Classic Cowboys / Craftsmen

The Two Sides of Gary Gist

Gary Gist, goldsmith and silversmith from Lakeside, California, sometimes won the trophies he made himself.

Gary Gist, goldsmith and silversmith from Lakeside, California, sometimes wins the trophies he makes himself. This 27-year-old team roper belongs to the new breed of rodeo cowboy. Gist travels the rodeo circuit with his slim, blonde, and attractive wife Evelyn and their lively six-month-old son, Branden. The family travels in a spacious motor home, complete with air-conditioning, tub and shower, and a fully equipped kitchen.

Gary Gist, goldsmith and silversmith from Lakeside, California, sometimes won the trophies he made himself.
The photo shows Gary Gist at work on a trophy buckle. Photo by San Diego Union

“Sure, I take turns driving with Gary,” says Evelyn. “That motor home is a charm to handle. And when we get to a rodeo, if it’s cold or raining, I don’t even go out. I just stay in and turn on the stereo.”

Gary sports a trophy buckle which he won when he team roped with his father, Byron Gist, at the National Finals held in Los Angeles in 1964. Gary didn’t make that particular buckle; however, the chances are good that any trophy buckles he wins in the future could be Gist buckles.

Between rodeos, Gist is busy making almost all the world championship trophy buckles and saddle ornaments to be awarded at the National Finals Rodeo.

Gary has won team roping jackpots at almost all the big ropings which are held annually at places like Oakdale, Calif., Las Vegas, Nev., and Salinas, California.

As a team roper, Gist, who is a heeler, faces tough competition, but he handles it well. He finished third competing this year for the world championship. His partner, Bucky Bradford of Tucson, Ariz., finished second.

Gary’s father, Byron Gist, is a well-known figure in rodeo, having entered rodeo competition when he was only 17. Byron started Gary out at an even younger age. When Gary was only six, Byron got him a Shetland pony, and by the time the youngster was eight, he had won his first rodeo event. This was at San Bernardino, and he competed against adults, roping off his pony. He turned pro at 12 when he joined the R.C.A. Gary’s father is still his partner at many ropings.

“Dad would still be my partner in rodeo too,” says Gary, “but his business ties him down, so he can’t travel as much as you have to for rodeo competition.”

Besides his artistry with a rope, Gist is an artist in silver and gold. At his small shop on his father’s two acres northeast of Lakeside, Gary custom-makes buckles and silver and gold ornaments which decorate saddles and bridles. He also practices for rodeo competition at his father’s place. It’s in a nice setting, ringed by hills, where you find everything a cowboy needs without having a big ranch. The roping horses stand in comfortable stalls and a 100-yard arena is lighted for night practice. Four head of practice steers munch hay in a nearby corral. A hot-walker takes the work out of walking and cooling off the horses. Gary can step right out of the arena and into his shop. 

He says, “My shop is a little one-man operation. Right now, I have too much business, and to make the 68 rodeos I went to last year, I had to fly back and forth in order to get the work turned out.” He even does some engraving in his motor home while on the road.

He says, “The work at the shop has actually cut into the rodeoing. But for the future, I’d like to go on and rodeo. It depends on how my luck if I have good horses to go with, I’ll go hard. 

“As for my shop work, a small factory would be nice, but I really would rather do custom work. I like to start one buckle and finish it. Like any other artistic endeavor, it’s mentally and physically tiring. But I enjoy making up new designs and new styles. I’m in an environment where I can get plenty of ideas, and I’m among people who can buy and appreciate the things I do.

Gary Gist, goldsmith and silversmith from Lakeside, California, sometimes won the trophies he made himself.
Gary Gist, teamed up with his dad, picks up ht heels for a time of 7.6 seconds in this action shot made at the National Finals Rodeo in 1965. Allen Photo

“The smith-thing started when I got out of the Marine Corps.” This was in 1968, after a two-year hitch which included a tour of duty in Vietnam.

“I had a bad year in rodeo, and I realized I needed more to go on than just rodeo. I’ve always been pretty good in art, and I started out to learn engraving. A lot of it was trial and error and just plain sweat.”

He used pretty much the same system in learning silver-soldering and how to construct a buckle.

“I use the lost-wax method of carving and casting for original figures, he says. “The figures are designed in wax, then made in a plaster of paris mold. The gold is melted and shot into the plaster cast. The only casting on the buckles is for the figures, to give a three-dimensional look.”

Gary Gist, goldsmith and silversmith from Lakeside, California, sometimes won the trophies he made himself.
An excellent example of the detail included in the buckles crafted by Gary Gist. Wrenn Photo

It’s all done by hand except for the machine lettering. It takes 48 hours to make a trophy buckle of the kind awarded a world’s champion cowboy.

Proudly, Gist showed a saddle which he uses on Cowboy, his roping horse. “My partner’s dad made the saddle, and Bucky did most of the tooling on the leather. I made the silver and gold ornaments.”

Gist has reason to be proud. Each engraved silver plate is embossed with a three-dimensional overlay. These figures are an inch-and-a-half or less in height. Each one depicts something going on at a rodeo. Each is in minute detail, with all the action needed to show a man wrestling a steer, or riding a bull, or spurring a bronc.

Last year, Gary Gist won $13,598 in R.C.A. competition. Although he and his partner, Bucky Bradford, couldn’t crowd out Leo Camarillo for the championship and the big trophy buckle that goes with it. Gist says, “We’ll be shooting for it this year.”


This article was originally published in the April 1973 issue of Western Horseman.

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