Rodeo’s top cowboys and bucking stock who contested at the first National Finals Rodeo held in Dallas, TX, December 1959.
By Jerry Armstong, written in his column, Picked Up in the Rodeo Arena, in March 1960
In December, rodeo’s top cowboys and outstanding bucking stock, followed by a host of fans from all sections of the country, came to Dallas for the first annual National Finals Rodeo. For long, big league baseball has ended each season with its World’s Series playoffs. Now, annually, rodeo is to have its world series, the National Finals. In the dim and distant future, many an old cowboy grandpa will be able to say, “Yep, I contested at the first National Finals Rodeo in Dallas, Tex., way back in December, 1959.”
The first of the elite wild bunch to arrive in Dallas was Harry Tompkins, formerly of Tulsa, Okla., and New York state, but now a resident of Dublin, Texas. The versatile Harry Tompkins, a qualified entrant in the NF bull riding, was also in charge of constructing and setting up the NF bucking chutes in the State ‘Fair Livestock Coliseum. Tompkins had built the chutes on his place while recovering from an arena injury and surgery. In the middle of December, the spanking new steel-framed bucking chutes had been trucked to the Dallas arena and set up. The Tompkin’s chutes were designed with the safety of the rough string riders in mind. On this, the chute expert and former bull, bareback bronc, and all-around champion cowboy, said, “Just about every time I’ve been crippled up, it has been because of the chutes.”
The first loaded stock trucks rolled into Dallas on December 15. By December 21, the deadline, there were 210 broncs and bulls at Fair Park. This was an epochal aggregation of the greatest bucking stock in rodeo today. The gathered stock came from 14 states and Canada, from the rough strings of 25 rodeo stock contractors. The best were all there, with one notable exception, Harry Knight’s No. 1 bucking horse, Joker. Joker for the first and only time was out of the draw, replaced by a substitute Knight rough-string mount. It had to be this way, for Joker was dead. At the Harrisburg, Pa., Rodeo, the noted power bucker, Joker, unloaded 30 riders last season – sustaining what appeared to be a minor head bruise. But infection set in and spread, and en route back to the home ranch in Colorado Joker died of lockjaw.
The cowboys, the 15 big money winning hands of each of the five major rodeo events last season, arrived in Dallas singly and in groups – cowboy groups and family groups. They were here from ranches, farms, towns, and cities located in 18 states and one province of Canada. There were not 75 cowboys, signed up for the National Finals. This was brought about by the fact that six of the cowboys – Jim Shoulders, Guy Weeks, Jim Tescher, Tom Nesmith, Benny Reynolds, and Duane Howard – were among the top 15 big money winners in not one, but in two events.
The last official RCA figure for rodeo prize money won by the cowboys in 1959 was $3,137,245. Of this sum, the 69 Dallas finalists had won between them, $872,906 – and at the National Finals they would be contesting for an additional $57,500.
There would be no teenagers in action at Dallas, as there had been at NF steer and team roping events in Clayton, New Mexico. The three youngest hands at Dallas were 21-the oldest cowboy admitted to being 38. The biggest cowboy contesting at the National Finals Rodeo was the bulldogging lead-holder Harry Charters of Melba, Idaho. Charters is 6-foot 6-inches tall, and he weighs in at about 250 pounds. This big Idaho cowboy towered over the rest of the ‘daggers, and these ‘daggers, in turn, towered over most of the other event finalists. Of the top 15 ‘daggers of 1959, 12 of them are 6-feet tall, or taller.
Judges for the National Finals were in a contestant poll. The selected riding event judges were Sonny Tureman and Leonard McCravey. Toots Mansfield and Benny Combs were chosen to flag the calf roping ‘dogging events. The clowning bull-baiter, selected by the contestants, was Gene Clark, with Buck LeGrande as the chosen barrel clown. Cy Taillon and Pete Logan were to handle the mike. Frances (Mrs. Ki’d) Fletcher, Muggs (Mrs. Mac) McClanahan, and Miss Joann Herrin were picked to time all events. The three contestant-chosen pickup-men were Bob Christensen, Elra Beutler, and Lefty Wilken. The rodeo was Cecil Jones; arena director, Bill Linderman; livestock superintendent, Buster Ivory; and the producer of the ·National Finals Rodeo was John Van Cronkite of Nacogoches, Texas.