Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Christmas poem for you by Jim Olson...

Cowboy Night Before Christmas

Onward came the cowboy, came from afar 
Curiously following the glow of a star
Arrived at the livery, a place for his horse
Few extra oats on a chilly night of course
Told the stable man, hey, thanks for the light
Lit the desert nicely - such a dark night
The man just grinned and said with a nod 
Sir, it ‘twas not me - I believe it was God!

There ‘tween a burro and sheep freshly shorn
Cooed a little baby, not long ago born
Parents huddled, three men gathered round 
Gazed lovingly, at a babe on the ground
Well Cowboy was curious as men usually are 
& Knew right there, the purpose of the star
No doubt in his mind, that he was on hand,
To witness a miracle, the worlds only perfect man

Well the Babe stared at him, right into his soul
Knew all about him, but how did he know?
Had piercing blue eyes that seemed to speak 
Cowboy got a message & his knees grew weak
Then a horse rip-snorted, he sat right up in bed
Guess he’d been dreamin’, twas all in his head
Jumped up with a start, realizing the dream 
It seemed so real, these things that he’d seen

A voice came to him from somewhere within 
Said Cowboy - past is gone, you’re forgiven
Trust your instincts inside - I put ‘em there, 
Remember I’m with you, here and everywhere
Tend your horses, cattle and your fellow man
For to do right by me, treat ‘em best as you can
Remember now, to be kind to children 
And care for your soul - you must make amends

He pondered a while this message received 
Shore enough a miracle, is what he believed
It rattled round in his head loud and clear
Help your fellow man - both far and near
Cowboy resolved to do better, best he could 
The world surely needs, a bit more good
Why then he felt warm and fuzzy all over 
Like a wild horse herd, running through clover

He sat there a-rubbin’ grog from his eyes
Looks to the window - saw another surprise
Perched on the sill - a snow-white Dove 
Knows it has to be, a sign from above
Cowboy smiled, thought man what a night 
Dove then nodded and took off in flight
Twas no use a-trying to sleep after that 
Got up, got dressed - stuffed on his hat

And he passed the calendar - on the wall
December 25th - well don’t that beat all?
Now out in the barn, it’s time to throw feed 
But the horse is sweaty, what’s wrong with the steed
Why he’s been ridden - evidence clear showed 
Looks in the bin and & oats have been throwed
A cold winter chill went straight down the spine
I knew then I’d encountered  - something Divine!

Jim Olson © 2011 - 2013

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Lucille Mulhall — First Cowgirl

        To see a petite young lady roping and tying a steer or performing stunts a-horseback is special. To do it in the early 1900s, an era of rough and tough, “real” cowboys, and do it as well as, or better than the men is incredible.
Lucille Mulhall was born October 21, 1885, in St. Louis, Missouri, to Colonel Zack and Agnes Mulhall. The family relocated to Oklahoma during the great land rush of 1889 and homesteaded one-hundred-sixty acres. The Mulhalls eventually laid claim to about eighty-thousand acres of rangeland located north of Guthrie—some of which was leased land. However, much of it was open range they simply controlled and claimed by virtue of use and being on it (a common practice of the day).
By age seven, Lucille was riding the range, being taught cowboy ways by the men who rode the plains, in what was then “Indian Territory.” Zack Mulhall once claimed that when his daughter was only thirteen, he told her she could keep as many of his steers as she could rope in one day. He bragged, “She didn’t quit until catching more than three-hundred head!”
Col. Zach Mulhall (a title bestowed upon him despite never serving in the military) started a “Wild West show” in the early 1900s. Many early movie cowboys, including Tom Mix, and Will Rogers got their start in Mulhall’s Congress of Rough Riders and Ropers. Lucille also starred in the show. She was among the first women to compete in roping and riding events with men and earned many championship titles. Today she is celebrated as the first cowgirl. 
Will Rogers wrote, “Lucille's achievement in competition with cowboys was the direct start of what has since come to be known as the Cowgirl. There was no such a word up to then as Cowgirl.”
The term was coined to describe Lucille when she dazzled Easterners in her first appearance at Madison Square Garden in 1905. "Against these bronzed and war-scarred veterans of the plains, a delicately featured blonde girl appeared,” a New York reporter wrote. "Slight of figure, refined and neat in appearance, attired in a becoming riding habit for hard riding, wearing a picturesque Mexican sombrero and holding in one hand a lariat of the finest cowhide, Lucille Mulhall comes forward to show what an eighteen-year-old girl can do in roping steers. In three minutes and thirty-six seconds, she lassoed and tied three steers. The veteran cowboys did their best to beat it, but their best was several seconds slower than the girl’s record-breaking time... The cowboys and plainsmen who were gathered in large numbers to witness the contest broke into tremendous applause when the championship gold medal was awarded to the slight, pale-faced girl.” 
However, Lucille was a cowgirl long before becoming an entertainer. "By the age of fourteen,” the New York Times reported, "She could break a bronco and shoot a coyote at five-hundred yards.”
Newspapers tagged her with titles like "Daring Beauty of the Plains,” Queen of the Range” and "Deadshot Girl,” but the one that stuck was "Cowgirl.” It has been argued that the term "cowgirl" had been in use since before she was even born, but few would argue that Lucille was the first to give it national meaning.
Even the great Geronimo was an admirer of Lucille's talent and once gave her a beaded vest and decorated Indian bow—items she reportedly treasured her entire life.
Teddy Roosevelt was also among Lucille’s fans. While campaigning in Oklahoma as a vice presidential candidate in 1900, he saw her perform. It was the Fourth of July, and she roped in front of a large crowd at a "Cowboy Tournament” in Oklahoma City. 
The Daily Oklahoman reported, "Roosevelt was most enchanted with the daring feats of Lucille Mulhall. She rode beautifully throughout the contest and lassoed the wildest steer in the field.”
Teddy Roosevelt was so impressed by Lucille’s skills that he invited the Mulhalls to join him and a select group of the Rough Riders for a private dinner. That night Lucille gave the hero of San Juan Hill a silk scarf she had worn during the contest.
Zack Mulhall then invited Roosevelt to stay at his ranch—Teddy accepted. After watching Lucille’s skills with a horse, rope and gun on the ranch, Roosevelt encouraged her father to get her more exposure. "Zack, before that girl dies or gets married or cuts up some other caper,” Roosevelt reportedly said, "you ought to put her on stage and let the world see what she can do.” The rest, as they say, is history.
Legend has it that during the visit, Roosevelt went riding with Lucille and they spotted a grey wolf. This whetted Roosevelt’s appetite for a hunt. The wolf eluded them that day but Roosevelt told Lucille if she could catch the wolf, he would invite her to his inaugural parade.
Some claim she later roped the wolf, then killed it, others say she shot it at five-hundred yards. But by all accounts, she sent the pelt Roosevelt who displayed it in the White House after he and McKinley won the election. Lucille and family attended the inauguration and Roosevelt reportedly gave her a saddle and an 1873 Winchester.
Besides starring in Mulhall's Wild West show, Lucille also performed in the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch Wild West show (another well-known wild west show from the day), in Vaudeville, and Lucille’s career even took her to Europe, where she performed for heads of state and royalty. In 1913 she and her brother, Charley, formed a company and produced “The Lucille Mulhall Roundup.” 
Lucille became known world-wide as the greatest (and first) cowgirl—the result of her fine roping skills and an uncanny knack with horses. Her talents were, in part, fine-tuned by another natural cowboy—Will Rogers, who was a life-long friend of Lucille’s (both came from Oklahoma ranching backgrounds). Couple that with her slight figure and ladylike demeanor and you had a cowgirl anomaly. More important however, she was authentic, genuine and generous—crowds loved her. 
  It has been said that she had a natural connection with horses. She claimed her horse, Governor, knew many tricks. In an interview Lucille said, “My system of training consists of three things: patience, perseverance, and gentleness. Gentleness I consider one of the greatest factors in successful training. Governor, the horse I ride in our exhibitions has nearly forty tricks. He can shoot a gun; pull off a man’s coat and put it on again; can roll a barrel; can walk up stairs and down again—a difficult feat; is perfect in the march and the Spanish trot; extends the forelegs so that an easy mount may be made; kneels, lies down and sits up; indeed, he does nearly everything but talk.”
She was briefly married in 1907 to Martin Van Bergen, a cowboy singer who was an opening act in the show. Together they had a son. She was also married in 1919 to Tom Burnett, whose father had established the Four Sixes Ranch in Texas. Each marriage lasted only a few years and it was reported that Zach Mulhall remained the most important man in her life.
Lucille basically retired from world-wide travel in 1917 as live Wild West performances were being overshadowed by the up and coming Hollywood westerns. However, she continued to perform throughout the 1920s and 30s, mostly in Oklahoma and Texas. She made her last known public appearance in September of 1940.
Lucille Mulhall died near the home ranch in an automobile accident on December 21, 1940. She was only fifty-five years old. She was posthumously inducted into the Rodeo Hall of Fame in 1975 and National Cowgirl Hall of Fame in 1977. Long live Cowgirls!  

Jim Olson (c) 2013


Monday, June 17, 2013

Mabel Strickland

First Lady of Rodeo

A pretty little gal named Mabel Delong was born in 1897 near Wallula, Washington. Her parents were Mr. William F. Delong, a shoe shop owner and guest columnist for the local paper (The Wallula Gateway) and Mrs. Anna F. Delong. The Delong’s homestead is now under the waters of Lake Wallula, on the Columbia River, behind the McNary Dam—since 1954. 
Her father first introduced Mabel to horses, at about age three. She took to them immediately. Within a few short years, the young horsewoman was training with Bill Donovan, a local trick rider. In 1913, she entered her first rodeo, the Walla Walla Stampede and won the trick riding. After winning the next two consecutive years as well, she was asked by George Drumheller of “Drumhellers Wild West Productions” fame, to hit the road doing trick riding and relay races across the country. Her parents agreed to let her go on the condition she be accompanied by a chaperone. After all, she was a beautiful young lady—and just coming of age. So began the professional rodeo career of Mabel Delong. 
She was a petite gal of five-feet, four-inches and around one-hundred pounds. Newspaper accounts from the day called Mabel, “The Lovely Lady of Rodeo” and some said she looked more like a “Follies beauty” than a Rodeo Cowgirl.  Author and Rodeo Historian, Gail Hughbanks Woerner once wrote, “Her features were delicate, her hair was always done in the most attractive style and her western clothing fit perfectly and was always of the most flattering styles.”  She soon caught the attention of rodeo champion, Hugh Strickland of Bruneau, Idaho. The two were married in 1918.
After having a daughter (April) and an attempt at settling down to become Idaho farmers, the couple decided to hit the rodeo trail to earn money as they had about gone broke farming. Hugh taught his wife to ride broncs, rope calves and steers and even steer wrestling. The duo paid their debts with rodeo winnings, gave up the farmer’s life, and never looked back—they were making more money on the rodeo trail.
Mabel went on to become one of the most recognizable and popular cowgirls of the early days of rodeo. It has been said that she was the most photographed cowgirl of all. Photographers loved to take pictures of the lovely little lady as she competed in trick riding, relay racing, roman riding, steer and bronc riding and calf and single steer roping! She was also a Rodeo Queen and was likely to win at a number of different events on any given day. 
Mabel looked more like a model than a champion cowgirl, but her winning ways put her in tight competition with the cowboys. She could rope as fast as most of them and set several records during her time. (It should be noted here that before 1929, cowgirls competed right alongside the cowboys at most shows. Separate girls events were few and far between.)
There was a growing national concern back then over how competitive sports, such as rodeo, could harm women. Most cowgirls competing in those days were more of the brutish sort, not necessarily portraying the proper image of a lady. Few were delicate and feminine looking like Mabel. The debate even reached the small town (back then) of Pendleton, Oregon, where Mabel had been named 1927 Rodeo Queen. The following was written in her defense: "There is nothing masculine in her appearance and she does not wear mannish clothes. She dresses with excellent taste, whether in the arena or on the street." -The East Oregonian 1927
Without ever intending to, she was being mixed up into a women’s liberation movement. She responded to a newspaper reporter once, “I know you think I’m a paradox, but I belong in the saddle for I’ve been there since I was three. I love the open, dogs, horses, guns, the trees, the flowers...Still I love dresses and everything that goes with them. I can’t tolerate the mannish women anymore than I can stand the womanish man.” 
When asked about her and Hugh’s relationship she was quoted, “Now, here’s the way it is with Hugh and me: He’s a one-woman-man, and—well, I’m a one-man-woman. My home is my heaven. Hugh’s my husband, and that doesn’t mean maybe; he’s my manager; he’s my daddy sweet-heart and we’re pals right down to the heel of our boots.”
One of the most famous photographs of Mabel was when she appeared on the cover of the 1926 Cheyenne Frontier Days program, featuring her as a bronc rider, from the same rodeo in 1924. Amazingly, she was smiling and waving to the crowd while riding a bad bronc named, Stranger. She was the first woman ever to grace the cover of Cheyenne’s rodeo program.
In all her years of riding, she was only seriously injured once. Mabel was performing in trick riding at the Madison Square Garden “World Championship” rodeo. She attempted to pass under the horse's neck and grab the saddle on the other side as they went around the arena full-speed. Even though she had done this numerous times before, somehow, she lost her grip, fell beneath the horse and was trampled. She was severely injured and reported as "near death." She recovered however, and went on to continue her winning ways.
A few championships credited to Mabel include: Pendleton, Oregon; Cheyenne, Wyoming; Walla Walla and Ellensburg, Washington; Dewey, Oklahoma and Madison Square Garden, New York.
Once, when asked in an interview if she hoped her daughter, April, would follow in her footsteps, Mabel said, “I don’t want her to follow my game. It’s too hard for a woman, and then, maybe when she is old enough, there won’t be any contests.” 
Mabel was right, by the depression years of the 30s, rodeo opportunities for women had all but disappeared. It wasn’t until the formation of the Women's Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA) in 1948 that women began competing in all rodeo events once again. (Although this time it was only against other women, not men as well, like back in Mabel’s day.)
During the 1930s, Hugh and Mabel relocated to Hollywood to work in the movies as many rodeo cowboy from that day wound up doing. They were in high demand for bits in Western movies, which were becoming very popular. Mabel preformed stunt work and had minor acting roles in many films; her pinnacle part being in “Rhythm of the Range” with Bing Crosby. 
While filming a scene for “Rhythm,” a set was duplicated to look like the arena at Madison Square Garden—where she had been badly injured in 1926. As Mabel walked on set, she fainted in front of a gate looking just like the one where she had been trampled. She was rushed to the hospital where physicians reported a hemorrhage had reappeared at the site of the old wound! 
While living in California, Mabel, along with Bonnie Gray and Bertha Blancett, founded the Association of Film Equestriennes, an association of women stunt riders and actresses. Mabel had established herself as a sought-after movie actress and stunt woman.
In 1941, Hugh Strickland passed away from a heart attack and Mabel then remarried to a man named Sam Woodward. The couple lived in Buckeye, Arizona where Mabel served the Appaloosa Horse Club on their Board of Directors from 1949 through 1965. As one of the first women ever elected to the board, Mabel was active in both the local and national levels. She was respected by her colleagues because of her determination and extensive experience as a professional horsewoman. Mabel owned, bred and showed Appaloosas for many years after leaving the rodeo and Hollywood scenes.
She has been inducted into the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum Hall of Fame, the ProRodeo Cowboys Hall of Fame, the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame, the Pendleton Hall of Fame and the Cheyenne Frontier Days Hall of Fame.  Unfortunately, only the induction into Pendleton’s Hall of Fame happened during her lifetime. Today the Mabel Strickland Cowgirl Museum is active in Cheyenne, Wyoming. 
Mabel Delong Strickland Woodward died in 1976, at age 79, after a long battle with cancer. Her ashes were spread at her home in Buckeye, Arizona. She will forever be remembered as the first lady of rodeo.

Jim Olson (c) 2013

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Last Rodeo Pioneer

Bart Clennon

In sharp contrast with rodeos of today, back in 1945, Madison Square Garden’s, “World Championship Rodeo,” in New York was a grueling fifty performances over a thirty-day period! A man named Bart Clennon won the saddle bronc riding contest at that show. As a matter of fact, he won many bronc riding championships in the early days of rodeo; Reno, NV; Fort Worth, TX; San Angelo, TX; Burwell, NE; Red Bluff, CA; Salt Lake City, UT; Deadwood, SD, Miles City, MT; Kissimmee, FL and Boston Garden to name a few. Bart says, “I never kept any records, but I know that I made a living rodeoing for over twenty years.”
While his rodeo resume is quite impressive, what is even more notable is that he was the last living person of the original sixty-one fellows who signed the famous “Boston Garden strike document,” then walked out of performing at the rodeo in 1936. (Bart Clennon was born in Aberdeen, SD, 1910.)  This led to an eventual formation of the Cowboy Turtles Association (CTA) - the predecessor of the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association (PRCA). 
Clennon, lived for many years in the Tucson, AZ area, a few miles north and west of the back entry road to old Tucson Studios, with his two sons, Bart Jr. and Terrance. His family went with him during much of his career and they saw many things together. Not all that happened on the rodeo trail was glamour and nostalgia though, as is often reported. The family recalls a tragic event in 1946 when two Army bombers collided mid-air as they performed for the crowd in Great Falls, Montana during the state fair. Bart and a friend were working stock behind the chutes when debris fell everywhere, killing over twenty horses and at least eight men.
Bart once said about the early days of rodeo, “We didn’t always get paid for winning. Sometimes the winners were determined (unofficially of course) before the show even started. But other times when you did win, the contractor may not pay the prize money out. We were kind of at the mercy of the producer in those early days.” 
It was not all that bad however, as a matter of fact, most of it was good times and Clennon said about getting started in the sport, “Back in those days, you would work for those old ranchers and farmers and make maybe $1 per day. Then those old tightwads would deduct days when the wind blew too hard or it stormed and you couldn’t work. So when I won $35 dollars at my first rodeo, I was hooked.” That was Ash Creek, SD and the year was 1928. He went on to work for several different rodeos and wild west shows (there was not much difference between them at the time) and sometimes got on as many as thirty to forty broncs per week!
In part due to grievances listed above, in 1936, at the Boston Garden rodeo, cowboys who were fed up with the status quo of rodeo production at the time decided to stand up for themselves, demanding better treatment. It was not easy. First off, Colonel W.T. Johnson, the producer, had paid to ship most of the contestants and their horses to Boston by train from out west. He also had sponsored rooms for a good many, making most of the cowboys indebted to him in some manner. When the cowboys threatened to strike if certain demands were not met, he told them they would have to find their own way home if they did - he would do his best to strand them in the east.
Clennon was worried, but the cowboys stuck together and walked out on the first of thirty scheduled performances. Johnson attempted to put the show on without them, using grooms and stable hands to fill in. That night Bart, “...paid $2 for a ticket to the rodeo and sat in the stands next to Howard McCrorey. When someone would come out of the chutes us cowboys would holler. Ol’ Howard was hollering so loud that I hardly had to...he’d beller like a bull!” Things eventually worked out and the cowboys soon thereafter formed the CTA. “We called it the Turtle Association because we were so damned slow to start and finally stick our necks out,” Bart recalls with a smile. He signed up and was given card number 418.
Bart is proud of his involvement with the formation of what was to eventually become the PRCA. With a gnarled finger, he smiles and points to his name on a nicely framed copy of the original strike document and says, “They’re all gone. I am the only one left.”
Bart was known as “a cowboys, cowboy.” Casey Tibbs once told a magazine reporter that Clennon was, "One of the best bronc riders I ever saw, and I can't figure out why he never won the (world championship)." 
Clennon recalls many good times with the prankster Tibbs including riding to a rodeo in California with a group of top cowboys from the day, one of them was Bud Linderman. Tibbs was driving wildly, and when they arrived, Bud jumped out of the back seat and said, “Anyone who rides with that S.O.B is plumb crazy!” Bart and Casey were friends and it was an honor for Bart when he was inducted into the Casey Tibbs Rodeo Center in his native South Dakota in 1995. He was also inducted into the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum’s “Rodeo Historical Society” in 1996 and remained a PRCA gold card member to the end (believed to be the oldest ever). 
Clennon quit rodeoing when he was about forty - after receiving his second broken neck. He then went to work as a hard rock miner and was in such amazing shape, he passed for 28, which was the age limit for new hires. He later was in the hardware business and eventually retired from that in his eighties.
Bart would recall the many broncs he rode with an amazing clarity of mind, for a man of any age, much less 101-plus. He did this with friends and rodeo buffs who stop by and listen. However, he once said in an interview that the greatest accomplishment he ever had, “...was when I married Geraldine Parkinson...the family traveled with me all over to rodeos...” Clennon lost his wife in 1982. Then he was fueled on by the many cherished memories of traveling the rodeo circuit and being together with his family.
Men like Bart Clennon changed the game of rodeo forever. His story ended on the night before turning an official 102 years of age. A few days before, he came down sick one last time. The legend died only hours before midnight - he almost made 102.
  1. Jim Olson 2012