“Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway.” John Wayne
In 1904 Bertha Kaepernick became the first woman to ride a bronco during Cheyenne Frontier Days. She married Dell Blanchett, a World Champion bulldogger. Together they performed in different shows and rodeos as a team and as individuals. In the steer wrestling event, Bertha rode as a hazer. A hazer’s job is to assist a steer wrestler by making a steer run in line with the horse ridden by the wrestler. Bertha was a three time winner of ladies relays. She also won the World bronco busting contests in 1914 and 1915 and also won the 1918 World Championship in Roman races, in which the rider stood with their feet on the backs of a pair of horses.
Dell Blanchett volunteered to fight in WWI, in a Canadian Cavalry unit. Bertha was against his decision to go to the war to the point where she filed for divorce. But ten days later her husband was killed in the battle near Bois de Moreui. It was sabers against machine guns. Dell Blanchett was awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously. Bertha never remarried or performed in a rodeo after his death. She was inducted into the Hall of Fame at the age of 90.
Goldie St. Clair performed with her husband Barny St. Clair in the Miller Bros 101 Wild West Show. She won ladies bronco riding contests in 1909 and 1910. Even former President Roosevelt was concerned about her safety watching her performance during the Cheyenne Frontier Days rodeo in 1910. The next year a bronco fell on her and she was badly injured. However, soon she was back in her saddle again.
Lorena Tricky twice won Roman Races. It was a very dangerous event when the rider stood with her feet on the backs of a pair of horses. Lorena was a winner of the Ladies relay on Cheyenne Frontier Days in 1920, 1921, 1924, and 1925. She also won a Saddle bronc contest in 1921. She was known for her special trick of transferring from the back of one horse to the back of another, which helped her to win relays. Once she participated in the relay with a broken leg. She removed her cast to be able to transfer from one horse to another. She won that Relay and went to accept her prize on crutches. Lorena sustained multiple injuries during her career as a rodeo contestant such as a fractured skull, a broken jaw, dislocated ribs and a dislocated shoulder. However, she was always back on her feet and ready for action. She performed stunts in movies for Mary Pickford.
Other legendary cowgirls such as Tad Lucas, Ruth Roach, and Alice Greenough had bad injuries during contests. Bonnie McCarrol, a winner of the Cheyenne Frontier Days Ladies Saddle Bronc contest in 1922, was trampled to death by a bronc during competition in Pendleton in 1929.
Florence Hugh was a trick rider, who weighted only 90 pounds.
Ruth Roach was a winner of the 1920 Cheyenne Frontier Days ladies bronco riding contest. She was married to Brian Roach, a cowboy.
Mabel Strickland and Fox Hastings were wives of renowned cowboys. They were multiple winners in Cheyenne Frontier Days contests in the 1920s. Mabel Strickland rode “Stranger”, Mike Husting’s bronc. She was inducted into National Cowboy Hall of Fame. The Mabel Strickland Cowgirl Museum in Cheyenne was named after her.
Bonnie Jean Gray was a winner of the Ladies Trick Roping Championship of the World and she performed Leonard Stroud’s dangerous riding trick when she swung under the belly of her racing horse and between the hoofs to come up on the other side. She repeated this trick during the Cheyenne Frontier Days rodeo in 1922. Bonnie was college educated with a graduate degree and she was also a pianist. During her wedding ceremony in California she performed another trick. She and her horse King Tut jumped over the car, where her husband and bridesmaids were sitting. All guests and a priest were on horseback during her wedding to Donald W. Harris.
Daisy Parson was a trick rider from Montana. She performed in Cheyenne Frontier Days in 1919 when she was 9 years old. She was riding her horse while standing on the horse’s back and holding American flag in one hand and reins in the other hand. She also performed more dangerous tricks, such as standing on the horse’s back with her arms stretched and the “Russian drag” trick when she hung from her horse almost to the ground.
In 1908 three cowboys from Hawaii came to compete in the Cheyenne Frontier Days rodeo. They defeated white cowboys in their own game. Ikua Purdy won the steer roping contest with a record time of 1 minute and 6 second. Archie Kaaua and Jack Low took third and sixth place in steer roping, respectively. Ikua Purdy was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1999. After winning the Championship, Purdy worked as a foreman on Ulupalakua Ranch in Hawaii for twenty four years until his death.
Steamboat was an “Outlaw” and a legendary bucking bronc. He had never been subdued. He was a big, black and clumsy looking horse. The image of Steamboat is depicted on the Wyoming state license plate and also on the logo of University of Wyoming. Steamboat participated in many rodeos from 1901 to 1914 and helped cowboys, who managed to ride him for at least 8 seconds, win. Very few cowboys were able to do this. Harry Brennen was one of these few cowboys. He won the championship in Cheyenne Frontier Days riding Steamboat in 1904. Steamboat got his name because his snorting sounded like the whistle of a steamboat. Unfortunately, Steamboat died from blood poisoning after he ran into barbed wire. He had been spooked by thunder and lightning. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1979.
In 1908, after riding Steamboat, Dick Stanley won the Championship in the Cheyenne Frontier Days rodeo. He did not stay to pick up his prize, a fine saddle, and left unexpectedly. Stanley was from Oregon where he participated in the Stanley Bros. Congress of Roughriders show. He and his brother were the owners of the show. Stanley was killed when his horse fell on him during a performance in his own show. After his death it was discovered that his real name was Earl Shobe. He had been charged for murder and robbery of a post office in Wyoming, but was released on bail. Perhaps, that was the reason for Stanley’s early departure, without picking up his prize.
Charles Irvin (1875-1934) was a cowboy, who won a steer roping contest in 1906. He also acted as a rodeo clown when he was young. He was a contractor, a producer of early Cheyenne Frontier Days and later an owner and producer of his own show “Irvin Bros. Cheyenne Frontier Days Wild West Show,” which, in fact, competed with Cheyenne Frontier Days. Irvin’s show, however did not last long. Charles Irvin and his brother Frank owned the Y-6 ranch near Meriden WY, 45 miles northeast of Cheyenne. This is where the movie “Round-up on the Y-6 Ranch” was filmed. Irvin was a producer of the movie. The Y-6 Ranch was the training grounds for the best broncs owned by Irvin, such as Steamboat, Teddy Roosevelt, Airplane, Silver City, Gin Fizz, Red Bird, Red Sandy, and Woodrow Wilson. He also owned two trained buffalos, Scotty and Pete. Charles Irvin was inducted into the Pro-Rodeo Hall of Fame in 1979 for his outstanding job as a stock contractor. He had the nickname “Giant Cowboy” because he was 6’4” tall and overweight.
Two of the most popular cowboys were Ray Bell (1899-1996) and Phil Yoder (1898-1941). Ray began his carrier as a contestant in rodeos in 1915. He won multiple times in the Pendleton, Bois, and San Antonio rodeos. When he participated in Cheyenne Frontier Days in 1920, he befriended a movie star, Will Rogers, and his sidekick Williams. Ray Bell eventually moved to California where he performed as a stunt double in movies and also trained horses for Westerns.
Phil Yoder, a Wyoming native, won multiple times in bronco riding and steer roping contests. Yoder and Bell competed in the same rodeos and always had a friendly rivalry. Even though Bell won the Bronc Championship of the World at Pendleton in 1923, Yoder was chosen to judge the rodeo for the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1924.Phil Yoder, a Wyoming native, won multiple times in bronco riding and steer roping contests. Yoder and Bell competed in the same rodeos and always had a friendly rivalry. Even though Bell won the Bronc Championship of the World at Pendleton in 1923, Yoder was chosen to judge the rodeo for the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1924.
Floyd Irvin (1895-1917), a son of Charlie Irvin, was another celebrity cowboy. He started his carrier as a bronco rider when he was 14 and won the title of “Champion Boy Rider of America.” He won steer roping and trick riding contests in Vancouver in 1912 and was a winner in bucking broncs and trick riding contests in Idaho Falls in 1915. He also won the “Pony Express” at Pendleton in 1916. In July 1917 he was practicing steer roping tricks at Frontier Park before the Cheyenne Frontier Days rodeo. He threw a rope and thought that he had missed a steer. But he did not. He was riding away when a violent jerk of the rope, caused by a running roped steer, hit his horse. The horse fell and pinned Floyd to the ground. He died due to the injury the next morning. His father, Charles Irvin, was heartbroken and Native Americans mourned in their traditional wail. His widow, Edith, married Phil Yoder two years later.
Sam Brownell competed in Cheyenne Frontier Days rodeos since 1904. He had a broken collar bone when he participated in bronco riding during the Cheyenne Frontier Days rodeo in 1913. His bronc, Highball, broke through the fence, fell head forward, jumped back onto his legs and continued bucking. During his final performance Brownell rode the bronc, Stemler Bay, to a complete halt. Even though Brownell did not win that year his breathtaking performance was remembered for many years.
Yakima Canutt (1895-1986) was the first man to win the “Roosevelt Trophy,” which was established in 1923. He won because he had the highest cumulative score in the Cheyenne rodeo and the Pendleton rodeo in Bronc Riding, Steer Roping, Bulldogging, and Wild Horse Racing events. He played as a stunt double in a number of movies, including “Devil Horse” and “Stage Coach.” In “Stage Coach” he was a stunt double for John Wayne. In that movie he performed a stunt where he drops from the speeding horses of a stage coach, slides under their bellies between their hooves, and climbs up back onto the coach. Moreover, John Wayne learned Canutt’s drawl and the way he walked to be his character in the movie.
Leonard Stroud (1893-1961) was a famous trick rider and also a Champion of 1918 rodeo. He often participated in Roman Races, when contestants rode two horses standing astride. He was known for performing a trick, when he rode a horse parallel to the ground and twirled a rope. Stroud’s signature trick was to swing under the horse’s belly between the hooves and come up on the other side while racing full speed. He, on the back of his horse named Chief, also jumped over a car or the other horses. Leonard Stroud was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1965.
Paul Carney (1912-1950) won the World Championship in steer riding contests in 1937 and 1939. He was also known for Brahma bulls trick riding. These bulls were very aggressive, ill-tempered, and almost impossible to tame.
Sometimes broncs were the bigger attraction than the riders. Gin Fizz was an “Outlaw” and he was an exceptionally bad bronc. He was also one of the best performers in the history of Cheyenne Frontier Days. He bucked high from the beginning to the end and had his distinctive stunts. Gin Fizz usually threw off the rider before the eight seconds time limit. Charlie Irvin was the owner of Gin Fizz.
Midnight was a legendary bronc who performed in different rodeos from 1923 to 1933. He was known for throwing off everybody, who tried to ride him. He was a mix thoroughbred and weighed about 1300 pounds. Midnight was discovered by Jim McNab, an Alberta rancher. He and his cowboys tried to ride Midnight but were thrown off. The first man who rode Midnight was Canadian Indian Pete Bruised Head in Alberta, but it was not an official rodeo. The first man, who rode Midnight during approved rodeo, was World Champion Pete Knight. Midnight died in 1934 and was buried at the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City. There is a bronze statue in Fort Worth in honor on Midnight and an epitaph on his grave:
“Under this sod
Lies a great bucking hoss; there never lived
A cowboy he couldn’t toss. His name was Midnight,
His coat as black as coal, if there is a hoss-heaven,
Please God, rest his soul.”
Five Minutes to Midnight was also discovered in Alberta, Canada. He was smaller than Midnight and weighed 900 pounds.
Charlie Irvin owned a horse called “Teddy Roosevelt,” who was a first-rate bucking horse. He was featured in one of Irvin’s movies. One of the horse’s tricks was “sun fishing.” He changed directions so quickly that he made a rider dizzy. Using this trick, Teddy Roosevelt managed to throw even champions of bronco riding contests, such as William Wallace and Hugh Clark. Teddy Roosevelt became famous in 1910, the year when former President Theodore Roosevelt attended Cheyenne Frontier Days. What made the bronc famous was a photo taken by Ralph Doubleday, who captured a moment when the horse threw off Gus Nylen.
Ralph Doubleday (1881-1958) became a famous photographer due to the action photos he had been taken during rodeos. During his 42 years career as a photographer, he travelled all over the US and Canada covering the major rodeo events. This was a dangerous job. Sometime broncs leaped over him. Sometimes he had to run for his life. But he did what a professional would do in order to take the best shot of his life! Doubleday created multiple postcards of the rodeo from the negatives in his hotel room, which were sold the next day. Doubleday was inducted into the Pro-Rodeo Hall of Fame for his outstanding photography in 1988.
Eddie McCarty was a winner of the Steer roping contest in 1908 and the Steer wrestling contest in 1914. He later became a stock contractor and a partner of Verne Elliot, a famous cowboy and a stock contractor.
McCarty owned a bronc named “Done Gone.” As his name stated, nobody could stay on his back for long. During Cheyenne Frontier Days in 1919 Done Gone got the title “Hardest Bucking Horse.”
One of the most notable rodeo clowns was John Dixon “Red” Sublett (1894-1950). He rode his trained mule Sparkplug. Sublett and Sparkpug were often the stars of the show by ridiculing elaborated performances of trained horses. He rode a steer backwards. Sublett rode zebras, ostriches, and buffalos; however he was occasionally thrown off by broncs, such as “Whisky Pete.” Rodeo clowns not only made an audience laugh, but also carried out the important mission of saving cowboys’ lives. When a rider gets thrown off, a rodeo clown had to divert the attention of the animal in order for the rider to escape and not be trampled or gored.
To learn more about legendary cowboys and cowgirs visit Cheyenne Frontier Days Museum and look at the following website:http://www.wyomingtalesandtrails.com/frontierdays.html
Here are two favorite cowboys’ quotes.
“May your stomach never grumble
May your heart never ache
May your horse never stumble
May you cinch never break.”
“Any man can be thrown from an untamed horse, but it takes a real man to get back and tame it.”
Wyoming Tales and Trails featuring Photographs and History of Old Wyoming by G.B Dobson: http://www.wyomingtalesandtrails.com/frontierdays.html.