March, 1949. Last fall, for the second consecutive time the San Francisco Cow Palace rodeo terminated the IRA Rodeo Season. At this great show, with many top cowboys competing in the stiffest of competition, the winners of the IRA point award system were selected in the various events. At the end of the rodeo it was found that young Gene Rambo was high-point man, having won first in the bareback bronc riding, second in bulldogging, third in saddle bronc riding and fourth in calf roping. (FYI – IRA which stood for International Rodeo Association was the name the Rodeo Association of America and the National Rodeo Association chose after merging. It is in no way connected to the IRA which has become the IPRA of today.)
It was also found, to no one’s immediate surprise, that Gene had won himself the title of World’s All-Around Champion Cowboy for 1948, a title that he had held previously in 1946.
No, it was not a surprise, but it was a little remarkable. For early in 1948 Gene broke his ankle when a jeep turned over with him in the hills of his ranch. He was, of course, disabled for some time and his rodeoing was delayed until the end of April when he made the Saugus, California, show. Because of this he missed the big Denver and Ft. Worth rodeos and several smaller ones belonging to the IRA, which makes his feat of accumulating 8,364 points quite extraordinary.
Hitting his stride about the middle of May. Gene won the saddle bronc riding contest at Bakersfield, California. In June at the Salinas rodeo, Gene was the highest paid contestant, drawing down in winnings about $2,700. He won the team roping event there with Marion Vincent of Porterville, California, placed third on bareback broncs and was fourth in bulldogging. At St. Paul, Oregon (he has won the all-around here three times in a row), he scored first place in two events – calf roping and bareback bronc riding.
Toward the end of July when the Cheyenne show rolled around, Gene was high on the IRA point list. There again he proved his sensational versatility in the arena by winning the show championship against the best rodeo talent in the business. He won out in the calf roping over Toots Mansfield by two-tenths of a second, tying his three calves in 47.2 and pocketing $1,220 for that effort. Then Rambo went on to win the bareback bronc riding and placed second, by only two-tenths of a second, to Homer Pettigrew in the bulldogging.
Soon after Cheyenne Gene went to the top of the point award list and stayed there until the end of the season.
Currently, Gene Rambo is one of the most proficient all-around cowboys the Western states have ever produced. He has been contesting professionally now for over ten years, and there isn’t a contest or event in the books that he has not tried at one time or another. He busts steers nearly as well as he ropes calves. Brahman bulls, too, were once Gene’s best doin’s and he won a lot of money topping the tough beef.
John Bowman, that old veteran of rodeo, recently said of Gene: “He’s the greatest hand there is today or ever has been before. He’s tops; you can’t beat him as an all-around cowboy.”
Don McMillan, lifelong friend of Gene’s who lives near his home, has said: “Naturally, we who have seen Gene grow up from a mean little devil, who had to be boosted on to the horse he was riding, think he’s the greatest all-around cowboy (which is what a cowboy is suppose to be after all) who ever worked in the arena.”
Gene Rambo was born in San Miguel, California, on June 12, 1920. He now makes his home at Shandon, where he has been since he was eleven years old. Before that time, however, the Rambo family lived on the Wayland Cattle Ranch in Stone Canyon district in Monterey County. Gene’s dad was foreman of the ranch and a good bronc rider and horse breaker. He taught Gene the art so well the boy was breaking colts when he was only seven years old. Yes, he was getting bucked off, too.
“Besides riding horses,” Don McMillan says, “Gene’s favorite pastime then was making life miserable for any poor, tired cowboy who dropped in at the Wayland Ranch.”
At Shandon said Gene was a great high school athlete and when he left school in his sophomore year he turned his athletic ability toward rodeo. His first win was at Prescott, Arizona, in 1938, where he placed in the bronc riding. Around this time the famous John Schneider, a great all-around cowboy himself in the early 1930’s taught Gene the tricks of bull and bareback bronc riding.
For a man who has contested in every event for some ten years you would expect Gene to be pretty beaten up, but, although he has had some bad knocks, he has never been seriously hurt.
Despite various injuries Gene has managed to stay aboard the best bucking mounts for the allotted time during the past few years. In 1942 he rode Bob Barmby’s “PDQ” at Willits, California. At the Cow Palace in 1946 he rode Harry Rowell’s ‘Scene Shifter’ and Rowell’s ‘Major Lou’ at the Palace last year. He had also ridden ‘Scene Shifter’ once before at Livermore, California. Verne Elliott’s ‘Ham What Am’ has felt the Rambo spurs for ten seconds, and so have Andy Jauregui’s ‘Will James’ and Joe Kelsey’s head-slinging six year old ‘Snake’ the horse that Gene conquered at Pendleton last year.
Gene thinks his toughest ride was on a horse of Doc Sorensen’s named ‘Fox’ last year at Ogden, Utah. The horse reputedly had never been ridden for two years, but Gene made a spectacular ride on him until the whistle blew. Gene admitted later that his “‘luck worked out just right.”
In 1947 Gene won most of his points in the roping events on one of his good mounts, ‘Nita’, a registered Quarter horse mare our of RO stock. Nita is a bay, weighs 1,100 pounds and stands 14.2 hands. One of the fastest times Gene ever wrapped up a calf was on Nita at Salt Lake City in 1945. After Gene had done the job the stop watches read 11.2.
Gene’s other crack roping horse, on which he won most of his roping points last year, is ‘Jess’, a seven year-old Oklahoma Star gelding. Also a bay, this mount weighs about the same as Nita and is a little taller. Roping on Jess last year, Gene tied a calf down at Pendleton in 13.4. He used this horse for his roping win at Cheyenne when he beat Toots (Mansfield) in 1948.
To win the ’48 crown of cowboy contestants Gene traveled about 30,000 miles and entered more than 30 Western contests. He won about $20,000 last year and you can bet a lot of it is being banked for those two kids of his – a girl, five years old and a three month-old boy.
Gene stands five feet, ten inches and weighs 180. He is hard as a rock and stays in perfect shape. According to McMillan, he has an amazing amount of energy which seems to stay with him all the time.
“At Salt Lake City in 1947,” says McMillan, “Gene was riding a wild bareback bronc that plunged headlong into the arena fence just at the whistle. The horse bounced back, dead as a gutted jack-rabbit, leaving Gene hanging on the top of the fence badly bruised and shirtless. Despite these bruises and a deep wound in the palm of his hand, Gene went on to work in three events that afternoon and three that night. Then he sat around until 2 a.m. to be paid off, took a shower, loaded his horse and drove to Cheyenne, a distance of 480 miles. I was with him during all of this and it liked to wore me out just watching him.”
Gene owns two good-sized ranches, one in Cholame Valley and the other on Castle Mountain in Monterey County, which he operates and works when he’s not rodeoing. Bill Linderman once said that Gene nearly worked him to skin and bone when he was visiting him on one of the ranches.
A modest, easy-going fellow, Gene is well-liked by the rodeo gang and praised by rodeo fans. He has undoubtedly won more fame and money than anyone his age in the rodeo game, but try to get him to talk about his exploits in the arena!
McMillan says, “In 1947 I got LOOK magazine to send a man to Cheyenne to write a picture story on Gene at the show there. Well, the big lug was so hard to do anything with that LOOK finally gave up. But he is one of the squarest shooters and best fellows to travel around with that I ever knew.”
Gene Rambo has been said by many a cowboy to have been the most versatile All-Around Cowboy of any generation. Rambo’s name is not in the PRCA Media Book as a Champion in any event, but has been inducted in to the ProRodeo Hall of Fame as an All-Around, and in the Rodeo Historical Rodeo Hall of Fame in the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, which is proof enough of his abilities in early day rodeo. He won the IRA World Championships under the IRA rules.