Those names most often are on the lists of cowboys and cowgirls inducted in to the major halls of fame in our country which include the Rodeo Historical Society Rodeo Hall of Fame located in the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, or the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs. Some have even been inducted since I have been writing about the history of rodeo and those that made it the great sport it is today.
There is one name, however, that has not been inducted in either of these halls, but should be. His traveling partners, and good friends, have been honored by induction and he certainly should be, as well. He has the credentials, longevity in rodeo, and successes in the sport. I wonder if he has been overlooked because he had too many talents, and spread himself across the rodeo world in competing, assisting in putting on rodeos, leading those in his events, and being responsible for improving the equipment used in rodeo. Therefore, he never was a world champion, he didn’t ‘toot his own horn’ and just faded into the past.
This is his story:
Alvin “Alvie” Gordon was born January 9, 1910 in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, to Loretta and Elmer Gordon. He began riding horses to go to school in 1915, in Athena, Ore. That same year he went to the Pendleton RoundUp to watch his mother ride bucking horses. Whether watching his mother on bucking horses was the catalyst to Alvie making a career as a saddle bronc rider will never be determined. Alvie died February 28, 2004.
Loretta and Elmer separated early in Alvie’s life and he went to live with his dad in Montana. In 1924 Loretta and her husband, Frank Butler, picked fourteen-year-old Alvie up on their way to Belle Fourche, S.D., where he rode his first bareback horses and steers. After that rodeo, they traveled to Wolf Point, Mont., Cheyenne Frontier Days, Colorado Springs and Monte Vista, Colo., then on to Oklahoma and Texas rodeos. By the time he was sixteen, he struck out on his own and traveled with Leonard Stroud, an all-event cowboy. They went to Mexico where Alvie started steer wrestling. In 1926, they were in Fort Worth where he rode his first Brahma bull.
Alvie tried all events and found he liked saddle bronc riding the best, and made the most money in it. “My first saddle bronc was in Seymour, Texas,” Alvie remembered. In 1927 he went to Chicago to a Tex Austin rodeo held at Soldiers Field. There he met Oral Zumwalt, a bronc rider who also entered most events, and eventually became a stock contractor. They traveled together for several years to rodeos in the Northwest, including Montana and Idaho. By 1930, Alvie was traveling with Paddy Ryan and Turk Greenough, two well-known bronc riders. It was Alvie’s first trip to the important Madison Square Garden rodeo. Paddy Ryan and Bob Askin, also a bronc rider, drove back to Montana with him. Other well-known cowboys that traveled with Alvie were Burel Mulkey and Nick Knight.
Leo Cremer, a stock contractor and rodeo producer from Big Timber, Mont., hired Alvie to run the bucking chutes, in the early 1930s, but it didn’t interfere with his competing. His first big win in bronc riding was the Portland, Ore., International Livestock Show & Rodeo, 1932. He married Alice Neilson that year and they wintered in Burbank, Calif., where Alvie worked out of Fat Jones’s Stables in western movies. The movie studios knew Jones had a group of rodeo cowboys that hung around his stables during the off-season for rodeo. Alvie worked as a stuntman, an extra and an all-around hand on a movie set. He also worked Andy Jauregui rodeos and Alice worked in the office while Alvie ran the chutes. Then they were off to the rodeo at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933, where Alvie rode bareback horses and saddle broncs, twice a day, for thirty-seven days. He won day monies in the saddle bronc event, and ended up sixth in the bareback riding finals. The Saint Louis rodeo followed and Alvie’s saddle bronc rared up and turned over landing on top him. He stayed in the saddle but broke his hip and pelvis.
“My wife had never driven a car before and, of course, I couldn’t drive, but we had to get back to my dad’s place in Yakima, Wash.,. We had a half gallon of moonshine. I’d drink some for pain, and give her a drink. This went on until we got home in fine shape.” He chuckled.
Alvie’s first rodeo after his injury was Tex Austin’s 1934 rodeo in London, England. Competing against a strong field of riders including Pete Knight, Turk Greenough, Herman Linder, Floyd Stillings and Eddie Woods, he won the International Championship Saddle Bronc Riding title as well as a gold and silver belt buckle. Turk Greenough said, in the book about Leo Cremer, Mr Rodeo, “I was the first guy to ride Midnight, in London that year. Alvie Gordon won the bronc riding and he’s the last guy to ride Midnight.”
When the Cowboys' Turtle Association was formed at the Boston rodeo in 1936, Alvie was clear across the nation in Portland, Ore., but rodeo news traveled fast. He was sorry to have missed the strike and joined the ‘Turtles’ as soon as he could, during the Chandler, Ariz., rodeo. He held CTA number 45. The state of Montana chose a picture of Alvie on a bucking horse, taken at the Livingston Rodeo, for the cover of their tourist magazine given to all travelers that visited the state. The same photo was used for the cover of Ketch Pen magazine, August 1989 issue. Alvie also joined the Screen Actors Guild and Teamsters to be able to continue working on western movies as they moved back to California in 1936. He also contested at rodeos and ran Andy Jauregui’s J Spear Stock Company.
The following year he went to Australia as one of the United States’ competing cowboys for the Royal Easter Show in Sydney, where the U.S., and Canadian cowboys competed against the Australians. They had to qualify to be all-around cowboys to represent their countries and had to compete in several events, including wild cow milking and steer wrestling, once they arrived. Alvie was the captain of the American team at the Royal Easter Show in 1938 and 1939. The American team won the bronc riding in 1938. In 1939, a fourth competing team from New Zealand also attended. The Cowboys' Turtle Association selected Alvie to be the Bronc Riding representative for 1939 and 1940.
In 1939, Alvie and family were living at Autry’s ranch in Placerita Canyon, Calif., and he was asked to be in a brief movie, on horseback, for Chevrolet. It was filmed on the Andy Jauregui ranch with Red Lamerell and some think this film might be considered the first commercial ever made.
World War II took many of the rodeo cowboys away from their beloved sport to defend and represent our country. Alvie was competing at the Madison Square Garden rodeo when his draft notice arrived. Gene Autry, the western movie actor and singer had also joined the Army. He had a great deal of respect for Alvie and arranged a deferment with Alvie’s draft board back in California so he could finish the Garden rodeo, then on to Boston and Detroit rodeos. In fact, once Alvie joined the U. S. Army Autry got him assigned to Luke Air Field, in Arizona, where Autry was assigned, and the two worked together.
Alvie excelled at being a first class chute boss in rodeos and he was in big demand with the top rodeo producers. He said, “I used to flank the broncs in the chute, back when the flank strap had a buckle. When the pickup men picked up the rider they had to unbuckle the flank strap, which took time. When I was at Luke Field I saw the ‘quick release’ on parachutes and immediately thought it was exactly what the flank strap needed. I wrote a letter to Hamley Saddle Shop, up in Pendleton, who made the original association saddles and sent them a drawing of a ‘parachute trip,' you could jerk yourself. The first thing the pickup man would do is flip that cinch. Hamley was the first to make them and they made a bunch."
When Alvie was discharged from the U.S. Army he decided not to compete in rodeo. He went to work for the World’s Championship Rodeo, under Everett Colborn, and held the position as chute boss from 1944 to 1956. When the World’s Championship Rodeo was sold by Colborn, Alvie returned to California. He worked in western movies again, worked in the oil field and eventually retired.
He was married three times, Alice Neilson, Hilda Kooyman and Helen Winter, and had two sons with Kooyman, James Albert and Charles John Gordon. He was living with his son, Jim Gordon and wife, in San Diego, Calif., when I was lucky enough to do an audio interview with him in 2003. He had his PRCA Gold Card #4776 and volunteered at the senior center every day as long as he was able, where he received an award for his help. He died February 28, 2004, was cremated and his ashes were scattered at sea.
Alvin ‘Alvy’ Gordon is still being submitted for consideration to be inducted to the Rodeo Historical Society’s Rodeo Hall of Fame and the ProRodeo Hall of Fame.
If you have someone you feel merits being considered for induction please contact both of these organizations on-line and prepare the requested information for submission. Be sure you complete the registration forms thoroughly and accurately. You must be a member of the Rodeo Historical Society to do so. Remember, these are the top two halls of fame for rodeo in the country, and candidates must have been involved in rodeo for some time, and had a number of accomplishments in the world of rodeo.