime learning the proper methods of horsemanship so they can spend four or five years training a horse this way.” Lee is passionate about it however and says, “It’s like driving a high performance sports car. Whatever you want is there…and at a touch.
To a learned master such as Lee, he realizes every piece of the horseman and horse’s gear work intricately together to achieve an eventual result with the slightest of effort. He says, “The spade is a bit of signals. When properly used, a horse receives signals long before he ever feels the bit and responds before the bit is ever actually used.” Each piece of the tack and gear are a part of that signal system, not to mention the rider himself. Lee can pull the bridle off his horse and preform intricate maneuvers using nothing more than body language. Anderson uses a piece of string as a “breakaway” in his reins every day. Much like the old Vaqueros and their horsehair, if he uses more than just a slight tap of pressure on the reins, they break!
After many years of being fascinated with horses, Lee chose to concentrate on this old style of horsemanship because he felt it most in tune with the horse. After a lifetime of studying what makes a horse tick, Anderson has even written a book on the subject. Developing the Art of Equine Communications is all about how to communicate with your horse, from a horse’s understanding and point of view. In Lee’s opinion, the bridle horse style of horsemanship comes closest to that.
He studied horses and how they react to certain situations for over half a century. He noticed that most times, communications with a horse are approached from a human point of view, yet a horse can only understand things from a horse’s viewpoint. Lee has made it his life’s work to understand more from the horse’s view.
Lee has been known to spend hours sitting in a pasture full of horses just watching them. He studies their moves with each other in natural surroundings - how they interact together. Most people know, by nature, a horse is a “prey” animal, but few think of that when dealing with a horse. Man is, by nature, a predator and horses are easily scared of them. Lee is probably one of the best modern-day trainers who understands the philosophy of a horse, from the horse’s perspective. He felt compelled to write Developing the Art of Equine Communications to clear up some of the myths and misinformation out there.
The Bow
As a historian, Lee does a presentation called Four Hundred Years of Southwest Cowboys. He does this in any one of three different outfits: A 1750 Spanish Colonial Caballero, an 1850 Mexican Vaquero or an 1890 American Cowboy. For each look, he has all of the period correct clothing and gear for rider and horse. The outfit may change depending upon what the situation calls for, but the historical presentation is tailored to fit what the client asks for. Lee goes over the evolution of the cowboy from its origins, beginning with the Spanish Hacendado (rancher) of the mid-1500s up through today. The first brand laws were recorded in New Spain (now Mexico) in 1529 and Lee is well versed in the history of the Vaquero - Cowboy from then through today.
Lee says, “We must include the Spanish origins in the history of the cowboy because the Vaquero was rounding up, roping, and branding cattle more than 300 years before the first American Cowboy ever threw a leg over a horse. By 1800 a highly sophisticated Vaquero culture had reached its peak in what is now the state of California. To this day, no mounted herdsman on earth has ever achieved the elegance, the presence, the beautiful equipment, the exquisite horsemanship or the sheer artistry of the everyday working Californio.”
He has spent much time and research in getting his outfits correct for each time period as well. Everything Lee puts on he and his horse is either an authentic antique piece or a reproduction from the period, made by Lee himself. He says,  “The Vaquero was a flashy dresser. He was extremely proud of his status amongst his peers. Then, due to the influence of the emerging American Cowboy culture the Mexican Vaquero lost quite a bit of the elegance and finesse of the Spanish Colonial Vaquero but he never fully accepted all of the trappings and methods of the American Cowboy culture…these things are covered at length in a presentation. The heyday of the American Cowboy only covered about 20 years… The modern image of the cowboy is loosely based on the drovers that made the three month long (cattle) drives. The cowboy most people are familiar with today is purely a Hollywood creation. However, my preference just happens to be the real cowboys… and I am well aware of the difference between ‘reel cowboys’ and ‘real cowboys.’
Besides having a life-long passion for understanding what makes a horse tick, and the history of the cowboy, Anderson is a study of human nature as well. He is extremely good-natured and has a wry sense of humor. Lee claims, “I intend to live to be 125 and not die from natural causes, but at the hands of a thirty-year-old, jealous spouse!” You gotta love a man past seventy with an attitude like that!
Jim Olson © 2012

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Everett Bowman... Cowboy Leader

World's First Rodeo Trailer

     Everett bowman was born July 12, 1899 at Hope, New Mexico (the family actually lived near Weed) and he was a cowboy from the word go. Arguably remembered as one of rodeo’s greatest legends, this ten time World Champion Cowboy helped bring modern-day rodeo to where it’s at today.
Everett was the first president of the Cowboy Turtles Association “CTA” (the predecessor to the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association or “PRCA”). As a matter of fact, he was one of the first organizers of the association and signed up as member (card number) fifteen; but first and foremost, he was a cowboy.
     The Bowman family moved from New Mexico to the Safford, Arizona area when Everett was about thirteen. One of his first full-time jobs away from his parents ranch was that of a cowboy with the famed “Chiricahua Cattle Company” also know back in the day as “the Cherries” or the “Three C’s” which ran cattle all up and down that rough Arizona – New Mexico border country. The foreman at the time was quoted as saying, “Everett made the best hand we ever had. It was amazing; never saw anything like it! He became a top roper, he was tougher than leather – was the strongest man I’d ever seen.”
     At the age of twenty-three, Everett and his brother Skeet, along with eight other cowboys drove a large herd of cattle from Globe, Arizona to Ely, Nevada. This may have been one of the last “old time” great cattle drives, stretching over 900 miles! When they reached Ely, after being on the trail most of the summer, the Bowman brothers decided to “stay on” and give cowboyin’ in Nevada a try. However, one cold winter in that “North Country” changed those boy’s minds. Everett said, “That country has two seasons - winter and late fall.” They cowboyed there a little over a year, then returned to Arizona, making the entire round trip a-horseback.
     Once back in Arizona, Everett (along with brother Skeet) pursued a full-time rodeo career. That turned out to be one of the best moves ever made.
     Although officially credited with ten World Championships, author (and nephew to Everett), Lewis Bowman, claims Everett won at least eleven. You see, prior to 1929, records were sketchy and, in some cases, championships were determined by winning a certain rodeo. Lewis says he may have won even more than eleven.
     Officially, Everett was a two-time World All-Around Champion, four-time Steer Wrestling Champion, three-time Calf Roping Champion and gained one Steer Roping title. He won or placed at most of the day’s biggest shows such as Madison Square Garden, Cheyenne, Calgary, Ellensburg, Prescott and Pendleton to name just a few. He even rode bucking horses till about 1928, but gave it up and stuck with the timed events saying, “Too many events and a man is no good at any of them.” The timed event end of the arena was where he shined anyhow.
     At six-foot, two-inches and 200 pounds, Everett was a physical specimen. To date, Everett is one of only three men who have won rodeos “triple crown” (three world titles in a single year) more than once.  He accomplished that feat two times. Trevor Brazile and Jim Shoulders are the only other men to do that. Bowman became known in media circles as “Rodeo’s Babe Ruth.” His fellow competitors often spoke of him as “A Cowboy’s Cowboy.” He competed in full-time rodeo competition until 1943, a period of about twenty years!
     Other advancements credited to Bowman include towing the first horse trailer on the rodeo circuit and being the first to fly to rodeos. Everett’s older brother, Dick, fashioned a hand-made wooden horse trailer in1924, which Everett and younger brother Skeet took on its maiden voyage from the home ranch in Safford, Arizona to Cheyenne, Wyoming. They put one horse in the trailer and one in the bed of the truck (as was customary then). When they arrived in Cheyenne, the Bowman boys received a lot of strange looks, but it wasn’t long till the contraption caught on. Then in 1929, Everett is credited with being the first cowboy to get the bright idea to charter a private airplane to get him to more rodeos. That idea also seems to have caught on as well. By the late 1930s, Everett bought his own plane and learned how to fly it for himself, something he did the rest of his life.
     Perhaps Everett’s biggest contribution to the sport of rodeo however was his involvement with the CTA. He served as the association’s president from its inception in 1936 until it reorganized as the Rodeo Cowboys Association (RCA) in 1945. The guy’s called themselves “Turtles” because it took them so long to get started and have a voice in rodeo business for themselves. For too many years, cowboys had been unhappy with their entry fees not being added back to the pot, the type and order of events and non-standard judging practices.
     In 1936, at Boston, all that changed when Everett and his fellow cowboys went on strike and refused to compete unless the aforementioned grievances were rectified. When the dust settled, the predecessor of the PRCA was born, and Everett was a big part of it all. It has been said, that once he got an idea formed in his head, it was hard to change. He went “toe to toe” with many rodeo committee members during his day, in the best interest of the cowboy. Many of the fundamental changes that are now the bedrock of rodeo came about under Bowman’s leadership.
     According to Lewis Bowman, “Everett Bowman (president) and brother-in-law, Hugh Bennett (secretary/treasurer) were the cogs that got the Cowboys Turtle Association into gear. The men signed up the cowboys and kicked ‘em straight (sometimes literally). Their sister wives, Lois and Josie, were the official timers and record keepers. The girls stowed the books and association’s money in the back seat of their car and kept records between rodeos.”
     Competitor, Phil Mills, said of Everett, “He did more to put the cowboy in good graces than any other man.”
     Lewis also tells of another event he witnessed as a boy, “One year at Cheyenne, this fellow and Uncle Everett got into a heated argument about having to join the association to compete in sanctioned rodeos. This fellow took a swing at Everett, who blocked the punch with one hand and landed a crushing blow at the same time with his other - knocking the guy out and breaking his nose. He then threw fifty dollars on the man’s chest and told two guys to haul him to the doctor and get him fixed up. A couple hours later, the guy returned with his nose all bandaged up. He threw twenty dollars back at Everett and said, ‘Here’s your change Bowman - Doc only charged thirty dollars. By the way, I’ll join your danged association.’ Everett smiled, handed the man back the twenty and said, ‘If your going to join, keep this and put it towards your dues.’ The two men remained good friends after that.”
     After retiring from rodeo, Everett settled on his own ranch near Wickenburg, Arizona where he spent the last parts of his life. He also worked as a sheriff there for a time. He still loved the sport of rodeo and would, “talk rodeo” with anyone who came by. Bowman judged many rodeos after retiring from competition and added “Mule Trainer” to his resume. Always the showman, he continued to make public appearances up into his sixties. At age seventy, Everett accepted a part in the movie, The Great White Hope, taking the role of a pastor.
     As a true natural athlete, he took up the sport of golf, and in his later years, became quite good at it. He even hit a hole in one at age fifty-five. Upon doing this, Bowman put down his golf clubs and retired from the sport of golf saying, “You just can’t get any better than that.” Just as with rodeo, he retired at the top.
     In 1951, Everett underwent surgery to remove a throat cancer. It lasted six hours. Rodeo stock contractor, Everett Colborn, heard about this and sent Bowman a letter which stated, “It does not surprise me your surgery took six hours, it probably took about four of that just to get through the hide.” It was done in good nature and as a testament to Bowman’s toughness.
     The sport of rodeo also loved Everett Bowman, inducting him into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in 1979. He was also admitted to the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City in 1965, the first living man to be so honored. The rodeo grounds in Wickenburg are also named for their long time resident and rodeo legend. The Everett Bowman Rodeo Grounds are still in regular use to this day and the city of Wickenburg has a large bronze statue commemorating Everett.
     The “Father of Professional Rodeo,” Everett Bowman, passed in 1971 while flying his own airplane. Then PRCA president, Dale Smith, read the eulogy at Everett’s funeral and famed cowboy, Rex Allen, sang.
Everett Bowman

Jim Olson © 2012

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Growing up Country

     You may not know it, but I grew up country. Not country like, my family tree don’t fork, kind of country. LOL! Not a house per acre in a subdivision kind of country (although there are a lot of great rural folk usually living in these areas). But a down-home, proud-to-be-an-American, from the heartland, own a pickup truck cause a car won’t make it down your road, don’t need any bureaucrat telling you what to do, raise your own food, cowboy hat wearing (to keep the sun off), raising cows, horses, chickens, goats, hogs, dogs and even cats (for chasing mice) kind of country! You know what I mean – COUNTRY!
     The half-horse town nearest to where I grew up was about two miles distant. It consisted of a Baptist church, about five homes, an old store (closed), a vacant cotton gin and a vacant feed yard. I caught the school bus there. At various times I arrived at said bus stop by means of walking, riding a bike, a-horseback or driving depending upon what was available and general weather conditions throughout the seasons.
     The next town of any significance was another ten miles and consisted of a school (K-12), three churches, a store/post office combination and about a dozen houses (this is where I went to school). I had to ride the bus for an hour, traveling from farm to ranch, in order for it to pick up enough kids to make a load. Basketball was the only sport available for boys to play because you needed five people to make up a team (one or two subs were nice) and that was about all we had in the athletics program. FFA was required curriculum. There were only about eight to ten kids in my grade each year.
     The town we considered “town” was about fifteen miles the other direction and had 12,000 inhabitants at the time. I say 12,000 because that’s what the sign at the city limits claimed – “Welcome to Portales, New Mexico. A town of 12,000 friendly people…and 3 or 4 old grouches.” People had a lot of fun with that sign, and from time to time, vandals would change the “3 or 4 old grouches” to various other sayings…but it was usually in good fun. The sign was right however, there were (and still are) a lot of friendly people in that part of the world. I think it’s because they are mostly a rural, agricultural type area. As a matter of fact, the prosperity of local business owners was tied (in one way or another) to commodity prices.
     Because of my upbringing, I gained unique and useful knowledge such as what it’s like to milk a cow, by hand, at 4:30 am, then again that evening - taught me about regularity and responsibility. I know how to butcher a chicken and pluck feathers from the warm bird, while it’s still twitching and flopping around. I know what it’s like to mend fence in 100 degree weather, assist an animal with birthing, hang wet clothes on the line in a steady wind, tromp in muck up to your knees to doctor a sick animal during a storm, get bucked off in a sticker patch, be kicked by a horse or cow protecting their “personal space,” hooked by a bull (whose “personal space” is usually much larger), how to entertain yourself without the aide of “electronic gadgets,” dress in layers so you can bear being outside in a day that starts off in the 30s at daybreak and winds up in the 80’s by afternoon, be both wind-burned and sunburned from working outside all day. I know all that and more…and I love it.
     I love it because I also know what it’s like to see mountain views ten, twenty or even fifty miles off on a clear day. I know what it’s like to stare up at the stars with an unobstructed view while hearing a cricket chirp a half-mile off on a clear, still night. I know what it’s like to have a special bond with animals - even if you plan to eat them later, the sight of a colt taking its first suckle, what it’s like to actually know your neighbors, the feeling of independence you get surviving in the country, the pride of raising your own food and yes, me being a male, the freedom to leave my house in any direction and being able to “do my business” outdoors…with worrying about whose around.
     Things weren’t always easy growing up this way. Being poor and rural, you had to be tough to survive. If you have ever chopped your own wood because it’s your only source of heat, had to gather a meal before eating it, lived in a house where you could see your breath in the un-heated bedrooms during winter, cut weeds in a farm field for minimum wage daylight till dark on a hot summer day, spent a full day in the saddle (working – not pleasure riding), had blisters on your hands, or had to choose between buying gas or groceries with your last twenty dollars because the “harvest check” is not in yet, then you know what I’m talking about.
     Growing up country taught me many things. It’s a way of life like no other and I’m glad for it. I learned things like why it’s important to respect God and country, the true value of a dollar (one you earned yourself), how to be responsible (not only for yourself but for animals and others), how to be independent, to really appreciate and respect nature, to work hard, to speak another language (Spanish), to change my own tires, fix a vehicle good enough to get back home with bailing wire and duct tape, basic veterinary skills, to be diplomatic when dealing with animals and people, horticulture and the difference between beast of burden, meat animals and pets (and know they all have their own special place in the world), the value of a friend you could count on when you really need a hand, and, well, you get the picture.
     I have a lot of fond memories of grow up this way. If you have ever “bobbed for apples” at a “ Country Jamboree,” rolled your bedroll out and slept under the stars, known the satisfaction of doing a job few others could, watched an animal being born, smelled fresh-cut hay, danced a jig in the high school gymnasium at the yearly social, seen a sunrise or sunset a-horseback with no obstructions around, eaten “rocky mountain oysters” over a branding fire or a tomato fresh off the vine, spent a Saturday night riding around in a four-wheel drive with a twelve pack and a spot light and thought it was the time of your life, listened to the same Chris Ledoux tape over and over on the way to a rodeo in the middle of nowhere, ate the best food ever at a “potluck” gathering, or if you have ever tasted home-made ice cream, made with cream you personally strained from milk, gotten by hand, from your own cow, then you know what I’m talking about.
     A lot of folks think that growing up country is a handicap, but pardner, I’m here to tell you, it’s not!        Great men like Abraham Lincoln grew up very country (and poor). Dale Carnegie, arguably one of the greatest writers and speakers of the 20th century grew up on a farm in Missouri. Canadian songstress, Shania Twain, grew up with nothing, in the rugged wilderness near Timmins, Ontario. As a boy, Johnny Cash worked along side his family in Arkansas cotton fields. Writer, Max Evans, once trailed a herd of horses, with only one other man for help, from Jal, New Mexico to Guymon, Oklahoma when he was a young boy. They later made movies from books he’d written about his experiences! There are thousands of other examples; I could go on and on about great folk (both well-known and unknown) who were raised “country.”
     Personally, I wear “growing up country,” like a badge of honor. I wouldn’t have had it any other way!
Jim Olson © 2012 
Now that's COUNTRY!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Paul W. Arviso Sr. - He Paved the Way

Paul - Bull Riding, Back in the Day

     The Arviso clan from the Crownpiont, New Mexico area has a long and interesting history. For example, Jesus Arviso, whose family came from Spain and then settled in Sonora, Mexico, was once traded for a horse. 
     In the mid-1800s, young Jesus’s family was raided by a band of Apaches; he was taken. Years later the Apache who had Jesus traded him to a Navajo man for a beautiful black stallion. Jesus finished growing up as a Navajo and eventually married into the tribe. As a result of his unique experiences, he now spoke fluent Spanish, Apache and Navajo. Those talents came in handy, as he became a key translator, and important figure, in treaty negotiations between the U.S. Government and the Indians during the 1860s. Two generations later, his grandson, Paul W. Arviso Sr. was instrumental in popularizing the sport of rodeo on the Navajo reservation. 
     Paul was born many miles west of Crownpoint during 1920 into a family of stockmen. His grandfather Jesus had done well serving as an interpreter and was rewarded with much livestock. Paul’s dad was a great stockman and also had been a horseracing jockey. Out with the herd from his earliest memories, this was where young Paul learned about stock. Riding burros and mules while chasing cattle, goats and several thousand head of sheep, made him a superb stockman. Living out on the range as they did, he also grew up tough. He and his brothers even used to ride “Billy” goats and rams around the corrals just for fun. Those corrals were the earliest “arenas” for what was to later become “a legend” of Native American Rodeo. 
     Paul was about fourteen when the family moved closer to town. He was then entered into a boarding school for the first time, making him quite old for a first grader. But even though he did not spend many years in school, he was well educated in livestock and the common sense department. In his later years, he continually speaks at meetings and community events to inspire and motivate young people. He emphasizes the importance of education. “I didn’t have the opportunity for a formal education, but you do, so go after it. Education is valuable and will go a long way,” he advises. 
     It was also 1934 when he discovered rodeo. 
     The group commonly given credit as having the first organized rodeos on the reservation was called the “Rough Riders Rodeo Club Association.” Paul was one of its earliest members. Paul and other members of the club set up bucking chutes, holding corrals and a timed event chute. Then families would come from miles around in wagons and cars, forming a semi-circle to be used as the arena fence. Those old-time rodeos were more than just competitions; they were a celebration, bringing members of the Navajo nation (and eventually other tribes as well) together. It was during this time Paul developed a life-long love of rodeo. 
      Paul dedicated his life to rodeo at a young age and was serious about it. He trained physically and mentally (before that was common) and practiced regularly to hone his already great stockman skills into that of a rodeo cowboy. 
     Paul competed at just about every rodeo you can name across the Southwest and Four-corners region at one time or another. He was a regular All Around Cowboy winner as he competed successfully in most every event including bareback, saddle bronc, bull riding, wild horse racing, wild cow milking, team tying, steer wrestling, calf roping and even an event known as the original chicken pull. For those who have never heard of “the original chicken pull,” it involves uncanny horsemanship skills and daring. To start with, a chicken was buried in the soft sand of the arena with just his head and neck exposed. Riders came down the arena at a full gallop, leaned over and plucked the chicken out of the ground. The fastest time won, and, as you can imagine, it was a big hit with the crowd. 
     As another testament to his all around skills, Paul was both header and heeler in the team tying (later team roping) event and both a “dogger” and hazer in steer wrestling. Sometimes he also worked in the capacity of judge, flagger and even rodeo clown! He did it all when it came to rodeo. Paul says, “Rodeo is more than just a sport, it’s a way of life.” 
     In 1942, Paul was drafted into the U.S. Army and did his duty during World War II. While stationed in Burma, India, a group of guys got together and staged a rodeo as a form of entertainment. Paul entered the bareback and saddle bronc riding…they used pack mules for the rodeo stock. He wound up winning first in both events. His prize money was a box of cigars in one event and a case of beer in the other. Paul laughs and says, “After the show, we really had a party.” 
     Back home, over the next several years, rodeo gained in popularity on the reservation. Then, in 1958, a group of guys decided to form an official association - the All Indian Rodeo Cowboys Association (AIRCA). Paul served as the first vice president. 
     He was actually asked to be the first President of the AIRCA, but declined in favor of letting someone with a little more education take on those duties. He wanted only the best for the association and selflessly put any thoughts of personal gain aside. Paul’s nephew Roy Spencer honorably served as President. 
     During those early years, men such as Paul and his long-time friend, Sonny Jim, (another well-known name in Native American Rodeo) were the ones who showed the world that an Indian could also be a cowboy…and a good one at that. These were the group of men who paved the way for today’s Native American Rodeo Cowboys to become what they have. 
     In a magazine interview for the 4th of July & PRCA Rodeo Celebration at Window Rock, Arizona, Paul once said, “I’m always praying for them to get somebody up there in Las Vegas some of these days.” It was always his dream for the younger generation to compete successfully in the Pro-Rodeo circuit and represent the Indian Nations. 
     Paul did not realize it at the time, but along the way, he became a hero to a whole new generation of guys. Many time Indian National Finals Rodeo qualifier and champion, Lucius Sells, once told the Navajo Times, "I'd like to mention my (grandfather) from Crownpoint, Paul Arviso Sr.. Being around him when he was roping…it's a talent I got. It's just a gift from God that he gave to me. I guess they would say it's in the blood." 
     Just like most of those old-time rodeo cowboys from that generation, Paul was tough. Back in the day, he hauled his horse in the bed of his truck, then later on, in a self-made one-horse trailer. Also, back then most of the roads across the Reservation were not paved, so if it was raining, you were likely to get stuck in the mud on the way to rodeos, then spend several hours digging out. At the rodeo, Paul and his family often camped in tents or outside on the ground, but they had a ton of fun. 
     As he grew older, Paul moved on to competing in “the old-timer’s rodeo association” where he continued his winning ways, adding events like breakaway, ribbon roping and his all-time favorite, steer riding, to his resume. He has fond memories of competing with many men who have “now gone home” - Paul’s words for what most call death. 
     Paul taught his own kids (nine of them) and many other youth the basics of horsemanship and how to care for a horse. One of his own favorite competition horses was named “Rawley.” That horse was an all-around champion as well, being used in many different events during a rodeo. Paul said, “Respect the horse. Take care of your horses and they will take care of you.” 
     In 2003, the Navajo Nation Fair and Rodeo honored Paul by bestowing the title of “Legendary Cowboy” on him. He received a beautiful custom saddle and a plaque for that. Now in his 90s, Paul still enjoys the sport of rodeo as a spectator and is constantly amazed at the talent of the younger generation. He is, in part, responsible for that talent as he served as mentor, inspiration and role model to many of today’s rodeo cowboy. 
     On April 5th, 2012, Paul turns ninety-two! Also, in 2012, he has been nominated for acceptance into the Rodeo Hall of Fame. Many friends and family are pushing for his acceptance and anxiously await the October results. 
     Along with his many memories of competing with some of the all-time great Native cowboys, Paul is especially proud of the fact that the younger generation is now stepping it up a bit and competing “…up there in Las Vegas.” 
     Men like Derrick Begay, Erich Rogers and Spud Jones who now qualify for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo have the likes of Paul W. Arviso Sr. to thank for exciting the reservation about rodeo and paving the way by letting the world know that the Indian can also be one heck of a cowboy!

Jim Olson © 2012

Now That's RODEO! (1950s)

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Chuck Sheppard

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

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Clarence “Casey” Darnell

Natural Born Horseman

     Raised on a large ranch in the San Bernardino Valley, an area encompassing the “boot heel” of New Mexico and the very southeastern portion of Arizona, Casey Darnell was born a cowboy in 1917. This area is well known for its good “cowboy” ranching families. It was the haunt of Geronimo and Cochise before that. Tough characters have been molded from the clay of this area for a very long time.
     The talented Casey was a Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association (PRCA) gold card member, inducted into the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) hall of fame, an honorary Vice President of AQHA, past president of the New Mexico Horse breeders association and New Mexico Quarter Horse Racing Association, an AQHA director and judge for 21 years, trained and showed a World Champion performance horse, flew 27 bombing missions over Germany during WWII and the list goes on. What most folk will tell you about Casey Darnell first off, however, is, “He had a way with horses.”
     Daughter, Emily Darnell Nunez, had this to say about her father, “When my dad would walk into the barn, every horse in the place would stick their head out over the stall gate as if they were greeting him. He’d then proceed to visit each one, talking to them like they were his kids. Some he praised - others got a pep talk, but each one couldn’t wait to get a visit from him. It’s as if he had a special connection to them.”
     Casey went through several transitions throughout his fabled career as a horseman. He started off in the ranching world where, as a kid, he was horseback more often than not. Then came rodeo where he became known as a top contender. Next he moved into reining and show horses where he gained even more notoriety, and in the latter stage of his life, horse racing became king. All these genres involve horses, but they are distinctly different. Few excel at more than any one of these during a lifetime. Casey was gifted in the horse department.
     Brother, Fred Darnell, of Animas, New Mexico once wrote, “Ounce for ounce - pound for pound, Clarence Ellsworth Darnell was the best hand I ever seen. He didn’t give a darn if a horse bucked, ran off or fell over backwards, he kept on grinning and making a hand.”
     As a rodeo competitor Casey was a top hand. He excelled in the roping and bull dogging events. For many years he traveled the west, making countless friends along the way. He even placed at the “Grand Daddy” of ‘em all, Cheyenne, Wyoming! Although not a big man physically, he overcame physical limitations with horsemanship skills - and cowboy grit. He was a long time member of the PRCA, eventually becoming a lifetime Gold Card member.
     Casey spent many years in the horse show world as well. He trained and showed about all classes and types of horses, including reining. In 1957, he had a World Champion performance horse named Skippity Scoot. Along the way, he transitioned from being a competitor, to that of a highly sought after judge. While spending 21 years as an official AQHA judge, Casey was known for being impartial to possible outside influences around the shows. He didn’t care if you were a world champion or a beginner; he called it, how he saw it, on that day.
     Once, when asked by a champion, who was used to winning, “Why didn’t we (the contestant and horse) win?” Casey replied, “Well now, you did not have the best horse out there today.” He did not sugar coat things, but he had a way of putting it that made you like it…never malicious, and still grinning.
     In the early 1960s, Casey was introduced to horse racing and it became a passion of his thereafter. During a family visit with wife Blair’s kinfolk in the east, they stopped at a thoroughbred farm in Kentucky. Casey was hooked. He bought his first thoroughbred on the spot. He was a regular in Southwestern racing circles from then on. A horse Casey trained and raced at Santa Fe Downs even wound up running in the Kentucky Derby. Son Cliff Darnell, who is also a trainer, qualified the horse for the Derby where it wound up running 9th out of a field of 19. Casey was pleased with his involvement.
     Casey once said, “I love what I do. I love training horses.” He went on to give some advice, “You have to do the little things well.”
     Casey was well known - a legend you might say - in the New Mexico horseracing world, but his connections reached far beyond the racetrack. Casey knew everybody. Well, maybe not everybody, but he had a lot of influence and was well renown.
     Daughter Mary Darnell said, “He never felt out of place, weather he was in New York City or Apache, was all the same to him. My mom would take him to various functions around the world and he would dress in his Tux, if required, but always had his boots and hat added to the ensemble...and people loved him where ever he went.”
     Daughter Emily recalls being at an event in Tingly Coliseum in Albuquerque, sitting with her dad. “The then, Governor of the State of New Mexico, Bruce King, stopped to shake hands and visit with my dad as if he was somebody important.” She recalls thinking, “Wow, my dad must know everybody!” Casey made friends easily and had them all across the country.
     Casey and wife Blair were also active in youth activities. Not only did they teach their own children to become involved in equine activities, but they introduced many other youths to the horse world as well. This often made the difference in a youth’s life, helping them choose between a good path or bad. They loved the 4H program and were involved as leaders. But more than that, they did simple things, such as taking kids on trail rides and pack trips into the mountains. They became such authorities on the subject of training youths with horses; they were featured in a Western Horseman article, giving detailed advice on the matter. In part, Casey had this to say, “Riding, to most parents, is a way to get a kid past a certain stage…there are some kids that will go on with it…these mature boys and girls will get great satisfaction out of being able to make a horse do what they want him to do.”
     Casey got his nickname while still a youth on the family ranch. Although his first name was Clarence, he was dubbed Casey because he could drive a bulldozer, cleaning dirt tanks and whatnot, so well that he was named in honor of the legendary railroad engineer, Casey Jones.
     Daughter Mary also tells us of another amazing feat accomplished by Casey, which had nothing to do with horses. It involved his time in the army during WWII. Before being drafted, Casey was simply a working cowboy. He listed “cowpuncher” as his occupation on military papers. But ironically, within about 60 days of joining the military he was flying a B-26 bomber over Germany. Talk about being thrown into something in a hurry! Casey wound up flying 27 missions during the war - quite different from the “cow punching” job he had right before. After the war however, Casey did not talk much about his time there and he never showed an interest in flying again, keeping to his beloved horses instead.
     A former Arizona State Legislator, Ralph Cowan, wrote a letter of recommendation for Casey. In part it reads, “He is loyal, honest and above board at all times and can be relied upon to do his best in whatever he may be called upon to do.”
     Daughter Mary said, “He always told me do what you love, work at it everyday and the rest will fall into place.”
     Clarence “Casey” Darnell died in 2001, but his legend status in the horse world lives on. Words from his tombstone pretty much sum it up – “Well Done.”

     Casey once said, “Get in the hunt. Believe in yourself. Work hard. Watch and listen. Don’t forget to laugh. Plan for the future. Go after your dream.” 

Jim Olson (c) 2012