The four-footed variety of champions was not recognized so early in the rodeo world. But eventually it happened, and the sport is even better for it. Scoring by judges in the roughstock events has been a combination of the rider’s ability to ride and the stock’s ability to buck. It took the Rodeo Cowboy Association (RCA) until 1956 to start honoring the outstanding stock in rodeo, and then only one top bucking horse for the year was picked. This bucking horse honor of the year continued until 1974 when finally a top saddle bronc, top bareback bronc of the year and top bull of the year were named. Beginning with the first National Finals Rodeo, in 1959, a top roughstock animal in each event was chosen.
Historians and reporters of the rodeo world often tell of the lives of cowboys and cowgirls, but it is seldom the life of a roughstock animal is recognized and shared. I recently had an opportunity to talk with Billy Minick, a former Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association (PRCA) competitor, stock contractor, and one of the foremost movers and shakers in the Fort Worth Stockyards National Historic District for the continuation of the past western life-style, which includes being one of the owners of Billy Bob’s Texas, the biggest Honky-Tonk in the world. Our conversation was about V61, a bull Billy bought that became the 1970 National Finals Top Bucking Bull and allowed only five cowboys to ride him for eight seconds in his career. Minick said, “Everyone in the stock contracting business wants to own one great head of stock, and V61 was mine!”
V61 was a bull that was known by the brand on his hip. He was only ridden five times in all the time he was bucked, which is rare. Sloan Williams, of Hungerford, Texas, was providing calves to Billy for his rodeo roping events. Williams also provided all the stock for the Loretta Lynn Rodeos, that were primarily held in the eastern part of the United States, and were independent rodeos, not affiliated with the PRCA. He asked Billy if he would be interested in buying V61. Williams said, “No one will get on him anymore at our rodeos, he’s such a hard bucker. I’m hauling him for nothing. Would you like him”? Billy had bought Harry Knight’s Rodeo Company in 1968 and was always interested in good bucking stock. Billy and his dad took a gooseneck trailer to Williams place to pick up V61 and another bull inmAugust, 1969.
Minick grew up loving rodeo. He was the 1958 Texas High School Bull Riding Champion. He joined the RCA in 1959 and qualified as one of the top fifteen bull riders for the National Finals Rodeo 1966. Unfortunately he was injured in the last rodeo, the Cow Palace, before the National Finals Rodeo, so his ability at the Finals was affected greatly! He finished fourth in the world behind Freckles Brown, Bob Wegner and Ronnie Rossen. Minick only won $105 at the National Finals, so his $14,358 for the year was primarily won before the Finals.
The following year, 1968, he bought Harry Knight’s rodeo company and switched from being a competitor to a stock contractor. Knight, who had been involved in rodeo since the 1920s could then retire.
V61, 1800 pounds of muscle with a jersey-coloring on his head turning into gray on the rest of his body, quickly gained a reputation for being a bull no one could ride. He had bucked all the ‘old toughs’ off. At one rodeo before the bull riding Myrtis Dightman told Minick he could ride V61. Minick disagreed with him. As he watched Dightman get ready in the chute Minick said, “I watched him pull his rope tight, then he let the rope off a little, then he pulled it tight again. When the chute opened Dightman went off the bull in a very few seconds.”
Life Magazine made a special trip to Cheyenne Frontier Days to do a story on V61 that can be found in the October 23, 1970, issue. V61 went to the National Finals that year and was bucked three times. In round one he bucked off Bobby Berger. In round six, he injured Dicky Cox so badly he spent nine days in the hospital having surgeries on his head and face. In the tenth round, he bucked Sandy Kirby off. He was awarded Top Bull for the 1970 National Finals.
The Gladewater Round-Up Rodeo committee honors rodeo legends and in 1996 they gave Minick silver spurs in honor of V61. In 2010 they presented Minick with the original white chute gate #3, with the statistics of the Quintana vs. V61 ride, 94 points, branded on it. He displayed it at Billy Bob’s until recently, and now is on display in the Texas Bull Riding Hall of Fame located in Cowtown Coliseum. However, each June the chute gate returns to Gladewater for display during their rodeo, then returned to Fort Worth to be enjoyed by the crowds of tourists that flock to the Stockyards area.
In San Angelo in early 1971, Freckles Brown, 1962 World Champion Bull rider, drew V61. Freckles was 50-years-old. Minick said he was concerned when he learned Freckles had drawn V61 because he bucked so hard. “I remember saying a prayer before he rode. ‘God, please don’t let him hurt Freckles’,” said Minick. V61 came out of the chutes like a milk cow, about six seconds into the ride he dropped his shoulder to the left and dumped Freckles. Minick had traveled with Freckles back in 1966 and considered him a good friend. Regardless of their rodeo competitiveness cowboys do look out for one another.
The nine-year-old gray bull suffered a hematoma of the spermatic vessel in August, 1971, and Minick sent him to Dr. W. A. Aanes, a well-known veterinarian at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. The surgery was less hazardous than first anticipated, but V61 became quite a celebrity at the school. Aanes was a good friend of Paul Harvey, the radio celebrity that was well known for his stories about interesting events happening around the United States. During V61’s stay at the college Harvey gave a daily radio report on V61’s condition and recovery and finished each broadcast with his familiar statement “and that’s the rest of the story."
By September the bull was back home near Fort Worth where he convalesced, by doctors' orders, until the 1971 National Finals. At the National Finals, held in Oklahoma City, V61 was ridden in the 1st Round by Bobby Berger, who rode him for 8 seconds and scored 79, which gave him the win for that round. He was drawn in the 10th Round by Bill Nelson, who bucked off.
In Fort Smith in May of 1972 Andy Taylor drew V61. The dirt was real deep in the arena and is tough on roughstock to really get a good buck. When Taylor came out of the chute he rode V61 and took his hat off and fanned him. Minick admitted it made him so mad, and told Taylor, “As good as that bull has been for this business, you didn’t have to do that!” Minick felt that Taylor’s cavalier action diminished V61’s history as such a top-rated, un-ridable bull.
At the 1972 National Finals, V61 was drawn in the first round by John Dodd, who bucked off. In the sixth round Phil Lyne drew him and rode him for a score of 70. Minick had decided after the National Finals he’d never buck him again. However, Bob Watt, who ran the Fort Worth Stock Show Show & Rodeo, asked Minick to please buck him at Fort Worth one more time, and then retire him. Minick agreed. When the draw was made Andy Taylor had drawn V61. Minick made sure V61 was warmed up and ready to buck. Minick said, “I was on the chutes, and when V61 bucked Taylor off, I threw my hat out across the arena.” Owners of these champion bulls and broncs root for their stock just like friends and families root for their cowboys. It’s only natural.
When V61 was retired he had been ridden only five times. John Quintana rode him twice. Bobby Berger, Phil Lyne and Andy Taylor were the only other bull riders to successfully ride the handsome, hard bucking bull. What an outstanding accomplishment for an animal that was bottle-fed as a calf. Very few bulls or broncs have that kind of a record in the rodeo arena. I was once told by a long-time stock contractor and rodeo producer, Reg Kesler, “The better they buck means the bigger their heart is.” V61 must have had a heart as big as Texas!
When V61 died in 1974 Minick had his head mounted, and the brand, V61, on his left side saved and framed. The regal-looking bull’s mount hung in Billy Bob’s Texas, the biggest Honky Tonk in the world, for the world to see this outstanding animal for some time. Today he has been moved to the Minick ranch and mounted in a prominent place with all his awards and brand displayed below him. As Minick said, “Every stock contractor wants to have one great one, and V61 was mine.”