FAMOUS COWBOYS IN GILA COUNTY, AZ

In 1884 the sport of Rodeo was born in Arizona's Rim Country and has never missed a year since that time.  Some of the world's most famous cowboys and cowgirls got their start at the Annual World's Oldest Continuous Rodeo.  Listed below are some of the early contributors to what is now the longest running rodeo in the World.  For more information about this year's rodeo - click here .

 

Gila County was also known for being a pretty rough area and because it was so isolated, some of the most deadly outlaws would hold up in this area to hide from would-be pursuers.  Below you will find some pretty well-known names who all had ties to Gila County at some point of time in their lives.

Arizona Charlie's adventures began when, as a teenager, he rode from Visalia, California, to the Payson area with his family to homestead their Diamond Valley Ranch. Their six loaded wagons and hundreds of horses and cattle must have made quite an entrance into Rim Country in the spring of 1877.

 

The saga continued with Indian raids that killed Charlie's father and brother and later, the decline of the cattle market. After helping start Payson's rodeo in 1884, Charlie let his riding and roping skills take him into the Wild West Show business. Travel to Australia, the Orient, Europe, and Alaska brought him into contact with Buffalo Bill, Annie Oakley, Rudyard Kipling, Will Rogers, and Jack London.

 

Meadows struck it rich at the Klondike Gold Rush, but lost his mine in a poker game. The theatre he opened in Dawson, Yukon Territory, is still in operation.
 

He retired near Yuma, Arizona. A reckless auto driver, he survived an accident in 1932; when friends told him to be careful, he replied, “It’ll be a snowy day in Yuma when they plant this old Hassayamper.”
 

Meadows died on December 9, 1932. On that day, it snowed an inch and a half in Yuma. It hasn’t snowed there since.

 

For more info about Arizona Charlie Meadows - click here

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Co-Founder of the World's Oldest Continuous Rodeo

ARIZONA CHARLIE MEADOWS

The Chilson family has been part of Payson's history longer than there has been a Payson.  Emer and Margaret Chilson came to Payson from the Globe-Miami area. The couple had arrived in Arizona in July 1878 from Downey, California.  

Their son John, along with Arizona Charlie Meadows were co-organizers of the first Payson Rodeo that took place in 1884.  Thus etching his name in western cowboy history, as today the rodeo is now a sanctioned PRCA event and is known as the World's Oldest Continuous Rodeo. 

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Co-Founder of the World's Oldest Continuous Rodeo

JOHN COLLINS CHILSON

George Cline (1886-1976), was a product of the rugged cow country of the Tonto Basin. Like his grandfather, Christian Cline, and his father John Cline, George spent his life in the cattle ranching business and bet lots of money on horse races. An outstanding roper, George earned the title of Arizona Calf Tying Champion during the Payson Rodeo of 1916. He won the World Championship Bull Tying Contest in Phoenix in 1919. In 1923, he rode a train to New York where he won first place in calf tying at Yankee Stadium. On his return trip to Arizona, he won the calf roping, team tying, and wild cow milking events in both Cheyenne and Denver. In 1925, George returned to New York and became to first man to rope a calf in the newly built Madison Square Gardens.

 

Among cowboys, George Cline was one of the best. He was a well-respected cattle rancher and rodeo cowboy. He also owned some of the best racehorses in the world. His family still lives in the Tonto Basin today.
 

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World Champion Calf Roper from Tonto Basin, AZ

GEORGE CLINE

Joe Bassett (1911-1973) was a top cowboy both on the range and in the arena. The highlight of his career came in 1942 when he won the title of World Champion Team Roper. The following year he was privileged to perform at Madison Square Garden, New York as a World Champion Team Roper. He stayed in the top ten in the Rodeo Cowboys Association team roping standings from 1945 to 1952. Again in 1952, he was named World Champion Roper, along with his partner, Asbury Schell.

           

Joe was known as the dean among trainers of racing Quarter Horses in Arizona. In 1969, he won the $100,000 Invitational Quarter Horse Stake Race at Los Alamitos, California, the top Quarter Horse meet in the nation.

 

Joe participated and won many Payson Rodeos. In the famous hotly-matched race of 1952, between Brown Bomber and Cindy McCue, Joe Bassett bull-dogged Wayne Ewing off his horse after the finish line because Ewing had batted Bomber in the face with his whip. Joe lost the race, but won the fight. Many had bet on this horse race, and when they saw the fight start, they put down bets on the fight.  Once again proving this was a WILD and rough place.

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Famous Racehorse Trainer and Cowboy From Tonto Basin, AZ

JOE BASSETT

Asbury Schell on Cherokee Jake - Considered one of the stoutest horses ever on the end of a rope. 

 

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Cowboy - Calf Roper

ASBURY SCHELL

Lee Barkdoll ( 1902 – 1938) was born in Bisbee, Arizona, in 1902, to Guy Barkdoll and Irene Chilson.  He moved to the Payson area when he was 14 years old.  For a number of years, ending in 1935, he was foreman of the Bar T Bar Ranch, located on Deer Creek. 

During this time, he followed the rodeos and was champion at many.  Lee competed in calf roping, wild cow milking, and team roping all over the state of Arizona especially in his home town of Payson at the World's Oldest Continuous Rodeo.

Lee owned several good roping horses.  Coon (pictured here) was a Texas cutting horse, bought from Elmer Jones of Texas.  

Lee and Joe Bassett won the team roping contest at Tucson, Arizona in February 1939.  Lee was killed at a railroad crossing in Tucson the last night of the rodeo.  He was returning home after collecting his part of the prize - $189.  Lee died February 23, 1938, and is buried in the Payson Pioneer Cemetery.

 

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Champion Team Roper, Calf Roper and Ranch Forman 

LEE BARKDOLL

Leroy Tucker was born in 1928 to Roy and Georgia Tucker at their Frying Pan Ranch in the Greenback Valley of Arizona. Leroy literally grew up on the back of a horse learning the art of the cowboy in a country so rough that a cow could take a bad step and fall out of a pasture.  As soon as Leroy could crawl onto the back of a cow pony, he was called on to help move the Frying Pan sale-cattle from Greenback to the rails at Birch, near Globe where they were loaded on the train.  This was no small chore as the drives lasted for seven days.  

 

His ranching responsibilities doubled as the end of 1951 when his father, Roy, died of a heart attack.  Leroy took over the cattle operations and soon began to buy out his mother's interest in the ranch.  Family duties and ranch work kept him from a full-time rodeo career; still, Leroy was a consistent winner at Payson, Globe, Springerville, Casa Grande, St. Johns  and other nearby towns.

 

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Champion Calf Roper, Bulldoger and ARA All-Around Cowboy - 1957

LEROY TUCKER

Floyd Pyle was born in Star Valley in 1891. When he graduated from the eighth grade, he was drawing top cowboy wages from Hi Fuller’s U Bar Outfit headquartered at Cold Springs near Payson. He later worked for Hook Larson, of Pleasant Valley War Fame, on the 13 Ranch. By the age of 22 he owned the Myrtle Ranch on Ellison Creek and was a full partner with his sister on the P Bar L in Star Valley. Floyd braided his own rawhide reatas and his roping skill, honed on the Ladino “outlaw” cattle under the Mogollon Rim, became legendary.

 

As a government hunter of mountain lions, Floyd’s yearly kills often exceeded fifty. He caught the first mountain lion alive for the San Diego Zoo and in the 1920s he caught both lion and bear alive for Zane Grey when the famous author went into the movie business. During the filming of one scene, Floyd roped a lion in mid-air as he leaped from a high boulder. Floyd crossed the great divide in 1961 leaving the legacy of a Mountain Cowboy.

 

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Cowboy, Government Mountain Lion Hunter, Zane Grey Hunting Guide

FLOYD PYLE

Dick Robbins and his rope horse, Tacky, traveled the rodeo circuit. Dick roped with Lee Barkdoll, Ben Robbins, and others. Born in 1900 in Tempe, Arizona he always wanted to Rodeo. 
 

Dick was one of the most colorful characters to ever rodeo in Payson. His quick wit gave many a laugh to competitors and spectators alike. “I know there’s money in rodeo,” quipped Dick at one of the Payson Rodeos, “cause I put it there!” Dick died March 1, 1983.

 

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Rodeo Cowboy

DICK ROBBINS

"Horn competed against Arizona Charlie Meadows at the Payson "rodeo". Meadows beat him out, with Horn coming in second in steer tying. Horn then performed at the Fourth of July 1889 celebration in Globe and won with the remarkable time of fifty-eight seconds. His success persuaded his friends that he should enter the competition at the territorial fair in Phoenix, which took place on 16-18 October 1889. Horn beat Meadows with the time of one minute, nineteen seconds. Apparently, the performances of Horn and Meadows persuaded Buffalo Bill Cody to ask them to join his show. 

"At this time, Horn was serving as a deputy to Gila County Sheriff Glenn Reynolds. His assignment was in Pleasant Valley, and he listed his residence as Pleasant Valley when he entered the competition at Phoenix.  There is some fundamental proof that he may have actually been living in Globe, Arizona at the time.

 

Even though he was known for his rodeo skills, his most enduring legacy was as a civilian packer and scout for the U.S. Army in the Apache campaigns of the 1880s, as a Pinkerton operative and, finally, as a Wyoming range detective.

 

In May 1892, the Pinkerton agency sent Horn to Johnson County in the aftermath of the Cattlemen’s Invasion. Horn left the Pinkertons and gained employ with the Wyoming Stock Growers Association and, later, entered the service of individual range barons. While Horn was never convicted in a court of law of assassinating an alleged livestock thief, by 1895 he had the reputation of being a killer-for-hire.  He may have shot and killed at least four men.

 

He death is still somewhat of a mystery of exactly what happened.  But it is the stuff of WILD WEST LEGENDS.   The story begins as he rides into a small town and provokes prizefighter Jim Corbett, ending up in a livery stable, unconscious and badly bruised.

Cattle company owner John Coble finds Horn in the livery and offers him the use of his ranch to recuperate. He also offers him work investigating and deterring cattle rustlers who steal from the grazing association to which Coble belongs. He implies that the association will support Horn in implementing vigilante justice. Horn accepts the offer and receives the approval of U.S. marshal Joe Belle at an association picnic where he also catches the eye of Glendolene, the local schoolteacher.

 

Calling himself a "stock detective," Horn confronts cowboys at an auction whose cattle bear Coble's brand. After giving them fair warning, he goes on a one-man crusade to kill or otherwise drive off anyone who rustles the cattle of his benefactors.

 

Horn's methods are brutal but effective. After a public gunfight, the local townspeople become alarmed at his violent nature and public opinion turns against him. The owners of the large cattle companies realize that while he is doing exactly what they hired him to do, his tactics will ultimately tarnish their image and begin to plot his demise. Joe Belle, who has political ambitions, wants Horn out of the way for the same reasons. Their conspiracy is set in motion when a young boy tending sheep is shot by a .45-60; the same caliber rifle Tom Horn is known to use.

 

Horn is slow to realize that he is being set up. Proud and convinced of his own innocence, he refuses to leave the county or avoid the town. Glendolene and Coble try to warn him to be careful, but Horn ignores the warning. Joe Belle coaxes Horn from a saloon and back to his office where a man transcribing their conversation is hidden in the next room. Horn does not admit to the murders but states that "If I did shoot that boy, it was the best shot I ever made." Based on this conversation, Horn is taken prisoner.

Unaccustomed to being unable to come and go as he pleases into his beloved hills, Horn seems lost. He breaks out of jail and attempts to flee. He is recaptured and convicted based on the testimony of the newspaperman who skewed the conversation between Belle and Horn.

 

As his execution nears, Horn accepts his fate and remains resolved in the moments before he is hanged.

Cowpuncher, Pioneer, Rodeo Star, Lawman and Government Scout

TOM HORN

Frank Kelly was born in 1939 in Oklahoma.  He was quoted in "Rodeo 101 - Written by Jinx and Jayne Pyle" as saying - I was one year old when I came to Arizona."  "I was raised in the Mesa-Gilbert area and sometimes Payson."  "I started riding bulls when i was a teenager, and I quite rodeos in 1991.  People have told me that I must be crazy to ride bulls, but it gave me confidence.  I knew I could do anything I wanted to do."

 

Frank is known to his friends as "Machine Gun Kelly."  He married Tammy Sanders of Payson who is a six-time World Champion Bull Rider.  Frank and Tammy have a bull riding school at their home in Queen Creek, Arizona.  Frank Kelly has won the bull riding in professional rodeos for five consecutive decades - the only man to do so.  The first was in 1957 and the last in 1991.  He rode a bull in a Steve McQueen movie, "Junior Bonner."

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World Champion Bull Rider

Frank "Machine Gun" Kelly

Hardt was a well-known roper. He was recognized throughout the southwest for his bull riding and roping talents. His rodeo career began in 1962 at the World's Oldest Continuous Rodeo in Payson, Arizona.

 

Born in El Paso, Texas on February 9, 1943, he moved to Payson in 1961 where he was a star high school athlete in track and basketball.  Gary started riding bulls in high school and entered in the bull riding at the Payson Rodeo in 1962.  Gary had been chosen to play on the Arizona High School Basketball Team, but the day he was supposed to start, he rode his first bull in Payson.  From there, he performed in rodeos all over the southwest.  He was a well-known rodeo personality for all of his life until he was killed in a construction accident in Flagstaff, Arizona on October 1, 1987.  The Gary Hardt Memorial Rodeo, a PRCA show, is held in Payson each spring in his honor.  For more information about this rodeo - click here .

Cowboy, Roper and Bullrider

GARY HARDT

Nancy Sheppard is the only woman ever to stand on a running horse and spin two ropes at the same time.  She performed this trick while riding Roman Style at the Payson Rodeo.  Nancy Sheppard was a Gila County beauty that could ride and rope with the best male or female.  She often attended the Payson Rodeo on her horse Candy. 

                                                                                                                    
Nancy Sheppard was born to a Western ranching family on Dec. 29, 1929, in Fort Worth, Texas. Her father was a roper and member of the Cowboys’ Turtle Association and her mother began showing horses in the Fort Worth Coliseum as a child. Sheppard made her rodeo debut as a 9-year-old trick rider and roper at the Hayward, Calif., rodeo. By 11 she was performing at the Pendleton (Ore.) Roundup and, by 17, she was trick riding at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

 

For 22 years Sheppard rode and roped at rodeos from coast to coast and worked for some of the best-known stock contractors in the business – Harry Knight, Christensen Brothers, Leo Cremer and Everett Colborn. Her travels around the country afforded her the opportunity to visit and entertain in local hospitals, particularly in the children’s wards. Sheppard is the only woman in ProRodeo to perfect the act of standing on a running horse while spinning two ropes. In the 1950s she served as the contract acts representative to the Rodeo Cowboys Association, a role she took seriously. Long after her retirement from the rodeo arena Sheppard continued to make special appearances trick roping in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade and in Italy for clothing designer Giorgio Armani, always traveling in her full Western attire carrying her ropes.

Over the years, she has not only roped and rode her way into the hearts of rodeo fans all over the West, but Nancy Sheppard has been a worldwide ambassador for her sport and has introduced countless fans to the sport of rodeo.

Cowgirl, Trick Rider, Cowboy Hall of Fame and Cowgirl Hall of Fame Inductee

NANCY SHEPPARD