Classic Cowboys

Jesse Stahl

Jesse Stahl riding a bronc backwards during an exhibition ride.

A reader writes from Cowichan Station, B.C., Canada, that he has heard it said that Jesse Stahl was one of the greatest riders of all times and desires to know more about this oldtimer and what happened to him. We assume that other might be interested, so here is a brief reminiscent bit, necessarily so, for the full Jesse Stahl story would require a very large book. He really lived life to the hilt.

Since the cradle days of rodeo when George Fletcher and Bill Pickett, the Dusky Demon from Texas, were in their heyday, a host of black cowboys have ridden high, wide and handsome or otherwise, in the arena. Some of these men were top hands; others were of a different caliber, but literally and figuratively, Jesse Stahl stood head and shoulders over all the rest. Here was a cowboy’s cowboy and a rodeo fan’s favorite.

Jesse was a big, barrel chested, fun loving cowboy and generous to a fault. When a rodeo hand went broke or was injured, Jesse, if he had it, was the first to dig down into the pockets of his jeans. He taught the tricks of the trade to many of the then up-and-coming bronc riders, including the late Norman Cowan, who became a long time big name bonc rider, roper and ‘dogger.

We believe Jesse originally came from Tennessee and that he and his number one buddy, the late Ty Stokes (who became a very famous rodeo clown), started out together riding bucking mules for dollars or doughnuts in the deep south. Both were sharp all around hands. Jesse is probably best remembered as a saddle bronc rider. He was a dandy, and while making a ride there was most always a wide grin on his face. Through the years he chalked up countless numbers of hectic settos aboard the outstanding broncs of his time. He was a rugged bulldogger, too, and at one time held a world’s record of 18.1 for ‘dogging. He also got up into Canada and racked up wins there, including a bareback bronc riding win at the Calgary Stampede some 25 years ago.

During this period in the rodeo game, wild, unorthodox exhibition rides drummed up by imaginative cowboys were very popular events. Among others, there was Ben Dobbins and Bob Hall’s drunken ride; the Bill Jones, Slim Finnegan bronc and bull rides in a straw basket; Whitey Raines’ ride in a rocking chair, and numerous varieties of two men on a bull rides. Jesse Stahl’s contribution was to ride a bareback bronc backwards. On a really rank mount, this setto was a sight to see.

This article was originally published in the December 1949 issue of Western Horseman.

Leave a Comment