PRESCOTT RODEO RE-RIDES
By Leo Camarillo
My memory of Prescott Rodeo “back in the day” is a major rodeo, amid a chaotic weekend that a team roper never wanted to miss. Old-rodeo traditions and authentic western flair flavored its team roping, (then, “Team Tying) which had a uniqueness about it that is still alive today. It’s rocky-scape rodeo grounds were originally a race track. We’d compete in the slack in the morning and have to finish by a certain time so they could get the track ready for the horse races in the afternoon. You can still see some of the old track out in the parking lot as you walk up to the arena. From certain spots you can stand back and visualize how the old track used to come out from where the roping chutes are now and go up to the side of the grandstands. It went around the rodeo arena and parking lot. After the horse races, they’d put the whole arena back into rodeo shape, so they could hold the rodeo at night. In the old set-up, the roping chutes were extremely narrow and set more to the left than they are now making the arena much more constricted to rope in because that left fence was right there real quick. Both header and heeler came from the calf-roping side, as done today, challenging “the fittest” cowboy talent. When we asked why they come out that way, the Prescott boys answered, “Tradition.”
Prescott has always been kind of a southerly rodeo and hard to get to over the forth of July. Generally, cowboys (Rough-stock riders) work rodeos to the north, such as and they don’t include Prescott. Rough-stock riders work rodeos like Calgary and The Gateways with Cody WY, Red Lodge, Livingston MT, Greely (CO), St Paul, and Molalla, OR because they are all clumped up in that area. Location and duration (Prescott runs for a week, and you get 2 head of livestock) are the reasons most cowboys sacrifice Prescott.
My brothers and I, worked Prescott and Pecos (TX) faithfully. In fact, when I think of Prescott, I always remember Pecos too. They were like salt & pepper in my career days. A good pair that together made for a pretty good run, and the distance between was not all that difficult to manage. Every year we worked Prescott with Pecos, and the funny thing was both laid claim to being the oldest rodeo of all time. I found it ironic going from one rodeo to the other with both boasting the same slogan: “We are the oldest Rodeo.” Yet, of the two, I enjoyed Prescott most with its whispering pines, babbling brooks, and down-to-earth fans. I always seemed to do well there. It just kind of fit me. I worked all three events. One time me and the boys even entered the cow milking, and won. That was fun. I seemed to have a lot of luck in Prescott.
As time went on, our rodeos broadened. We threw in Greely, and Rifle, The Gateways, Cody, Red Lodge, Livingston, and Lander, all them northerns. Still, we always came back and worked Prescott, because we were team ropers. Prescott had a good team tying. It was a major rodeo for team ropers. You couldn’t exclude it. It was also big for Arizonians. It was their style of team roping--“team tying”. AZ team ropers who didn’t go out to California to try to gain points for the NFR, stayed home to work Prescott.
The most poignant impact on me regarding Prescott Rodeo my PRCA rookie year was Chuck Sheppard. Chuck, the-great-and-powerful, was a significant old-timer, a World’s Champion, Board-of-Directors Mr. PRCA, All Around Champ of the World phenomenon, that I had heard so much about. I knew of him mostly because they had a saddle named after him, and everybody spoke so highly of him, and still do. Chuck was the deal who knew the deal. He was a significant part of the Prescott Rodeo hoopla and a stickler for carrying on it’s 4th of July traditions. Prescott was where Chuck Sheppard called home, kept his ranch, and he was a spot on dignitary of Prescott. He was the one that looked after everybody and everybody looked up to. Any information about the rodeo, where to go around Prescott, or about Arizona in general came from Chuck.
As I’ve said, Back in the day Prescott was a tied roping, and since my brothers and I were “dally‘ team ropers, it suited us best to ride other people’s horses. Horses who knew the play. As fate would have it, our first time to Prescott, we borrowed horses that were staying on Chuck’s ranch. That’s where we got to keep them. Because we were in and out of Prescott going to other rodeos in between, all weekend, we kept our horses with Chuck, and he looked after them for us like we were his sons. I held a lot of respect and gratitude for that true cowboy, my true friend, Mr. Chuck Sheppard, and I think about him every time I’m there.
I still see different old-time pros show up to Prescott periodically, and I’ve met many of my heroes there, i.e. Chuck Sheppard, Everett Bowman, Buckshot Sorrels. Different pros that have come and gone in the past still tend to show up for Prescott.
Prescott--definitely, always one of my favorites, though hard to get to every year, we were dang-sure willing to make it work. We were determined to make it one way or another.” One year we were working other rodeos and I refused to turn out at Prescott. We were in Folsom, California and had to get back to Prescott to end our weekend. The only way we were gong to make Prescott was in a jet, yet it was pretty-near impossible to work it in on a commercial jet. We knew we had to rent a private jet. As luck would have it, the guy running the rodeo in Folsom had a jet. We talked to him about our situation, scrambled enough guys together to make the trip with us to help buy the gas and pay the pilot. Ill never forget that week. First we were in Folsom, forty-five minutes later we were in Prescott, and 45 minutes after that we were in Pecos, then back to Prescott, and then back to Folsom. Bahda-bing, bahda-bang, it was one of the most slick, efficient weekends I can remember.
Another 4th of July at Prescott, I come down with pneumonia. I was trying to cope with my sickness and compete, but things got worse, so my traveling partner (my brother) put me in the hospital. I had a couple of days to try to recover. My brothers and partners would come to check on me periodically. When it finally came time for me to compete, the boys wouldn’t take no for an answer. They brought my clothes, helped me put them on. They hauled me to the rodeo and propped me up at the back of the chutes. I could hardly stand up. My head just hung down, I could hardly lift it. When it was my turn, they lead my horse up there. I could hardly get on. The boys nursed me like I was a drunk, and I felt like I was drunk. I went out there and could hardly swing my rope. I could hardly see the steer. I threw my rope at the ground. Obviously no good, so they slung me back in the hospital.
About a week later, I finally came to my senses, but the rodeo was over, and everybody was gone. I can remember wondering, “Is this the reality of rodeo? If you can’t do any good, they just leave you on the side of the road?” Two weeks went by before the hospital would let me go home. I’ll never forget it. Now, whenever I see the Prescott hospital, I get that connected, familiar feeling one gets like when he revisits his old high school.
One time, we were off rodeoing, and I had already won the first go-round of the calf roping at Prescott. We were in Greely (CO) trying to come back to make that night performance at Prescott. We caught a commercial out of Denver to Phoenix, then rented a car to drive up there. We touched down in Phoenix about 6:00 p.m. The rodeo in Prescott started at 7:30 p.m. Calf roping was the second event. You were supposed to be able to drive Phoenix to Prescott in an hour and a half easy, which we did. As we pealed in there, I jumped out and hopped over the fence. My buddies had my horse ready for me, so I swung up on him as they were announcing my name and was just riding in the box as they turned my calf out. Of course they were surprised to see me. They brought the calf back and fortunately for me, I won the calf roping. If you want to talk about photo finishes, I felt that was the epitome. Winning the calf roping at Prescott that year made my 4th of July scuttle all worth while.
There was another year about like that same scenario, I was off working rodeos in Colorado, but I didn’t draw up in Prescott like I wanted to in all my events. Prescott had me sprawled out so to speak. I was up in the first perf bull dogging, so I flew by myself in a private from Colorado to Prescott and made another photo finish. However, when I got there, they had switched the bull dogging event with the calf roping slot because some bull doggers wanted to hustle out to go where I had just come from for those rodeos.
I nonchalantly sauntered into the rodeo getting ready to bull dog, when I found out they’d already had it. The events had been run out of order, and because I wasn‘t there when they switched they turned me out. I immediately made my appeal, questioning their policy. I pointed out how unethical it is to switch a scheduled event and go against what it says in the program, because competitors orchestrate/coordinate multiple rodeos based on designated event schedules. Mind you, back in the day, it wasn’t uncommon for folks to show favoritism to cowboys when they felt like it wasn’t going to upset the apple cart, so to speak. They assumed it wouldn’t bother anyone in Prescott, but then I came in. Of course, they apologetically said no problem and agreed to bring my steer back after the rodeo, which they did. I ran him and ended up winning the day money. I then went off to a hotel room, got me something to eat, got me a good night sleep, and waited for the rest of my crew to come in, because I was up the next morning in the team and calf roping slack.
Next morning, I nonchalantly sauntered into the slack and was greeted with, “Hey, Leo, we decided to take your time away and disqualify you from the bulldogging.” I went right to investigating why and spent quite some time trying to plead my case, to no avail. Even though I felt I was right, even if the president of the united states said I was right, they were adamant about a rule they’d dug up that said if you turn out in one event you’re out of the rodeo completely. Because they ran the event without me, they considered me a turnout. After that fiasco, the PRCA amended the rule. It was too late to do me any good, but because of that little scuffle, they decided it wasn’t fair to turn a guy out of all events for missing one. Had I fallen off my horse instead of winning the day money probably nothing would have ever been said, but being as I was winning the bull dogging, they felt it was a good rule to follow at the time.
Well, I sat that year out (which was a real bummer) and just watched my brothers and partners rope. My cousin Reg stepped up and took my place heeling for my header HP Evetts. I had my world famous heel horse, Stick, down there which I lent to Reg. When Reg mounted Stick to heel for H, he looked at me queer, so I asked, “What?”
He told me my right stirrup was shorter than my left. I knew that. I kept my stirrups off-set on that horse. I explained how I had to ride him like that because he pulls my groin muscle when he comes in if I don’t off set’em.
Reg looked at me like I was an idiot. “I’m a cowboy,” Reg said. “Set them back to normal.”
I agreed to put them however he wanted them, but warned one time, “I’m telling you what he does.” Reg just looked at me with a snicker, confirming his thoughts of me being an idiot.
‘Low and behold’ and ‘GOOD GOLLY-WALLY!’ ol’ H reached and stuck one right there, and my horse Stick came in as sharp as usual, before Reg was actually ready. Reg was never a real heeler, but he took his best shot and…unfortunately missed. He came back looking at me with this painful grin on his face. I asked, “Are you alright?”
He puffed out a grimacing,‘Ya, I think I’m alright. I think I pulled my groin.”
I couldn’t hold it. I had the best laugh and of course said, “I told you so.” It was about the only cheerful spot I remember in Prescott rodeo that year.
One year I had a match roping. The way it all started was, we were all there for the second go round. We showed up at seven o’clock, slack started at 8. You could tell it was going be a hot son-of-a-bitch. I was borrowing a calf and bull dog horse, and had my own team roping horse. That morning I was dogging around the chutes looking at the draw and what not, when my friend Ron Poindexter approached me to tell me he’d got me in a match calf roping. I couldn’t believe my ears, so I asked him to repeat what he said. After I heard it the second time, I told him I don’t mind matching anybody, but I don’t’ have a horse. Ron offered me his horse. He explained how after he had breakfast he bumped into “Diamond Bill” Roar in the restroom. They got to bull shitting, and one thing led to another and soon Ron was bragging about having a guy here that nobody can beat in the calf roping. Well, that got ol’ Bill itching to put up some money. Bill proposed a match. He said, “I’ll put money on a guy that I know can’t be beat.” His guy’s name was Jerry Koil. So Ron set me up against Jerry.
The buzz went like fire around the rodeo, and soon Harry Vold, the stock contractor, got involved. Harry loves that kind of stuff. He cut out 8 or 10 calves for us to match on and it went where I roped 4, then Jerry roped 4, then I roped his, and he roped mine. I’m proud to say I beat poor Jerry like a drum. I had Ron’s fairly decent calf horse under me, and all kinds of confidence, mine and my comrades. All my traveling buddies put all the money they had on me because they knew nobody was going to beat me. They were fanning me, bringing me water, bringing my horse when the time was ready. I felt like a boxer getting into the ring. They all had money invested and won big, yet to this day, I don’t remember if I made a single dime.
Now, every time I go to Prescott the first thing Harry (who is still the contractor) always says to me is, ‘Hey, do you remember the match roping?” What I remember most was that everybody wanted to get money out of Diamond Bill, because he was like the Dallas Cowboys’ big Jerry Jones. Diamond Bill had a reputation for having a lot of money, and it seemed like he expected everything he touched would turn to gold. Unfortunately, for him, the buck stopped when he bet against me.
Years ago, on my way to Prescott I had HP Evetts, Ace Berry and myself in a private plane coming out of Rifle Co, It wasn’t a good trip from the start. I lined up a friend to fly me to Prescott who at the last minute couldn’t make it, so he sent one of his student pilots in his place. And it was a woman. The first thing that happened trying to leave Rifle was that we had a hard time getting up off the ground. When we finally got up in the air, the plane wouldn’t go very fast. It felt like we were dragging an anchor. We struggled along a ways until finally she said, “I’m going to have to land in Grand Junction, (CO) because this plane isn’t flying very good.” As we approached Grand Junction, she prepared to land and figured out that she’d forgot to put the landing gear up on our previous ascent. That explained why the plane wouldn’t fly so well. So, we took off again. The second time seemed a charm. We were flying along pretty good, when quick enough she says, “We need some fuel, so we’re gong to land in Flagstaff.” Down we went again. We landed, took on some fuel, we all went and used the restroom and got back in the plane. It’s important you understand that Flagstaff is over 7,000 feet elevation. When the weather is really hot, like it was, and you’re at that high elevation, the air is really thin. When we took off, the plane never got off the run way. It did one of those wing-to-wing teeter-totter deals trying to get it stopped, then we skated off the end of the runway. She burned one of them brodies out there in the dirt trying to turn around and get back on the runway. Once we were back, we all got out for some air, and I called my friend (the original pilot) Bob, out in Sedona and told him his student had wrecked his plane. Bob assured me not to worry, he’d be right there to get us. He showed up 20 minutes later and HP and I boarded the next plane and headed off to Prescott. Ace, ol’ boy, he’d had enough, and was off renting a car to drive the rest of the way. He made the rodeo in one piece, but the whole episode soured poor Ace on flying. He was never the same about flying, and I’m pretty certain he never flew a private again.
Of all the places I’ve lived, I am proud to call myself an Arizonian. I have been a full-time resident of Arizona since 2006. The points of my different Arizona residences since then make the shape of a star on the map. I have experienced the north, south, east, and west. I brought my family here to the Prescott area, and we settled in Chino Valley a few years back. I feel this area is truly home to me. Between all my rodeo photo finishes and all the things that have happened to me in Prescott, good and bad, raising my family here, cultivating my many friendships, I have a sweet spot in my heart for this great area. Prescott’s got it all. I am honored to claim Prescott my home and have the Prescott rodeo my hometown arena.
I feel privileged to be your grand marshal this years. It’s an honor and a great pleasure to fill this prestigious roll. It makes me believe, maybe I did do something worth while at this rodeo. I wonder if Chuck (Sheppard) would have ever guessed I’d someday be Prescott’s grand marshal?
Thank you JC Trujillo for being my longtime friend. Thank you and the Prescott rodeo committee and everyone else who makes this all possible, those who work so tirelessly through the year and throughout the rodeo week--including my beloved gate keepers who share a mutual frustration with me--Thank you all for making this the best OLDEST, rodeo in the world.
That’s all I know…