Baby Doll Combs, owned by steer wrestler and Rodeo Champion Willard Combs is thought to be the best Steer Wrestling horse, or “bulldogger” that ever rode the circuit. During her seven peak years of rodeo competition from 1953 to when she died in 1960 she earned over $400,000 in prize money, which in today’s dollars would amount to around $2,965,000. In 1957 Willard Combs won the Championship Steer Wrestling title on Baby Doll, and that year, the cowboys who took second, third, fourth and fifth in the standings were also riding Baby Doll. Famous Rodeo Cowboy, Bill Linderman said that Baby Doll knew bulldogging better than some of the cowboys who were riding her. When she died at a Kansas Rodeo in 1960 from a ruptured spleen, Willard Combs had her shipped back to his ranch in Oklahoma to be buried. Standing at the graveside, when she was laid to rest were many of the cowboys who had ridden her. Baby Doll was inducted into the PRCAHall of Fame in 1979 with their very first class of inductees and is remembered as one of the greatest Rodeo horses of all times.
We are ready to kick up our heels and spend some time getting immersed in our western roots. We’re looking forward to some breathtaking bull riding on Friday night, an event that is sponsored by Pine Country Feed. Bull riding is all about the thrill, which is right up our alley. There is nothing quite like the cool mountain air, stars in the sky, hang on until the buzzer goes evening that you can only find at the Evergreen Rodeo. Come early and stop by the Pine Country booth where you’ll find the sassy style you have come to expect from our store. The Evergreen Rodeo is the official beginning of the western summer, so put on your hat, pull on your boots and get your fist around a turkey leg – it’s rodeo time!
Father’s Day weekend is legendary in Evergreen, Colorado; the weekend everything comes to a halt and residents become remnants of a bygone day, when there was nothing better than a night under the lights at the rodeo. Sit in the front row where you can feel the breath of the champion horses as they race past, carrying cowboys and cowgirls in their best show time regalia. We love the thrill of the ride, hoping the eight second clock will buzz before our cowboy flies into the air, wanting just one more bull rider to challenge the timer and beat the beast at his own game. It is the fun that reminds us we are Americans and we live in the west, where everything is a little wilder and a little more challenging and a lot more of what we love. Saddle up and wave your flag, you are about to enjoy a great chunk of Americana.
So we have recently found the choices for big cinema entertainment wanting, and we have finally put our finger on the problem. The movies tend to parade leading men across the screen who obviously spend a good portion of their time in the gym, not necessarily bad. But we are bothered by the fact that only a small handful of the real leaders could manage a ride on a horse. They simply wouldn’t look right astride one of the glorious equines of the Hollywood 40s and 50s and we can’t even imagine most of them being able to get on the horse without major injury. Cowboy movies, the real westerns that put the country west of the Mississippi on the map, needed men to be rugged, not fit necessarily, but tough, and since the horse has been removed as one of Hollywood’s main characters, that element of grit, of rock solid, take no prisoners, don’t make me pull my six shooter persona has faded to black. There have been a few westerns in the past decade that have proven that there are a few of those boys left, but too few to our liking. Somehow being able to download the secrets of the defense department before the guy in the suit walks into the room just doesn’t give off the same aura as a man who can control his horse with the reigns in his teeth, riding at the speed of locomotion, while he wields both of his guns with the accuracy of a sharpshooter. Imagine.
Academy award winning actor, Henry Fonda, awarded the sixth “Greatest Male Film Star of All Time” by the American Film Institute, played a variety of roles, in films that are considered classics, worth seeing again, like Jezebel, Twelve Angry Men, Grapes of Wrath and Mr. Roberts. He was a classic actor, always underplaying his role, but owning the screen nonetheless. So when the American Western became the film genre that everyone wanted, Henry Fonda found a way to make it work. In some ways he wasn’t believable as a cowboy. His features were a bit too refined and his voice had a compelling gentle timbre that didn’t ring true in the old west. Still, he pulled off some of his greatest roles in the saddle in The Tin Star, How the West Was Won, Fort Apache and Warlock, carving out for himself a place as the rational cowboy, the one who thought before he pulled his gun, and perhaps that is what movie goers came to love best about him. He brought civility to the dusty streets of Hollywood’s Wild West, and a bit of un-fussy refinement, and that was refreshing. He wasn’t one of those actors who seemed to be born with a Stetson on their head, but when he decided to wear one, it fit.
We have often wondered what it is about the legendary American cowboy that is so appealing to the world of 2011. They were people covered with calluses and basically held together by dirt, they rarely had money, many of them drank too much, they smelled of sweat both human and equine, they thought of spitting as a conventional past time and guns were their favorite accessory, and yet we love them and sometimes wish we were one of them. It is something about their grit, their willingness to keep going when the herd has run amuck, their quiet way of owning the room, their “not afraid of hard work, get it done” attitude that we think of as American fable. We want them to win, to get the girl, to love their horse, to kill the bad guy – and we want to believe that they do it all with the best of intentions and a heart of gold, because they belong to the roots of who we are. They are fully American and totally bigger than life and that makes them the center of our dreams and the thing we love to believe in. Just a bunch of guys who wrestled cows and rode the range and we can’t get enough of them.
The cowboy hat, though in large part, a fashion statement was originally developed and designed with the working cowboy, or ranch hand in mind. When the west was being settled there were any number of hat designs in use, bowlers being the most popular. The first cowboy has as we know it today was designed and manufactured in 1865 by John Batterson Stetson. He called his hat “Boss of the Plains” and it became the identifying accessory for the man of the American west. It had a wide brim, front and back to protect the eyes and the neck from sun and rain. They were made with four inch crowns to provide insulation from both heat and cold, they were light weight and waterproof. The hats were known for their rugged durability, standing up to any kind of punishment and they came to be a status symbol, an investment as it were to the working cow hand, and a fashion standard for men in the east. Early on the name Stetson became synonymous with the cowboy hat but even after the surge of the west its fame grew. In 1912 the battleship USS Maine was raised from Havana Harbor where it had sunk in 1898. A Stetson hat was recovered from the wreckage and after it was cleaned of debris, mud, and plant growth it proved to be undamaged and still waterproof.