South Dakota’s Casey Tibbs and Idaho’s Deb Copenhaver won eight saddle-bronc-riding world championships from 1949 to 1959. Casey won six, and Deb won two. They were good friends and argued in fun, razzing each other almost constantly, although many thought they were serious.
After retiring from bronc riding, Casey once commented, “The only horse that I ever thought I couldn’t ride was Miss Klamath.”
One of the finest saddle-bronc photos ever taken was of Deb, a wonderful bronc-rider, successfully riding that great horse, which was owned by Christianson Brothers, in 1952 at the Ellensburg, Washington, rodeo.
In 1954, Deb had a huge lead for the championship title. The trophy-buckle maker that year used the aforementioned photo as a model for the scene on the yet-to-be-awarded championship buckle. That fall, Casey “hit a lick” and got hot. He edged out Deb for the championship buckle by $19.
After the championship awards ceremony in Denver, Colorado, that winter, Deb saw Casey and asked, “Hey, do you know who’s picture is on that buckle you’re wearing?”
Casey replied, “No, and I don’t care. But I do know whose name is on it!”
Later that fall, in the rodeo clown’s prep and dressing room at New York City’s Madison Square Garden rodeo, a cowboy “pitch” card game was going on. My uncle, Jim Tescher, was in the same room, taking apart his bronc saddle for repairs and readjustments. Casey happened to walk by, stopped and commented, “My saddle is broken up so bad, I don’t know how I ride it. I almost get the piles every time I do.”
Deb happened to catch Casey’s comment, and said, “So that’s what’s been wrong with your bronc riding. I wondered why you’ve been riding so poorly.”
Casey came back, “That doesn’t say much for you, Deb, as easy as you’ve been to beat!” Casey continued, “When you get old and gray, and go to the Cowboy Hall of Fame and back into some dark, dusty corner looking for your picture, look back over the archway of the door and my saddle will be there.”
The next year, 1955, a bronc-riding photo of Casey was used for the world championship buckle design. Deb won and wore that buckle with his own name inscribed on it!
Don Tescher, a previous contributor to the magazine, lives in Sheridan, Wyoming.