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KO Rodeo Ground's Oral Zumwalt - by Lee Hames - Part 5 - 'Cremer Rodeos / Girls Rodeo / Scott and Lane / Will James and Bob Askin'

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Cremer Rodeos / Girls Rodeo / Scott and Lane Rodeo / Cowboy Artist Will James and Bob Askin

Lee Hames spent the following school year dreaming about how his cowboy career would continue. He had already proved that he had what it took to become a rodeo hand and he was anxious to move on to the next level. He had also lost his ‘bashfulness’ and admitted to feeling “more mature than the other students.”

“The warm days of spring made my mind wander as I gazed out the window at the bright sunlight. I had been a good student and made fair grades all winter but now I was anxious to be on the rodeo circuit again.”

He arrived home one evening and found Zumwalt and Booger Red Allen visiting with his dad. The pair had wintered in Texas where they worked for the famed W. T. Johnson Rodeo Company at Austin. They had also visited Madison Square Garden and Boston Garden rodeos and were enthusiastic about the coming season in Montana.

Zumwalt had just married a girl from Montana whose widowed mother owned a ranch at Augusta, Montana, and they were traveling there for spring branding. After that they planned to travel to Big Timber, Montana, where they would round up bucking horses for Leo Cremer.

The Cremer ranch was the headquarters of Leo Cremer’s Rodeo Company which had started locally at Big Timber, but had outgrown Montana and was putting on rodeos all over the west. Cremer, who had attended Notre Dame, was an astute businessman and had acquired a reputation for producing topnotch rodeos. His rodeo acts included such well known people as Rex Allen, Gene Autry, Montie Montana, and Slim Pickens. Cremer’s Big Timber ranch would eventually own 75,000 acres.

Cremer’s rodeos were especially known for high quality bucking horses. The horses were divided into separate strings so that a fresh bunch was ready at a moment’s notice. The Montana Cowboy Hall of fame states that Cremer owned the “greatest string of bucking horses ever assembled under a single ownership.”

It was just what Lee Hames was looking for.

“When school ended for the summer, I put my riding gear into two gunny sacks and took the train to Big Timber. I had already written Zoomie a letter telling him the arrival time of the train. When the train ground to a halt, Zoomie and Red were at the station waiting for me.”

Their first job was driving a herd of bucking horses to the rodeo in Livingston, Montana, a 75 mile jaunt that took three days. When the Livingston rodeo started Hames was again riding Breaky and hazing for Zoomie and Red. Both of his friends earned money in their events, but a downside was Zoomie cracking his ribs in the bulldogging event. Hames contested in bareback riding but was bucked off quickly. He still had some things to learn.

Hames’ description of Cremer’s rodeos is especially fascinating here:

“Cremer was a superb showman with his rodeos well organized, colorful, flashy and managed so well they ran like clockwork. There were no gaps between events. Cremer was probably the first man in Montana to really try to make a business of promoting rodeos. He furnished the arena crew with nice hats, flashy bright-colored shirts and red chaps. A prize was always given at each rodeo for the best-dressed cowboy and cowgirl contestant.”

Cremer’s rodeo acts also became legendary.

“Slim Terrell bolted an old-fashioned washtub to a saddle. The saddle would be put on a bronc in the chute with about two inches of flour in it. Slim would sit down in the tub with his feet hanging over the sides. He would hold onto the tub’s handles and the bronc would be turned out of the chute. As the bronc bucked across the arena, a white cloud of dust from the flour enveloped Slim as he took a beating from the pounding of the tub. . .

“Felix Cooper, a black cowboy, who rode both saddle broncs and Brahma bulls, also performed as a bull fighting rodeo clown. Felix fought the bulls up real close and agreed to let at least one bull butt him at each performance. Of course Felix picked his chances very carefully and knew how to roll with the punches. . .

“Sometimes Cremer was unable to find enough contract performers so he dreamed up some acts of his own. Cremer had a big, long, open-topped touring car with running boards. With Cremer driving, Booger Red Allen would stand on the running board to bulldog a steer being hazed by Doug O’Donnell. Cremer would pay Red $10 to do this. Someone asked Red if he thought he was getting enough money for this act. Red’s reply was, “Hell, that only takes 10 seconds and you can hire all kinds of good cowboys for one dollar a day and that is for a 10-hour day, so I think I’m doing all right.”

Following the Livingston rodeo the trio then found time to travel to Missoula where Grey Scott and Ed Lane were to hold another rodeo. The Scott and Lane Wild West Show was known throughout the country in its day. Here is a rare mention of a Scott and Lane rodeo in connection with Missoula.

Hames later became friendly with Ed Lane and recounted Lane’s career in some detail. A member of the Rough Riders who were led by Colonel Roosevelt in Cuba during the Spanish American War, Lane was a friend of Roosevelt’s and participated in the battle of San Juan Hill.

Ed Lane was inducted in the Montana Rodeo Hall of Fame in 2013. His career covered a variety of things following his participation in the Spanish American war, including Oklahoma and Texas horse wrangling. He partnered with two Schall brothers, Rueben and William ‘Ed’, and the three settled near Arlee, Montana, where they became involved in buying and shipping Indian ‘spotted horses’ throughout the country. Later, with his partner, Grey Scott, they formed the Scott and Lane Wild West Company and began showing horses and performing at events all over the country.

“I mentioned to Zoomie that Grey Scott and Ed Lane were going to have a rodeo in Missoula. Zoomie figured that we could make it to Missoula and still get to Butte for Cremer’s next rodeo. We arrived in Missoula a few days before the rodeo and had nothing to do so we went on to the Scott and Lane ranch at Arlee. We found Scott and Lane short-handed and they were really glad to see some good cowboys show up. They hired us to help them drive some bucking horses to Missoula. The Scott and Lane outfit started in the rodeo business as a wild west show that traveled rodeo similar to a circus. Cowboys, cowgirls, bucking and parade horses, cattle and maybe a few buffalo, and always some Indians transported from town to town by train. At each town where they stopped, the stock was unloaded and a performance similar to a modern rodeo was held. Local cowboys and cowgirls at each stop were offered prize money for competing against the wild west crew. Many a future rodeo contestant received his initial rodeo training traveling on wild west tours. Several wild west shows (Buffalo Bill’s, Millers 101 Ranch and Scott and Lane) toured the United States and also went to Europe and Australia. The Scott and Lane show was financed by the Prince of Wales to tour Europe in the late 1920’s. When Scott and Lane stopped touring as a wild west show they began to produce local rodeos in western Montana. They always had flashy Palomino, Appaloosa and Pinto parade horses. Some of the Flathead Indians traveled with them on their wild west tours and continued to rodeo with them.”

The Montana Rodeo Hall of Fame cites an interesting event Scott and Lane held in Missoula:

"In 1928 Ed introduced “Push Ball” to the Missoula County Fair. Riding pinto/paints, Ed and three other riders pushed their horses into a giant leather ball used as training balls for football teams and the military. Made of leather the balls were as tall as a horse and scary to the animals. Two teams of two riders were skilled enough on horseback to force the horses to push this huge thing back and forth against a center mark."[1]

The Missoula rodeo proved to be lucrative for all three of them, when Hames made $40 and Red and Zoomie brought home $200 between them.

Here Hames again mentions his old friend Jim Haddix:

“Jim Haddix was a bronc rider who rodeoed some but mostly worked as a range cowboy. No one ever seemed to be able to recall seeing Jim get bucked off in the arena or on the range. Jim was older now and didn’t travel much anymore but he had an act that he would perform for $10. Jim had the rodeo producer put a saddle bronc in the chute. Jim came out on the bronc holding the bronc rein in his teeth and holding a small flag in each hand, shoulder high. If he failed to make a 10 second ride or lost either flag, he would not get paid anything. Jim spurred the bronc, made his ride and collected his $10.

Another act featured local rider Leland Tucker.

“Leland Tucker came out of the chute on a saddle bronc holding a mug of beer in his right hand. After the ride was completed, Tucker finished the remainder of the beer that was still in the mug. Tucker was awarded all the free beer he could drink that night at the Casa Loma dance hall across the street from the rodeo grounds.”

This Casa Loma building still stands, across the street from Sentinel High School.

From Missoula the cowboys traveled to Butte where they entered a much larger rodeo. Here, Hames would see what a topnotch rodeo looked like.

“Butte was a lot larger rodeo with bigger, tougher stock and the best rodeo contestants in the world. Zoomie and Red fit right in but I knew I was out of my class. The best cowboys in the world were here so all I did was haze for Zoomie and Red. I watched the big boys and thought to myself, ‘I will be there in a few more years.’

“At the Butte rodeo I saw my first all-girl rodeo contests. The girls contested against each other in saddle bronc riding, bareback bronc riding and wild cow riding. The cowgirls used the same stock, equipment and rules as the cowboys.
The Greenough sisters (Marge and Alice) were both there. In later years, Marge followed the Leo Cremer rodeo circuit making exhibition rides on a bucking horse called Little Snow. The last time I saw Marge ride Little Snow was at the Colorado State Fair in 1943, shortly before I went overseas.
[2] Alice married a cowboy named Joe Orr and after World War II, they developed a small rodeo circuit in southern Montana and northern Wyoming.

“The two Brander sisters from Ovando, Montana, were tall, ranch girls who owned and operated their own ranch. They were really good hands and competed in all three events. They had the small bald-faced roan horse with them that I had ridden in the bareback bronc riding at the Lolo rodeo. They were trying to sell the horse to Cremer for a bareback bronc. Cremer bought the horse and used him in the girl’s contests. For several years he was considered a fair bucking horse but then he started to only buck occasionally. I bought the horse from Cremer, broke him to ride and used him for several years. He became a very good saddle horse but on occasion he would buck a little.”

Hames’ father owned a horse that had attracted attention in the Bitterroot and Cremer made arrangements to buy the horse. It proved to be a good proposition for Cremer.

“Zoomie was buying bucking horses for Cremer so I told him about a big, gray work horse that my dad had that had been bucking the local cowboys off. Zoomie told Cremer about the horse, a big gentle well broke draft horse that had been worked in the hay fields. Cremer really loved those big rank, spoiled work horses. Their size and power made them very difficult to ride, especially the Percheron-Thoroughbred cross make exceptionally good saddle broncs. I had tried to ride this horse several times myself but had always gotten bucked off in just a few jumps. Cremer was always looking for bucking horses with a lot of size, and was known as the “Big Bronc Man,” rodeo producer. It was too late to take the horse to Butte so Cremer suggested Zoomie bring the horse to the Billings Fair.

“I took the bus back to Missoula to get my old truck and haul the gray horse to Billings while Zoomie and Red helped move the rodeo stock to Billings. I loaded the gray horse into the truck and hauled him to Billings. Before the rodeo began, Cremer had two good cowboys trying out some prospective bucking horses. Both of these top riders were bucked off by the gray horse so Cremer put him into the saddle bronc riding under the name of ‘Lees’ Pet.’ He was bucked out twice during the rodeo and was not ridden either time. The debut of commercial advertising around rodeo probably began with this old gray workhorse. A representative of the Lee Rider Overall Company heard of the horse and approached Cremer with the following proposition. Re-name the horse ‘Lee Rider’ and the overall company would do the following. Cremer was to announce the horse was being sponsored by the Lee Rider Overall Company and each time the horse came out of the chute, the Company would pay Cremer $5 plus an additional $5 if the rider got bucked off. Cremer had paid $200 for the horse and before the year’s rodeo season was over he had recovered most of his money.”

At Billings Hames would also witness one of the west’s most famous cowboys at work, the famed artist Will James. James' fascinating story is the subject of many books and his life was almost on a par with Charlie Russell’s. Hames was aware that Will James was an outsized individual and at this rodeo James went on to demonstrate that his cowboy skills were not imaginary.

“Cremer had a big brown, almost black, gelding named Will James. The horse had been named for the artist-writer-cowboy who had written and illustrated many books about cowboying. Will James was a good friend of Cremer’s and he came around the rodeos drawing pen and pencil sketches of the rodeo stock and cowboys. He had a small ranch south of Billings in the Pryor Mountains and a studio on Smoky Lane near the Rimrocks in Billings. He also had a drinking problem and whenever he got too much to drink the cowboys would take him to his studio to recuperate. He was an outstanding artist of early cowboy life and some art critics have said he put more realism and more correctly drew the muscling and action of a horse bucking than any other western artist. When you looked at his art you got the feeling he had been a real cowboy and had been there himself. There was nothing phony or faked about his art which was mostly pen, pencil or charcoal. He did some painting but preferred not to as he claimed he was never satisfied with his own paintings.

“Because Will James was an artist and writer, some of the cowboys doubted he had ever been a real cowboy. To prove he had been a cowboy, he offered to make an exhibition ride on the horse that Cremer called Will James at the Billings fair. Even though he was older than most rodeo riders, out of practice and did not spur very much, he made a successful ride on one of Cremer’s toughest broncs.”

At the Billings rodeo Hames earned some money riding bareback broncs, but the saddle broncs “were still too much for me.” They earned money working for Cremer at this rodeo and were then quickly off to the Miles City Stampede.

“Cremer had a contract to furnish the bucking stock and to produce the [Miles City] rodeo so he sent Zoomie to do the arena directing while Red would be the chute boss and I would help with the pickup work. Zoomie and Red also entered the competition in calf roping and bulldogging, while I entered both saddle bronc and bareback riding. Miles City was a very successful show for all three of us as we won quite a bit of money besides being paid by Cremer. Since I had planned to return to school after this rodeo, Zoomie paid me for hazing for him and Red for the season.”

Still waiting in Eastern Montana, Zumwalt offered Hames another chance to round up some wild horses, this time at the Bob Askin ranch near Ismay, Montana. Askin had already enjoyed one of the most famous careers in all of rodeo, riding the toughest horses everywhere. The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum inducted Askin into the Hall of Fame in 1978. His biography[3] tells of his championship ride at the Pendleton Roundup in 1925 and his success at riding the famous bronc – Midnight. Another story recounts Askin taking a bet offered by the famous Colfax, Washington cowboy, Yakima Canutt:

“Yakima had won the 1919 bronc riding on a horse called No Name. Bob Askin, an early-day bronc rider, said he knew he could ride the famous bucking horse, too. Yakima bet him $100 he couldn’t. Askin rode No Name and Yakima paid him $100."

Yakima Canutt had a fabulous career in rodeo and as a stunt man, and actor in Hollywood movies. His is credited with teaching John Wayne how to fall off a horse.[4]

“While we were settling our accounts, Zoomie asked me if I would like to go to the Askin Ranch at Ismay with Shirley Hussey to try out some bucking horses for Cremer. Zoomie said it would be good practice for me, I would make some money, and I would still have plenty of time to get to Missoula before school started. Shirley was a bronc rider from Washington State that made extra money locating and buying bucking horses for Cremer. Bob Askin had quit rodeo contesting by that time but was still actively operating a cow and horse outfit and always had some good bucking horses for sale. Askin was one of the greatest saddle bronc riders of all time and practically invented the rules for spurring bucking horses. When Askin told you he had some bucking horses for sale and you were in the market for some, you had better go and look at them. I decided this would be an opportunity to get some practice on some really rough stock while Cremer paid me for doing it.

“Askin, Shirley and I got into Askin’s beat up old truck and drove to the Askin ranch where we spent the night. After an early morning breakfast, Askin took us and his ranch cowboys down to his corrals where they all saddled their horses. Askin explained the bucking horses were in a large pasture where they could be caught and tried out. The crew of riders spread out over a big, flat area until they located the horses in a big, dry coulee that was like a box canyon. The riders crowded the horses into the head of the coulee where the dry banks were about 15 feet high. The coulee’s sides formed a sort of natural corral from which the only avenue of escape was the way they had come in. Askin formed his cowboys into a line across the coulee to prevent the horses from leaving.

“After the horses were corralled in the coulee, Askin and one of his cowboys rode into the bunch and roped one of the horses. Both men had a noose around the neck of the same horse. The roped horse was dragged from the bunch, blindfolded, saddled and mounted by either Shirley or myself then turned loose. The horse ran, bucked and attempted to return to the other horses. The horse was allowed to make about 10 jumps before Askin and his cowboys would catch him. As soon as the horse was caught, the rider dismounted, the saddle was stripped off and the horse was turned back to the bunch. They just wanted the horse to buck enough so Shirley could decide whether he thought the horse bucked hard enough for Cremer’s string. Shirley and I tried out 30 head of bucking horses that afternoon and only four or five became members of the Cremer’s rodeo outfit. It was lots of good practice for me but I was stiff and sore for a week.

“Shirley and I helped Askin deliver the horses to Miles City where I had left my old truck. Shirley went on to Cremer’s ranch with the horses and I loaded my gear into the old truck and headed west for another try at school.”

[1] Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame

[2] See H. L. Hames’ W.W. II book ‘The Mules’ Last Bray’, published 1996.

[3] Guide to the Bob Askin Collection - The Donald C. & Elizabeth M. Dickinson Research Center – National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.

[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yakima_Canutt

Last Updated on Sunday, 13 December 2015 18:59