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KO Rodeo Ground's Oral Zumwalt - by Lee Hames - Part 6 - 'A Second Season With Cremer - Midnight At Cheyenne - On the Circuit'

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For two years running, Hames had referred to his arrangement with the principal of his school, allowing him to “arrive a little late.” If that sounds unlikely, think again. He was a student at Missoula County High School during this time and the principal was Hal Ketcham, who was remembered fondly in Missoula after serving for more than 30 years, beginning in 1912. The Hames family moved from Stevensville, Mt., to Missoula in 1932, when Lee would have been 13 years old. Keeping youngsters in school was surely a challenge during this time, given that the country was in the midst of the most severe depression in its history. The temptation to simply quit school and seek employment would have been ever-present in the plans of any vigorous young man. Yet, Hames did like school and it seemed to be easy for him, probably too easy.

Although he seemed to be doing well in his studies, school could not compete with the lure of the cowboy life that he knew he would resume when school was out. After taking his final exams early the following spring, he was ready to go on the road again.

“I received a letter from Zoomie asking me to meet him in Helena. I put my rodeo gear in the same old gunny sacks, rolled my bedroll, and caught the train for Helena. When the train pulled into the Helena station, Zoomie was standing on the station platform waiting for me. We loaded my gear into the Dodge and took off for Zoomie’s mother-in-law’s ranch near Wolf Creek.”

Hames next related an incident that establishes that Zumwalt was not a ‘horse-whisperer’, nor did he want to be. If force was required to manage his horses, he was more than willing to use it - not always with the best results.

“Zoomie had wintered some horses at her ranch and some of them were unbroken stallions that needed to be branded and gelded. We rounded up these stallions and put them into a big round corral. As the stallions circled the corral at a gallop, the cowboys roped them by their front feet and threw them to the ground. As soon as the stallion was on the ground, a cowboy jumped onto his head, grabbed him by the nostrils and ears, and held him down on the ground. As long as the cowboy had the horse’s head turned up with nose pointing toward the sky, holding the horse down was not very difficult. Ropes were then placed around the horse’s hind legs drawing them forward so all four feet could be tied together. When the horse was completely immobilized he was then gelded and branded.

“Zoomie was holding one of the stallions down when the horse got his head free and grabbed Zoomie’s hand with his teeth. The stallion bit the center finger off Zoomie’s left hand at the big knuckle and the finger was so badly crushed, it hardly bled. Zoomie said it didn’t hurt very much, was just sort of numb and he prepared to go on with branding. Everyone insisted he go to the house to doctor his hand. His mother-in-law took one look at his hand, shoved him into the car, and drove him to Great Falls to a doctor. The doctor examined the hand and stated that because the remaining part of the finger was so badly crushed, the entire finger had to be removed. Zoomie was hospitalized for the night but returned to the ranch to work stock by noon of the next day. When the hand healed, the doctor had done such a good job you might have thought Zoomie had been born with just four fingers on his left hand.”

Not long after that incident Hames and Zumwalt were on their way to the Livingston rodeo. Absent had been Booger Red - now working full time for Cremer’s rodeo operation. Hames described one of Cremer’s new acts that attracted the crowd’s attention at the Livingston rodeo.

“Cremer had also come up with some new acts for the crowd. Mike Hastings, one of the world’s best bulldoggers, would bulldog a steer from a motorcycle with Booger Red hazing for him on horseback. Everything seemed to be going smoothly with the hazing horse, steer and motorcycle all coming out of the box together. Hastings rode behind some fellow on a big Indian cycle and as they went by the steer, he leaned over and jumped onto the steer’s horns. When Hastings stopped the steer, Red’s hazing horse seemed to notice the cycle for the first time, spooked, bucked Red off and ran away. Needless to say, this was an unexpected addition to Cremer’s crowd-pleaser.

“Zoomie went back to the ranch to allow his hand some more healing time and I returned to Missoula to a rodeo being produced by Roy King. King’s stock was not nearly as tough as Cremer’s and I managed to place in both saddle bronc and bareback riding . . .

“After the Missoula Rodeo, I took the train back to Helena to rejoin Zoomie. We stayed around Augusta and Wolf Creek for a few days and then took off for Calgary. Zoomie thought his hand was healed enough for him to enter both the calf roping and steer decorating. At Calgary, calf roping was California–style dallying instead of tying hard and fast to the saddlehorn. Bulldogging was outlawed in Canada and replaced with “Steer Decorating.” Bulldogging and steer decorating start the same way. In both events the steer is brought to a stop. In bulldogging, the steer is thrown, while in decorating, the contestant leaves the box carrying a ribbon attached to a rubber band which must be placed over the steer’s horns. In bulldogging, time is stopped when the dogger has the steer laying flat on his side. In decorating, time stops when the decorator raises his hands in the air turning the steer loose with the ribbon on his horns. Zoomie won some money in both events. I rode some steers for mount money, made a fair ride on a bareback horse, but did not place in the money.”

From Calgary, Hames and Zumwalt joined two other cowboy friends and drove 1,200 miles to the next rodeo in Cheyenne. Only averaging 30 miles an hour on mostly gravel roads, “The trip took five days, driving day and night, eating and sleeping in the car and occasionally stopping to unload, feed, water and exercise the horses. When we arrived in Cheyenne, both men and horses needed several days to recuperate.”

At the Cheyenne rodeo Hames witnessed one of the most famous broncs of all time – Midnight. This Canadian horse, known for its double kick, was reputedly never ridden in a sanctioned event. It was also known to be of a gentle nature when not mounted and at times, during a rodeo, it returned to a fallen rider without further incident. One rodeo scribe has reported that Midnight’s final U. S. appearance came in 1933 at the Cheyenne Frontier Days rodeo.

“He [Midnight] was black and showed quite a lot of Percheron draft horse blood in him. The horse was raised in Canada, imported into the United States and had been to most of the major rodeos in both countries, and, at different times had bucked off most of the rodeo world’s best bronc riders. Turk Greenough won the saddle bronc riding so he was required to make an exhibition ride on Midnight. Turk got a bad start out of the chute and got bucked off. Zoomie, Turk and I teamed up in the wild horse race and won first money. Zoomie placed in both calf roping and bulldogging so we left Cheyenne with money in our pockets.”

Next they traveled back across the arid plain to a Billings rodeo put on by Leo Cremer.

Here Hames recounts another of Zoomie’s observations: “Have you ever seen a more desolate looking, god-forsaken country? No wonder the law couldn’t catch Butch Cassidy up here. You can see 50 miles in any direction. There wasn’t any way they could sneak up on him. I will bet that the jack rabbits and rattlesnakes carry a lunch bucket and water sack when they cross these flats.”

Zumwalt and Hames again won money at this rodeo, while Zumwalt also worked as arena director and Hames hazed for the bulldoggers and helped “drag the brahma bulls from the arena. I placed in the bareback riding and won my first money in a big rodeo.”

After the Billings rodeo they loaded stock and cowboys on old railroad cars that Cremer now used for transporting his rodeo company.

“Cremer had acquired some old railroad baggage cars which he converted for traveling by stripping out the interiors and remodeling them into a bunk-house and cook-shack plus space for hauling the bucking stock from rodeo to rodeo. Cremer paid the railroad by the mile for moving the outfit from town to town. In this manner, he avoided having to pay the railroad demurrage while the cars were parked on a railroad siding during the rodeo. It was more or less a traveling home for the rodeo cowboys. Zoomie, Red and I helped Cremer’s crew move the rodeo stock to the Billings stockyards and load out for shipment to the Great Falls Fair.”

At Great Falls, Hames described the rodeo and the entertainment that was now following the rodeo circuit.

“Rodeos were going through many changes at that time. They were no longer just cowboy entertainment put on by small communities. The cowboys themselves were becoming organized, professional athletes and many movie stars, country singers, and dancers were performing before rodeo audiences. At the Great Falls Fair, Patsy Montana sang, “I Want to be a Cowboy's Sweetheart” and “Good Bye Old Paint, I am Leaving Cheyenne” and several other popular cowboy songs.”

Hames also described the ride of another Missoula area cowboy who is now in the Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame, Bob Olson.

“Bob Olson won the saddle bronc riding at the fair. Bob probably had the strongest arm of any bronc rider in the rodeo game at that time. He could measure his bronc rein in such a manner that it was impossible for a bronc to get his head down far enough to buck Bob off. It was very seldom that Bob got bucked off but some judges took points away from him for taking the bronc’s head away so much, and consequently, Bob sometimes was scored a little lower than he deserved.”

From Great Falls they moved west toward the coast, where they would make another circuit.

“After the Great Falls rodeo, Zoomie and Red decided to go over towards the West Coast where rodeo producers, Bernard and Moomaw had a circuit of four rodeos that could be made in about three weeks. We traveled to Lewiston, Idaho, where Zoomie and Red entered the calf roping and bulldogging and they both placed in the money. I entered both the bareback and saddle bronc riding. Bernard and Moomaw had big bucking horses that were similar to the Cremer string. Most of their horses were old, spoiled work horses, half hot blood and half draft blood, that had come straight off the Palouse country combines where they worked as many as 32 horses in one team. I made a good ride on my saddle bronc but did not mark high enough to win any money. In the bareback riding, I placed in the money, though. We went to Pendleton, Oregon, which was not too many miles away. At Pendleton, the saddle bronc riding was divided into two events. For the cowboys there for the first time, the event was called the Northwest Bucking Horse Championship, and was run the old-time way the original Pendleton roundup cowboys rode bucking horses. New cowboys, and any cowboy that had never won any money at Pendleton, could enter this event while the older, more experienced hands entered the professional riding as there was more purse money to be won. In the Northwest Championship, the broncs were snubbed between two saddle horses in the arena, blind-folded, saddled, mounted and turned loose. Rules for judging were the same for the Northwest as for the Professional bronc riding that came out of the chutes. The six highest-marked riders in the Northwest event were required to ride an additional horse for a winner-take-all ride-off for the championship and grand prize. I made it into the six high ride-off but failed to win it. I won some money in the bareback riding, and Zoomie and Red won a lot of money in the calf roping and bulldogging. After the Pendleton rodeo, I bought a train ticket to Missoula to go back to school. Zoomie and Red loaded their horses into the trailer and left for California.”

Last Updated on Saturday, 24 January 2015 19:43