A Pinch of Rodeo
By Joe R. Nichols
Tom Is a very dear family friend, close to my Dad’s age. He rodeoed professionally in the late 1940’s and all during the 50’s. The cowboys in his circle of friends and traveling partners were the legends of the sport. Men including Jim Shoulders, Casey Tibbs, Jack Bushbom, Gerald and Ken Roberts. I was fascinated by his experiences, and he’s a great story teller.
Tom had the reputation of being the wildest, most aggressive spurring bareback bronc rider in his era, and I looked up to him and always wanted to impress him.
At seventeen years old, I entered the bareback riding at the Tri-Rivers Fair and Rodeo in Salina, Kansas, my home town. Tom was there, behind the chutes as I got ready, but he didn’t speak to me before the ride.
My bronc went down the arena in a straight line, and didn’t buck all that hard. I spurred at him a little bit, but he jerked on me enough that he sat me up and my feet dropped. Rather than make an effort to get back and try to regain a spur lick, I finished the ride in safety mode. After all, I wasn’t going to risk getting bucked off in front of the home crowd. Getting a score was the most important task at hand.
Behind the chutes once again, I felt success was mine, and I couldn’t wait for Tom to come over and tell me what a great ride I made and how bright my future in rodeo would be. Finally, he approached, hat on a slight tilt, cigarette in hand.
“Did you get a score on that horse, Joe?”
“Yep. Sure did. 56 points,” I replied with my chest out.
“Uh huh. Is that winning anything?”
“Well, I’m not sure. I don’t think so.”
“You’ve never been bucked off, have you Joe?”
“Um, no, I haven’t.” I said with even more pride.
“And you’ve never won a dime either, have you.”
“Uh, well, no I guess not.”
“If you aint gonna spur ’em, then there’s no sense in you even getting on them.” He blew a bit of smoke as he walked away.
He shocked me in to reality, but I was devastated.
A few days later, I had the opportunity to spend some time with him, and he mentored me in a much kinder way. I gained a lifetime of knowledge that applies to much more than rodeo. His words taught me to get aggressive, and go after what I wanted. To make things happen, not to just wish they would happen.
Everyone should have a friend like Tom.