Western artists have roots in rodeo

Glenda Price

I’m sure it’s written someplace that every ranch boy must try riding a bull – in a rodeo – at least once in his life.

In the olden days most every town had an amateur rodeo every year – usually a jackpot deal. That was the perfect place for a ranch youngster to give it a try. Of course there was no Bob Romer (Bull Dancer) or Rob Smets (famous bullfighter) to save the cowboy’s life after the buckoff, but there were a few excellent clowns.

In the really early days rodeo bulls were mostly generic. The introduction of Brahman bulls changed all that because after they bucked off the rider they tried to eat his lunch. Later, other breeds entered the arena and now there’s a whole bucking bull breeding industry and they’re worth big money.

However, even in the old days stock contractors tried to find rank, mean bulls. There wasn’t any Justin Sports Medicine with Dr. Tandy Freeman, though. If a guy got hurt they carried him someplace behind the chutes, laid him down and went on with the show. At one of those punkin’ rollin’s we found a friend lying by the fence after his wreck, and took him to the hospital. We all laughed about it later — after he healed up and haired over.

At one rodeo the clown told cowhand Duke, “You’re on your own with that bull you’ve drawn. He ‘bout killed me last week.” Duke just figured he could probably outrun that bull when the time came. He also thought maybe his buddy Clay, the barrel man, could help out, forgetting the main reason Clay was in the can was on account of he was small enough to fit inside.

After a spectacular get-off (some might say fall off; the kind where the photographer has to be quick with the click) Duke’s body parts all still worked. Lucky, because the bull pawed the ground, slung snot, bellered and charged.

Duke ran to the barrel. Clay dived inside, grabbed the handholds and yelled, “You can’t get in here. There’s no room.”

So Duke ran around the barrel, Mr. Bull hooking at his britches. He switched directions, but danged if the bull didn’t just meet up with him on the other side. Meanwhile Clay kept yelling, “Get away from here. He’s gonna get me.”

So the “ring around the barrel chase” went on for awhile, Duke picking up speed, Clay’s shrieks getting louder. The audience loved it.

Finally, Duke decided to really run for it. Before he quite reached the arena fence he vaulted through the air like a grasshopper being chased by a banty rooster. He flew over that fence without touching a thing and landed – in the stock contractor’s lap.

Duke remembers, “He was laughing so hard tears were running down his face.”

Since then Duke Sundt has become a famous sculptor, and now we know why his subjects are so lifelike – his up-close and personal look at them. And Clay McWhorter probably stretched his lungs that day so he could be a successful singer. You know him as Clay Mac.

Glenda Price has been a contributing editor to New Mexico Stockman magazine since 1982. Contact her at glendaprice00@comcast.net.