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KO Rodeo Ground's Oral Zumwalt - by Lee Hames - Part 7 - 'A Job at the Oxford / Zoomie & Hollywood / Rankin’s Horses / Zoomie’s Kangaroo Folly / The End of School'

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A Job at the Oxford / Zoomie & Hollywood / Rankin’s Horses / Zoomie’s Kangaroo Folly / The End of School

When Hames returned to school this time, he found that the principal’s patience was now running shorter. Arriving almost three weeks late, after the Pendleton Rodeo, his teachers assigned him makeup work and gave him a deadline to complete it. If he didn’t finish this extra work, he would not be allowed to reenter until the following semester.

This task didn’t seem too big for Hames to accomplish: “In about two weeks’ time I had the work completed and had settled into the daily routine of attending school.”

One thing did change this time, however, when he found a job at the Oxford bar in downtown Missoula. Sadly, this would be Hames’s last year in school. He would join with thousands of other youngsters who sought employment just to keep a roof over their head.

“I found a job at a local gambling place for the winter. As soon as I got out of school, I worked an eight hour shift, six days a week. I took care of the pool tables, and worked an occasional shift on the gaming tables. Sometimes I worked in the teller’s cage selling chips, cashing checks and helping with the bookkeeping. I liked to work in the teller’s cage as that gave me some time to do my studying. This was during the depression, times were tough and jobs of any kind were scarce. I was making better wages in the gambling joint than I could get at any other job in town.”

Earlier, Zumwalt and Booger Red Allen had headed south for the winter. Their trip would not only involve routine rodeo work for these cowboys, but would also be an introduction to Hollywood.

“There was a rodeo somewhere in California every weekend and of course there was work in the Hollywood westerns. Zoomie decided to try Hollywood as he knew several cowboys who were already working there. Yakima Canutt, an old-time rodeo cowboy had started working in the movies as a stunt man and extra and was now helping produce and direct western movies. Floyd Stillings, a Colorado bronc rider, Turk Greenough, a Montana bronc rider, and Will James, a cowboy artist and writer, helped Zoomie find work. Will James was living in Hollywood where his book Smoky was being made into a western movie and the studios were considering some of his other books.”

Zumwalt didn’t seem to enjoy the type of success in Hollywood that some of his counterparts did.

“Zoomie went to work at Warner Brothers where they were shooting a scene that showed a cowboy riding his horse at a full gallop across a flat being pursued by Indians. Riding the galloping horse, the cowboy was supposed to fire a rifle over the horse’s tail end at the pursuing Indians. The scene was shot over and over until the director was satisfied with it. Zoomie claimed that he was the only cowboy extra that could ride well enough to perform this act. This was the only movie work that he got so he decided to spend the rest of the winter in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas rodeoing.”

The following spring found Zumwalt in Fort Worth, Texas where he became interested in Brahma cattle.

“The King ranch had some big, red Santa Gertrudis, which is a cross between Brahma and Shorthorn and the Hudgins ranch from Hungerford had some purebred Blue Grey Brahmas on display. Zoomie was really attracted to the full-blooded Brahmas. They seemed to be gentle and were broken to lead. They looked like they would be good beef producers and only seemed to be mean when aroused. Zoomie bought a yearling bull from Hudgins. The little bull was loaded into the horse trailer alongside of Zoomie’s dogging horse when he pulled out of Fort Worth.

“Zoomie arrived in Wolf Creek, Montana, in the middle of a hot afternoon. He and the cowboy traveling with him went into Frenchies Bar for a beer. They stayed quite a while and Dan Cloninger, the bartender, noticed the bull and horse in the trailer and said to Zoomie, ‘It is pretty hot out there, don’t you think you should give the stock a drink?’ Of course Dan meant for them to unload the horse and bull and allow them to drink from the creek that ran alongside the bar. Zoomie said, ‘The horse won’t drink, I have tried to give him a drink before and he just won’t take it.’ Grabbing a bottle of beer he said to the other cowboy, ‘Come on, let’s see if the bull is thirsty.’

“They dropped the tailgate of the trailer and unloaded the little bull. As Zoomie held the bull’s head tipped back, the other cowboy poured the bottle of beer down the bull’s throat. When the bottle was empty, Zoomie released the bull’s head and the bull licked his lips as though he had enjoyed the beer. The cowboys put the bull back into the trailer and returned to the bar. Zoomie took the bull to his mother-in-law’s ranch and got ready for the rodeo season in the northwest.”

Hames next recounts an incident involving another Missoulian, Wellington Rankin, whose remarkable story is overshadowed by that of his sister, Jeanette, the first woman elected to Congress. Wellington Rankin became a very successful Montana attorney and politician. He was elected Montana Attorney General twice in the 1920’s.

“Rankin was born to a pioneer ranching family in western Montana, and maintained an active interest in the livestock industry his entire life. He amassed a large land and cattle empire between Helena and Townsend, Montana. He had other ranches in the state, but these were his principal holdings. He was reported to have several hundred head of horses roaming on his ranch in a semi-wild state. Different stories were circulated concerning the numbers, and places on the ranch where the horses could be seen.

“Zoomie heard of these horses and became interested in trying to buy them. He thought he could round them up, sort out the biggest and rankest for rodeo bucking horses, and ship the rest to the cannery.

“Zoomie knew of a bar in Helena that Rankin was supposed to go to every afternoon for his after work cocktail. An ‘accidental meeting’ occurred at the bar and somehow the conversation drifted around to the Rankin horses. At first Rankin refused to sell the horses, saying that he liked to see the horses ranging in their semi-wild manner. Zoomie pointed out that they were so wild a man could not get close enough to see them, at which Rankin replied, ‘I can fly over them, can’t I?’

“After some lengthy bargaining, an agreement was reached with Zoomie making the roundup plus paying Rankin so much per head for every horse he could corral.

“Zoomie and Red prepared to make the roundup together. At this time, Zoomie stood about five foot ten, and weighed about 180 pounds. He was a superb athlete at anything he chose to do. Red was about six feet and weighed around 200 pounds and was also a great athlete. They were a formidable pair and most of the cowboys stepped rather lightly around them.

“They took their saddle horses to the Rankin ranch to survey the situation. Rankin did not have any corrals where the horses were ranging so they decided to build some. They got some posts and poles and soon had some corrals under construction. An argument developed over how something should be done, words became heated and Red offered to punch Zoomie in the nose. Now, Zoomie was inside the corral with Red on the outside with the pole fence between them. Zoomie dared Red to come through the fence and try it. When Red stuck his head through the fence to crawl through, Zoomie hit him behind the ear with a short piece of pole and knocked him out. When Red came to, he had cooled down, so they resumed building the corrals.

“A few days later they were in Helena together getting some supplies. Red still had quite a lump behind his ear, but he did not seem to be the least bit mad at Zoomie. When asked about what had happened, Red told this story and all he would say was that Zoomie had outsmarted him. Red said he would have done exactly the same thing, only he hadn’t thought of it. They went back to the hills, finished the corrals, and rounded up a large bunch of horses. A few good bucking horses came out of these horses and were sold to Cremer. The rest went to the cannery.”

That spring Hames rejoined Zumwalt at the Cremer ranch, “and never returned to school.” The lure of the cowboy life finally got the best of him. He would spend the following summer partnering with Zumwalt and Cremer, helping produce rodeos and hazing for the contestants.

“Cremer had now become one of the major rodeo producers in the United States and Canada. He was known as the Big Bronc Man because of the size of his bucking horses . . . His rodeo producing had now reached the point where he could be furnishing stock to two different rodeos at the same time. Whenever he had two rodeos to produce at the same time, Zoomie would be arena director for one while Cremer directed the other. . . Red usually went with Cremer to help him.

“Zoomie and I stayed with the Cremer outfit until his rodeo season was over in the early fall. After we left Cremer’s, we went to the circuit of four rodeos towards the west coast where rodeo producers Tim Bernard and Walt Moomaw were furnishing the bucking stock. Our first stop was Lewiston, Idaho, where both of us earned some money. I placed in the saddle bronc riding and Zoomie won most of the calf roping and bulldogging. From Lewiston, we circled north to Tonasket, had a successful rodeo, and then headed south to Ellensburg, where we did not do very well. From there it was down to the Pendleton Roundup.

“At Pendleton, Zoomie roped in the steer roping and won some money. The only states that allowed single steer roping and busting at that time were Oregon, Wyoming, and Oklahoma. He also placed in the calf roping and bulldogging. I entered the Northwest Bucking Contest and made a good enough ride to qualify for the six high ride off. I drew a bronc called ‘Good Bye Dan’ in the ride off and was making a fair ride when my bronc rein broke and I bucked off. The judges gave me another bronc but I did not mark high enough on the other horse to win the ride off. The rules had changed so that every cowboy qualifying for the ride off was paid some money, so I did come out with something.”

From Pendleton they decided to head south to California. On their trip through Oregon they stopped in tiny Paisley where they were reminded of how small the world is.

“We arrived in Paisley, a dusty little town somewhere out in the big nowhere of the Owyhee Desert, where we stopped to eat and refuel. Paisley was a small town with board sidewalks and very few stores and buildings.

“While we were putting gas in our car, an old buckeroo stopped and studied our car’s license plates. He finally struck up a conversation. ‘I see that you have Montana plates on your outfit, what part of Montana do you hail from?’

“Zoomie said, ‘Western part, I call Wolf Creek home and the kid’s folks live in the Bitterroot Valley over near the Idaho line.’

“The old buckeroo said, ‘There used to be a buckeroo from the Bitterroot [who rode] for old Bill Brown[1] on the Horseshoe Bar horse outfit up in the Wagontire Mountains. He was a tall skinny fellow that wore the biggest high-crowned hat you ever saw. Why the hell do you Montana cowboys wear such big hats? The wind must never blow in Montana. This skinny fellow always had two porcupine quills stuck in his hatband. When he finished eating, he pulled a quill out of the hatband, used it for a toothpick and stuck it back into the hatband.

“Old Brown used to come boiling down out of the Wagontires with 2,000 or 3,000 head of horses, 50 buckeroos, and two wagons on his way to California. It took three weeks for the dust to settle on Paisley’s main street after they passed through. Brown had his buckeroos breaking horses to ride and drive on his way to California. The horse drive was planned to arrive in the big grain country of central California just before the harvest season. The horses that were broken to ride were sold to the large cattle ranches and the ones that were broken to drive went to the grain raisers for use on the large horse-drawn combines. Brown had orders from year to year with many of these ranchers for horses. Horses that were not sold to the ranchers were driven to Hayward where they were slaughtered at the Rowell Cannery for chicken and pet food.

“After disposing of all the horses, the buckeroos and wagons were shipped back to Oregon by train. This drive was an annual event for many years.

“The old buckeroo’s story struck a familiar chord in my memory. I had heard my uncle Grat tell the same story. I asked the old buckaroo, ‘Was that skinny Montana cowboy called Grat? I had an uncle that rode for Bill Brown for a long time and he tells the same story. I am certain you must be speaking of him since he was from Montana and always had porcupine quills in his hatband.’

“The old buckeroo replied, ‘I cannot remember his name, but there had always been buckeroos going back and forth between eastern Montana and southeastern Oregon. I knew a lot of them but I cannot recall many of their names.’ Zoomie and I took the old buckeroo to dinner and continued on our way.

“Oakdale, California, was ‘cowboy’ headquarters for many of the rodeo cowboys during the winter months. Clay Carr, a world champion roper and bulldogger, lived there and always had a place for the traveling cowboys to stay and care for their horses.”

Carr earned the PRCA All-Around Cowboy championship twice, in 1930 and 1933. Over his 25 year career he won a total of five world championships.

“When Zoomie and I arrived at Clay Carr’s, we found a group of cowboys preparing to go to Australia to rodeo. Some rodeos were going to be held down under at which a team of cowboys from the United States would compete against a team of stockmen from Australia. Zoomie joined the group and made arrangements with Carr to take care of his horses while he was gone.[2] Carr offered me a job helping train horses and riding in the feed lot so I decided to winter in California. I went to several small rodeos in central California during the winter and made a little money.

“There were going to be two rodeos down under. At the first rodeo, American equipment and rodeo rules would be used and at the second, Australian equipment and rules for judging would preside.

“The Aussies rode bucking horses (buckjumpers they called them) with a flat saddle, and a snaffle bit with two reins. Bareback broncs (Brumbies) and wild cows were ridden one-handed with a loose rope around the animal’s belly. Since the Aussies did not have any horns on their saddles, they did not know how to rope so they borrowed saddles and rope from the American cowboys and began to practice.

“Aussie bulldogging was a two-man event. They left the box in much the same way as the Americans, one man stopped the steer by taking him by the horns, while the other man took him by the tail and the two of them wrestled him to the ground. Time for the event ended when the steer was stretched flat.

“Zoomie made some remark about wanting to rope a kangaroo that was overheard by the Aussies so they volunteered to bring the kangaroo into the arena if Zoomie would attempt to rope it before the audience.

“The Aussies hauled a big kangaroo into the arena in a cage on a wagon. They never told how they captured it. They put the kangaroo into one of the calf chutes with Zoomie sitting on his horse about 15 feet away. The chute gate opened and the kangaroo bounded across the arena in long, high, easy-looking jumps with Zoomie in hot pursuit. Zoomie roped the kangaroo at the top of one of his high jumps and when he stopped his horse the kangaroo was jerked to the ground in much the same way that you bust a steer. Nothing had been said about tying the kangaroo but since he was so easily roped, Zoomie thought he might as well tie him. Jumping from his horse, Zoomie started down the rope, pigging string in hand, not really knowing how he was going to go about this. When he was a few feet away from the kangaroo, it sort of reared back on its tail and kicked Zoomie in the belly with both hind feet. Zoomie flew through the air and landed on his back gasping for breath. It took several seconds before Zoomie could regain his feet. In the meantime, the kangaroo had escaped from the arena and the Aussies in the stands were howling with laughter. That evening, an Austrailian song writer started writing a song that later became popular in the United States known as ‘Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport’. Zoomie always claimed the song was written about him.”

While the origin of this song is generally credited to Australian, Rolf Harris, who wrote it in 1957, the lore behind the song is somewhat unclear.

However, Zumwalt did achieve another kind of notoriety at these Games and its origin was never in doubt.

“At the Australian rodeos Zoomie was helping do the picking up. Mel Stonehouse, a bareback rider from Montana, came out on a brumbie. When the whistle blew to signal the end of the ride, Zoomie rode in to pick him up. Stonehouse decided to not wait for the pickup man and jumped off. He jumped directly in front of Zoomie’s horse and Zoomie could not avoid running over him. Stonehouse was lying flat on his back in the arena gasping for breath. When Zoomie stopped the pickup horse, he reined around and rode back to the motionless cowboy on the ground. Looking down, Zoomie could see the cowboy was alright and just had the wind knocked out of him. Leaning down from his saddle, Zoomie shouted in a loud voice that could easily be heard in the stands, ‘What the hell were you trying to do? Don’t you realize you could cripple a good horse pulling a stunt like that?’ Zoomie then rode off without making any offer of assistance to the cowboy lying on the ground.

“The next day the Australian newspapers had an article about this incident with a huge headline declaring Zoomie to be the meanest man in the world for running over his fellow American, friend, and traveling companion and then showing more concern for the welfare of his horse.

“The Americans won the competition and returned to the states after being gone for several months. This was the introduction of the western saddle with roping horn and the lariat to the continent down under and the Americans sold almost all their saddles and ropes to the Aussies before returning home. Several years later Zoomie received a letter from Australia with nothing on the envelope but his name and U.S.A. and it was delivered to him at Wolf Creek, Montana.

“When the boat brought the American cowboys back to California, I was there to meet them in time for us to get our horses at Oakdale and make it to the Salinas Rodeo. Salinas was one of the first outdoor rodeos and races to be held in California each spring. Almost all of the horse races there were for Quarter Horses.”

The Salinas rodeo is today billed as California’s largest rodeo. In 1935 it had grandstands capable of seating 14,000 people.

“A rancher from Nevada was having some trouble with some of his race horses in the starting gates. They were pretty bronky and came out of the gates bucking. Zoomie made a deal with the rancher for me to handle the colts for a few days. I got on the colts in the starting gate with Zoomie mounted on a horse at the end of the gates. Zoomie was riding a really fast horse and was carrying a long whip in his hand. When the bell would ring, I would jump the colt out of the gate and at the same time Zoomie would ride forward. If the colt started to buck Zoomie would pop him with the whip. The colt would stop bucking and start running. Zoomie would chase the colt around the track. After a few of these whippings, the colts forgot about bucking and came out of the starting gate running.

Hames next recounted a story about herding cattle in Nevada. Interestingly, his career until now dealt almost exclusively with horses and rodeos.

“Zumwalt and the rancher became friends and the rancher told us that he was receiving a herd of Mexican steers at the railroad shipping pens in Deeth, Nevada, and needed some extra hands to trail the steers north to his range. The steers would be taken from the train in Deeth and driven about 75 miles north to a 70,000 acre pasture on Loomis Creek. He planned to have a large group of cowboys who would brand and dehorn the steers during the drive and he asked Zoomie and me if we wanted to go along. It was too early for the rodeo season in Montana to begin so we decided to work the cattle drive. There would be lots of riding and roping to do that would put us in good condition for the rodeo season.

“We arrived in Deeth in time to help unload the steers and start the drive. For the first couple of days off the railroad cars the steers were turned loose to graze and rest on the sagebrush flats north of town.

“At daylight of the third morning, 22 cowboys aroused the 3,000 steers from their bed ground and started them north across the flats. For two days we drove the steers slowly allowing them to graze and settle down, getting used to being handled. On the third day of the drive, the cowboys bunched the herd at noon and after the noon meal, they gathered the steers into a tight herd for an afternoon of branding and dehorning. One third of the crew held the herd together, one third (heading and heeling in pairs) roped and dragged the steers to the fire, and the other third did the wrestling, branding and dehorning on the ground. Before the horns of the steers were sawed off, a smooth wire was twisted around the base of the horns to control bleeding. The steers would have to be caught again and the wire removed in about two weeks.

“The work went on until evening when the steers were turned loose to graze. Each crew took a shift herding during the night. Each day the steers were moved closer to their summer range. Every morning the crews changed working positions. Roping crew moved to ground, ground crew to herd, and herd crew moved to roping. From then on until the end of the drive, branding and dehorning were done every afternoon.

“There were two wagons and two cooks on the drive and a remuda of about 200 horses which required two horse wranglers. By the time the branding and dehorning were finished the steers were in the Loomis Creek pasture. Zoomie and I stayed at the ranch headquarters for a few days before continuing on to Montana.

“We arrived at Cremer’s outfit in time for the spring bucking horse roundup. Cremer gathered all of his bucking horses each spring, and separated them into two strings. In the first string were the older, more experienced, seasoned and proven bucking horses that he started the rodeo season with. In the second string were the newer, younger horses that he used as replacements for the horses in the first string who slowed down when they got tired or were injured. All of the horses had to be bucked out so Cremer could observe and catalogue their abilities. Cremer paid the cowboys by the head to try out the horses. It gave the cowboys some practice and prepared them for the coming rodeo season. There were lots of cowboys on hand and most of them tried half a dozen or more horses a day.

“Zoomie and I spent the rodeo season working for Cremer traveling with the outfit. Zoomie roped calves, bulldogged steers, helped with the pickup and also did some of the arena directing. I hazed for Zoomie in the bulldogging, rode saddle bronc and helped pick up. After the end of the Cremer rodeo season we left for the circuit of rodeos in Idaho, Washington and Oregon which had become a regular pattern for us.”

[1] For more on Brown see ‘William Brown 1855 – 1941: Legend of Oregon’s High Desert’ by Edward Gray

[2] Article from Brisbane ‘The Courier-Mail’, Feb. 27, 1937 – ‘Crack Riders For World Contest’. Zumwalt is listed as a member of the Canadian Team – “Oral Zumwalt is a real ‘top hand’ who won bulldozzing and calf roping championships at Twin Falls, Idaho, last year.”


Last Updated on Sunday, 17 May 2015 16:12