Stories of the Rodeo

By Lucy Chambers, Publisher

My earliest memories of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo feature Sonny and Cher singing “I Got You, Babe,” a cowboy getting violently bucked off of an enormous bull, and hordes of brave clowns trying to distract the angry animal. My second grade priorities are well in evidence here.

I went to more rodeos as I grew up. I could sense the magic, but it eluded me. Being more at home in an armchair with a book than anywhere near a saddle, I found the whole scene loud, smelly and too filled with the possibility of getting kicked by a horse for me to relax and have fun.

I moved away from Texas for many years, to places that did not have rodeos, but instead had steeplechases and racetracks. There were still horses, and to be honest I was still concerned that I might get kicked, but I noticed the magic wasn’t there.

BigBendWorking with Mike Marvins on his Texas’ Big Bend photography book, I began to understand what I had been missing. Not only is Mike a talented photographer, he is also the rodeo committee member with the longest tenure on his committee. Turns out there are 31,000 volunteers organized into committees who make the rodeo happen. The rodeo brings almost 2,500,000 people through its doors in a single season and provides $12,500,00.00 in scholarships to Texas students. Through Mike’s stories and information, the unique character of the rodeo became clearer.

Then, Mike introduced me to Wilson and Martha Franklin, the owners of M.L. Leddy’s, the iconic western wear company, renowned for their fine handmade boots and saddles. We’ll be publishing their story later this year in a book I find particularly gorgeous. Hearing the Franklin’s stories and visiting their history-laden booth, I finally understood the rodeo magic.

Leddy's_cvrThe rodeo is not just entertainment or events. It’s not a fashion statement or a food fest. It’s a rich trove of tradition, connection and caring that celebrates the cowboy spirit that is alive in Texas–and maybe even more widespread than it was when cattle moseyed up the Goodnight-Loving trail. And what keeps this spirit alive? It’s not Sonny and Cher or their pop descendants, no matter how big the draw might be for Pit Bull this year.

I may have missed the point of the rodeo when I was a girl, but thankfully I get it now. The rodeo is a great story, with hundreds of fascinating chapters, and more colorful characters than you can imagine. I can’t be a cowboy—I might get kicked by a horse—but the stories of mutton busting and champion steers, vintage wines and melt-in-your-mouth barbecue, bulls held on to and belt buckles that prove it, bring the spirit of my home state to life. The tales of camaraderie Mike shares with his committee, the kids whose lives have been changed by scholarships, the athletic men and women who compete in the challenging events, the wonderful yarns of cowboys and city slickers whose Leddy’s boots are their prize possessions: these stories preserve the western tradition. And the rodeo—more fascinating than any steeplechase, more meaningful than any concert—passes the magic of this tradition on to generations who might otherwise miss it.

Bright Sky Press
Where Texas meets books. Rodeo.