History of Rodeo, A to Z
When I first began researching the history of rodeo it was often found that the families of some of the best cowboys knew the least about their son’s successes in the rodeo arena. I was surprised, and yet the more I researched the more I discovered that often it left a ‘hole’ in the ranch. The other young sons, and even sometimes a daughter, had to pick up the work formerly done by these cowboys. There was resentment, and sometimes their family, or the ranch owner they had previously worked for, forbid them to come back unless they were willing to stay and give up rodeo! I
Ironically, their ability to win at rodeos was a direct result of their talents they had learned as cowboys. The best ropers and bronc-busters were the ones who could win the most at rodeos. This was a hard decision for a cowboy to make and more often rodeo won out. If they were good enough to win some money, it often paid as much as they might make in a month on the ranch. How many cowboys have I heard say, “The first time I won prize money at a rodeo it was $30. I had to work a month to get that much on the ranch. Boy, I thought I’d never see another poor day!”
These are some of those early ‘forward-thinking’ cowboys that took to the rodeo road rather than stay on the ranch: Booger Red Privett, Great bronc rider: Samuel Thomas Privett was born in 1864 in Williamson County, TX on December 29. The family moved to Erath County and ranched under the SP Ranch when he was six. By twelve years of age he was known as “that redheaded kid bronc rider”. At thirteen he and a friend were attempting to put together a fireworks display that went off prematurely and killed his friend and maimed Red’s face severely. His brother took him in a farm wagon to a local doctor and a small boy saw him and said, “Gee, Red is sure a booger now.” When his injuries healed after six months his brother began calling him “Booger Red” and the nickname stuck. By the time he was 15 both his parents had died. His dad died of Bright’s disease. Later he broke horses near Sonora. Ranchers from all around the country brought their unbroken horses to him to break. He saved enough money to buy a wagon yard in San Angelo. He married Mollie Webb, an experienced horsewoman, in 1895 at Bronte, TX. She was 15 years old and he was 33. They had seven children, six lived to be adults. They started The Booger Red Wild West Wagon Show and the entire family performed. It is said Booger Red was never thrown from a horse. Foghorn Clancy, early day announcer, said, “His favorite bucking saddle was a plain hull, or tree, which was far from fancy, but became a mark of the man, and grew to be famous as it’s owner, who for more than a quarter of a century was considered the greatest bronc rider in the world”. Booger Red bet $100 to anyone who brought a horse he could not ride, but never had to pay it. He won 23 firsts at various rodeos. He also competed in the 1904 World’s Fair in St Louis. Foghorn Clancy joined his show around 1905. By 1920 Booger Red realized the wild west show was a thing of the past, although he and the family were offered jobs with other wild west shows. In 1924 he retired at age 60. At Fort Worth he was in the audience at the rodeo when the fans started chanting for him. He was carried to the arena, put on a bronc and rode with ease. Two weeks later he died of Bright’s disease, the same disease that had killed his dad. Booger Red Privett is buried near his home in Miami, OK.
J. Ellison Carroll, Champion Steer Roper: He was tall, good-looking, with a trim, athletic figure and tremendous grace and speed. There were too few ropings to keep him busy, so he traveled the country putting together roping matches with anyone who would rope against him for a side bet. He was born September 14, 1862 in San Patricio County, Texas. As a young man he worked as a cowboy and went on some of the last trail drives. He won his first major contest in steer roping at Canadian, TX, in 1888. He would challenge anybody, any time, primarily to roping matches, and often the side bets would be far more than the prizes offered. There were no official world champions in those days. Carroll had a matched roping in 1904 against Clay McGonagill, another well known roper, that lasted three days. On 28 head of steers, Carroll averaged 40.3 seconds to McGonagill’s 46.1 seconds. The steers reportedly weighed between 800 and 1,000 pounds. In 1905 the state of Texas outlawed steer roping so Carroll merely picked up and moved to Oklahoma where steer roping was still legal. He worked with Colonel Zack Mulhall and his Wild West Show. In a Kansas City newspaper, April 13,1910, in an article about the show it said, “Lucille Mulhall, who is announced as ‘the world’s greatest horsewoman and lariat thrower’, will engage in roping contests with Ellison Carroll, who now holds the world’s championship medal for roping, throwing and tying a wild steer.” At a Dewey (OK) Roundup in 1909 Carroll rode in an automobile from where he roped a steer. He retired about 1913, bought a ranch in Texas and served as sheriff of Reagan County from 1931 to 1933 and later became a county commissioner. He judged the Stamford Cowboy Reunion in the 1930s, and was president of the Texas Cowboy Reunion Oldtimer’s Association. He died on April 20, 1942.
Bill Pickett, Bulldogger Extraordinaire: Five brothers, from Taylor, TX, formed a company called “Pickett Brothers Bronco Busters and Rough Riders Association”. Their motto was “to break all wild horses with care and good treatment to all animals and satisfaction guaranteed!” Bill was born on December 5, 1870, the second of thirteen children to Thomas Jefferson Pickett and wife, Mary Virginia Elizabeth Gilbert. He took a keen interest in the relationship between horses, cattle and bulldogs. The dogs were used to track and catch cattle. In those days, in that brushy country which had stickers on every branch, a pair of dogs, one to heel and a ‘catch’ dog that went to the nose or lip, were used to chase ornery cattle out of the brush and subdue them. As Bill observed this way of handling difficult cattle he imitated the ‘catch’ dog. Pickett would grab a steer’s horns, twist it’s neck, stop the animal, then lean over and sink his teeth into the upper lip. With one horn under his arm as he fell backward the steer would fall onto its side. Pickett was hired by the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch and Wild West Show in 1905 where he would exhibit his manner of bulldogging. He became the featured performer and stayed with them from then on. In 1932 Pickett was handling a wild horse in the 101 Ranch corral and a flying hoof struck him in the head. He died from the concussion on March 23, 1932 at the age of 62.
Floyd Randolph, bronc rider, roper and judge: Born in 1889 he went to work at age 12. He broke horses at Graham, TX in 1906, and the following year joined the Texas Bud Wild West Show, and then the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch Real Wild West Show in 1908. He worked with Tom Mix and was in Mexico City with Bill Pickett when he attempted to bulldog the Mexican fighting bull. He ranched 22 sections of land in Carter County, Oklahoma, in the 1920s. He furnished some of the stock for the Madison Square Garden rodeo in 1926 and 1927. He was elected sheriff of Carter County in 1934 and served four terms. He lost his first wife, and in 1925 married Florence Hughes, who was a trick rider, lady bronc rider, and in 1919 beat out 13 male contestants at Calgary Stampede in the Roman race. They spent their entire life devoted to rodeo. Florence died in 1971, and Floyd died the following year. Floyd’s daughter, Mary Louise, married Junior Eskew, of the famous Colonel Eskew family, and their daughter, Madonna, became a juvenile trick rider. The entire family worked and competed in rodeo and continued throughout their lifetimes.
These amazing cowboys were at the beginning of rodeo. They had no idea what it would become or did they even care? They just knew they had found something in life they enjoyed, and even when they were ‘flat broke’ they were still passionate about the competition and the travel from one place to the next. It was exciting and given the opportunity to try and be the best at what they did made their desire never wane. Is it any different today? Hmmmmmmm. Let’s think about that. At least their families and former employers don’t think badly about the sport of rodeo as they did in the beginning. It has proved itself to be a great sport and one the entire family can participate in today!