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Archive for Sunday, July 6, 2003

Memories rich with rodeo’s history

July 6, 2003

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— He's as fit a 75-year-old as you might ever meet, with shoulders that still fill out his western-style shirt like those of the young cowboy he once was.

His hands, however, show the abuse of his first love. The knuckles are smashed, the fingers are irregular -- just part of the territory that came from his years of rodeo competition.

Gene Peacock first came to Strong City in 1948.

He was a fresh-faced 20-year-old cowboy from Mannford, Okla., who would, in the years to come, supposedly be described by a young lady to a friend of his as ... "the cutest little cowboy she ever saw."

"I'd come here for a bucking horse tryout in April," he said. "There was water all over the arena, I remember. It was a mess."

The next June, Peacock and a traveling buddy returned to Strong City for the Flint Hills Rodeo.

"I came back for the rodeo ... with Charley Beals, a friend of mine from Tulsa," he said.

Peacock doesn't remember how he did at his first Flint Hills Rodeo. Sometimes memories become blurry when so many are of the same scenery.

Competition

But by 1950, Peacock had come to work as a straw boss, or foreman, for Flint Hills Rodeo founder Emmett Roberts on Roberts Chase County ranch. The Roberts family had started the now-famous rodeo on their ranch in 1938.

Peacock worked on the ranch, lived with the Roberts family and, on the weekends, competed in rodeos.

He rode bareback broncs (bucking horses with no saddle), saddle broncs (bucking horses with saddles) and bulls (bareback, no saddle and darned near suicidal).

"In the early days of the rodeo, they hired the Butler brothers to furnish the stock," Peacock said. "And in 1945, Ken Roberts and Mr. (E.C.) Roberts started buying up rodeo stock for their own rodeo stock company. They had great rodeo stock.

"In 1961, their horse Jesse James was the bucking horse of the year. Mr. Roberts gave $300 or so for him. And when he sold him, he brought $2,300."

Peacock's house is filled with photos of him and his friends back in those early days of professional rodeo.

"All of those guys in the pictures have been here," he said, "Those guys, the greatest cowboys in the world, have been to the Flint Hills Rodeo."

Breaking in a new saddle

For hours on end, Peacock can tell stories about the early days.

"There was this hotel in Strong City called the Bank Hotel," he said. "And a lot of the guys would stay at that hotel (during the rodeo). There's a lot of stories about that hotel."

One time, Casey Tibbs, who also worked for the Roberts family and became a legendary rodeo cowboy, was staying at the hotel.

"Casey started winning some money," Peacock said. "So he bought a new bronc saddle."

Normally, bronc riders would break in a new saddle by soaking it in water, then riding on it until it was dry.

"It dries to fit you that way," he said.

But Tibbs had another idea about how to break in his saddle.

"Casey thought a lot of that new saddle," Peacock said. "And he was staying at the hotel, where there was only one bathroom for all the rooms."

Tibbs waited until everyone staying at the hotel was in bed, then he put his saddle in the tub to soften it, put it on a chair, put the chair up to the door knob so nobody could get in the bathroom to steal it and climbed out the window above the door.

"The next morning, guys lined up in the hall, waiting to use the bathroom," Peacock said. "And they waited and waited.

"Finally, someone looked in through the transom and all they could see was that leather laying in the bathroom. But to them, it looked like a body."

The anxious cowboys in the hallway called the sheriff and broke into the bathroom -- only to discover that the body was just Casey's softening saddle.

Legacy

During his days as a competitor, Peacock broke his neck three times, his ankle once and broke several knuckles on his hands.

Peacock has served on the board of directors of the Flint Hills Rodeo for "maybe 30 years," he said.

"You know, we try to keep this rodeo as professional as we can," he said. "Lots and lots of people work long hours for this rodeo."

He's proud to have been a part of the Flint Hills Rodeo for so many years -- proud of the legacy of the rodeo.

"I want people to know that so many people have worked for nothing for this rodeo," he said about the people who volunteer their time each year. "It's the best thing that ever happened to this community."

The Flint Hills Rodeo and Peacocks life have been intertwined for more than 50 years.

He knows the rodeo like he knows an old friend -- they are part of each other's life.

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