A Different Kind of Rough Stock
from the "Rodeo Roots" series by Rhonda Sedgwick Stearns
A Different Kind of Roughstock
One of the greatest shocks America ever felt hit December 7th, 1941. The following day this nation was at war.
That dealt rodeo a real wallop. Most of America’s able-bodied young men, including those belonging to the Cowboy’s Turtle Association, were soon scattered across the globe in various branches of military service. A lot of the women worked in defense plants, and the entire concept and practicality of sports for entertainment was in question here at home.
Patriotism has always run deep with cowboys. Ma Hopkin’s “Cowboy Bible” Hoofs and Horns became a link to home for cowboys abroad, with many of their letters reprinted in each issue.
She also served as a post office of sorts for ‘her boys’ in the military. Most of them regularly informed her of their ever-changing addresses so she could keep sending their magazine, which led Ma to offer forwarding service for them. Anyone wishing to write to them could simply mail their letters to Hoofs and Horns and she’d send them off to the cowboys, along with fresh editions of the magazine.
In early 1942 Hoofs and Horns was reporting this kind of news: “If any of you fellows have tried to buy rope lately, you probably have found out that the Government has taken over all A and B grade manila rope, which means that the old Plymouth yacht line is sure going to be scarce.”
One item read, “Heard Fritz Truan had joined the Army Air Corps and will do his riding on the back of a fast airplane instead of one of those good old bucking horses.” Everyone in the rodeo world knew Fritz, who already carried the titles of World’s Champion All Around Cowboy and World’s Champion Bronc Rider. Not much later he offered his nation the ultimate sacrifice, dying on Iwo Jima.
A great editorial by Chuck Martin was carried in the March 1942 Hoofs and Horns titled, “The Place of Rodeos in National Defense.”
Martin began, “Where does Rodeo fit into the picture of our National Defense? I will try to answer this question because I have no financial stake involved. I don’t own a bucking horse, a rodeo arena, nor am I a promoter who will draw a percentage from the gate receipts.
“I would rather answer the question because I served my time as a working hand on different cattle spreads long before most of the current rodeo contestants were born, and because I have covered and reported several hundred rodeos in the past twelve or fifteen years. And because I have had the opportunity to study conditions in may states during the past two years, learning the reactions of managers, promoters, and contestants in front and behind the bucking chutes.
“Rodeo has already contributed to National Defense until it HURTS. Many of our tophand contestants now wear Uncle Sam’s uniform, and many more will be called. Nearly all are physically fit because they have to keep that way in order to compete in their chosen profession.
“It is my firm belief and conviction that RODEO should continue during the duration, first, as a builder of morale. It is the oldest sport in America, and every man and boy who watches from the grandstands, unconsciously puts himself in the place of the contestant he is watching, whether it be in saddle bronc riding, bull riding, bulldogging or roping. They come away from each show with just a bit more courage. ‘A good example is worth a thousand words of lecturing.’
“It is true that this year the average age of contestants will be higher, that is the contestants on the whole will be older men. But they will be setting examples of courage which will have a decided effect on the older and younger men who watch them work. Why? Because a cowboy NEVER quits! . . . Rodeo MUST carry on now, because those who are left to compete owe it to their companions who are fighting for all of us. And I have a suggestion which so far seems to have been overlooked. Some really good shows should be booked NEAR large army and navy training camps. Rodeo means both ACTION AND COURAGE . . . essentials in the fighting services.
“President Roosevelt decrees that Baseball must carry on during the war . . . It was announced authoritatively over the radio recently that many actors, directors, and other people connected with the movie industry are considered vital to National Defense. As this industry is essentially one of entertainment, the answer to the place of Rodeo in National Defense is also obvious.
“This does not mean ‘business as usual’ and a letting down of all the bars set up as measures of protective defense. It does mean that the contestants of all Rodeos should give the best they have to give, keeping in mind that each go-around is destined to build up public morale by example.
“The United States without Rodeo would be like day without night, ham without eggs, or a cowboy without a horse. The one thing I am afraid of is, there might be many a cowboy without tires with which to equip his horse trailer, but I also know this – it is necessary to run at slower speeds to conserve tires, and this will result in fewer champion horses being overturned and killed. You Turtles listening?
“Defense workers are working overtime hours and their nerves get strained. They need recreation with their relaxation and Rodeo will give them both . . . You contesting cowboys are heroes to all the small boys in the country wherever you play, which means that you have a responsibility in the matter of setting an example of clean living . . . Rodeo must not be allowed to fall apart from disuse or abused by misuse. It must be kept intact for the rodeo boys in the service, who will come back to us to take their places where they left off . . . It seems to me that this statement sums up the whole piece. Cooperation from everyone connected with the grand sport of Rodeo will make Rodeo vital to National Defense.” 1
Walt Coburn added, on the following page, “There will be a lot of cowpunchers in this man’s Army, Navy and Marines. Bronk riders, bulldoggers, ropers. Boys that can take care of themselves in any kind of company. Boys with all the guts it takes to get the job done. They won’t shoot to miss.
“Before this war is over the names of a lot of these boys we’ve watched contest, other boys that punch cows on ranches, will go down on record as heroes. Some will be buck privates and gobs. There will be some non-coms. Others will rate commissions. But you can’t take the cow out of a cowboy. They won’t change. And the record they will leave behind them will be something for the last of the cow country to be proud about . . . It seems too doggoned bad that a cowpuncher outfit can’t be organized. Like Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. So that all these cowpunchers could be in one really tough fighting outfit. But nobody with enough big drag has ever thought about it. Somebody like Will Rogers, if he was here, would get something like that done. But Will ain’t here and Tom Mix ain’t here. Tom would like something like that. And there just don’t seem to be anybody with enough foresight or hindsight to figure out what a really gun slingin’, hard ridin’ outfit these boys would make. Give a cowhand a horse and he’ll not be afoot when the time comes to really charge ‘em.
“But the way it is, cowboys, you’ll be scattered out and split up like you’ve been dropped on circle in the rough country before daybreak. But you’ve always gathered your cattle and fetched ‘em in on the holdup ground. You’ve rode bronks and roped steers, caught calves and risked yore necks bulldogging. And it was every man for himself.
“You’ve done your jobs on the range, asking nothing easier than an even break in the contest arena. You’ve been throwed, kicked, tromped on, busted up. But you never was heard to squawk. You’ve grinned through dust and blood and pain and disappointment. And now a lot of you boys are tackling the big contest. Twenty-one bucks a month ain’t day money. It’s even a lower dinero than the old forty-a-month and beans. And you glory riders might not ever get the chance to make a fancy pay day ride. But you won’t holler. You’re cowhands . . . You got your hunting license, cowhands! Git the limit. I know damn well none of you will miss.”
In the March 1943 issue Coburn had another letter of encouragement, with the following paragraph, “I hope this reaches some of the boys I’ve known between the Circle C ranch in Montana and the Cross Up outfit in Arizona. Sons or brothers of cowmen and cowpunchers who never turned back on a tough trail. Some of you boys come from Montana, Texas, Mexico, or even the Indian Reservations, like Fort Belknap where the peace pipe has been smoked between the White Man and the Indian. I’ve known you all. You are the godsons of the Cow Country. YOU JUST CAN’T BE WHIPPED!”
A little joke in that column is indicative of the numbers of cowboys enlisted into the military. Coburn said, “I heard this from a Mexican bartender: He said a cowpuncher got into a fight. I asked him if it was another cowpuncher he was fighting with and he said, ‘No, a civilian.’ “
If they didn’t pass their physical exam or for some other reason weren’t accepted into military service, many cowboys and cowgirls went into defense work. “News Notes” in the March 1943 Hoofs and Horns says, “Faye and Nick Knight, Stub Bartlemay, Gene Pruitt, Howard McCrorey and Bart Clennon are all employed at the Kaiser Shipyard at Vancouver, Washington.”
The Cowboys’ Turtle Association column for the April 1943 Hoofs and Horns carried the following poignant piece, “A delayed letter from Chili Cole, written December 7, says: ‘One year ago today the Japs fixed the first go around in this contest. They cut our loose ropes on the sly and let a little slack in our riggin’ when we weren’t looking. Lots of boys whammed the ground without a chance to qualify. Some of these boys had set their last Hamley’s. Others just got up, knocked the dust and blood out of their manes and come out hookin’ em high at the next performance. This is one show that didn’t close the entry books on the opening day, so lots of us boys were able to enter for the duration. None of us know how many performances there will be. So please take my name off the Hoofs and Horns books and sort of retire me and when I get out I’ll pay up again and we can all go to another show that we don’t want to win quite as much as we do this one.’”
Cowboys were no different than other military men about their preferences for particular branches of the service. Ma Hopkins noted in the above-quoted column that “Luther (Chipmunk) Finley has this to say: ‘So you put in Hoofs and Horns that I am a soldier! Ma, there’s as much difference between a Marine and a soldier as there is between Madison Square Garden Rodeo and that of a one-horse town.’ Do we need to tell you after that that Luther is a Marine? Well, we’re going to change the heading on that list of boys and call it ‘Cowboys in the Service.’ That all right, Luther?”
The Cowboys’ Turtle Association news for June 1943 in Hoofs and Horns noted, “The CTA bought $3,000 worth of defense bonds in the recent drive. The Association has put itself on the map in the matter of bonds, and that’s a mighty good way of telling the cowboys in the service that the ones at home are backing them up.”Walt Coburn was back on his soapbox in the March, 1944 Hoofs and Horns, with a piece titled “Rodeos Don’t Die.” He began, “Ma Hopkins has asked me to bat out something that would sort of tell you boys in uniform who are scattered now from hell to breakfast that the flag still waves above the rodeo grounds. That there’ll be rodeos still in existence when you get back. The answer to that is, ‘Hell, Yes.’
“There is what the misguided politicos call a meat shortage. But at the same time, cowhands, there’s more cattle on the hoof today than there ever has been. Now don’t ask me to figure you out the answer to that one. It’s the sixty-four dollar question that’s got most of us folks out here in the cow country shaking our heads. What I’m getting at is that there’s plenty of cattle. Rope ‘em and ride ‘em, and ‘dog ‘em. But don’t go chawin’ on ‘em. Not without you got a book of ration points on your flank. So there’s plenty of livestock. And the size of the cow country ain’t shrunk a foot. And there’ll be bronks to ride and a lot of ‘em will be all the saltier for a year’s lay-off. And don’t worry about the customers. Because right now you can turn ‘em away by the hundreds with the sorriest kind of a humpty-dumpty show. They got money to spend. They’ll get gas somehow or other. And run on the rims. But you open up a show of any kind and a crowd will gather like bees around a hive and they’ll have admission dough in their jeans. But right now, with gas and rubber shortage and train transportation what it is, the Rodeo business is naturally gathering some dust. You can’t ship rodeo stock any distance. Places where they’ve the livestock handy, they can put on a good show. And turn away cash customers for lack of room to sit, stand or lay down. But other places where rodeo stock has to be hauled any distance; they just naturally call it No Dice, for the Duration. But those rodeos ain’t dead . . . Old Man Rodeo is just sitting back on his hunkers whittling a stick and watching his livestock put on the haybelly till the end of the War.“Meanwhile those real Rodeos that have the livestock handy can put on a show. There will be the little local talent rodeos now and then. Some of those little contests, like you boys remember, are salty and wild and the real McCoy. Others are two-bit, henyard, humpty-dumpty false alarms that do the game more harm than good. Those half-baked under-done things with their sorry stock are as bothersome as lice and should be treated accordingly.
“But one of these days the Big Ruckus will be over. You boys will be shedding your G.I. outfits and dusting off your saddles and pulling on your boots. And you’ll be contesting at bigger and better Rodeos than we ever saw. You can bet your next month’s G.I. pay on that. And it will sure be a pleasure and honor for us Desechos to see you boys all back in the saddle. Because it aint’ just the gal you left behind that’s missing you cowboys.
“So don’t fret or worry, boys. Those Rodeos gates will be wide open. There’ll be plenty of good rodeo stock crowding the corrals. Salty bronks in the bucking chutes. And the stands packed with folks rearing to holler their heads off for you boys that licked the Germans and the slant-eyed Jap rats. And fat prize money.
“But ain’t the old rodeoin’ going to feel awful tame to you boys? That’s a question that bothers me. But even as I ask it I reckon I’ve got the answer. The same as some of your fathers have who got a sniff and taste of that other big ruckus. Not even War can take the cowboy out of the man. It gets in your blood and it stays there.
“So get the job done and come on home. We’re sure waiting to holler for you.” 2
No matter how far from home or in what danger or what unfamiliar and hostile conditions they found themselves, cowboys clung to their culture and the things they loved. One wrote Ma Hopkins how he used brass from a 9mm Jap shell to build a cowbell he could use on his bull rope, as soon as he was home from the war.
T/5 Lloyd Krueger wrote from a California hospital, “Dear Ma Hopkins: Yes, some of the copies of H & H finally got through to us. When it came the news would spread over the whole battalion and then the magazine would start on its tour. We sure looked forward to its coming. The gang used to say they wished I’d hurry and get bumped off (always kidding, but they damn near got their wish) so they could have my bit and spurs. I made them out of a Jap plane propeller. Started them on the Admiralty Islands and finished them on the way to the invasion of Luzon. We were among the first wave to hit the beach there. When I was taken off the plane at Hamilton Field, I learned my baggage was lost enroute and I went wild, for all my personal things besides the bit and spurs and souvenirs were in the baggage. Hope I can still get them. The fellows were all kidding me when I left, all wrapped up in a cast, saying they would soon be seeing where I was riding in some show back here again. Well, I hope so, and wish I could tell ‘em all hello. I miss the gang.”
Cowboys in the military reflected their raising through physical and mental toughness, determination to never give up, and believing they could do virtually anything. Cpl. Merle Fales sent Ma Hopkins a clipping from a San Diego, California, newspaper that read: “Sgt. Wilkie C. Braten from Cody, Wyoming, and now in Germany, has been nicknamed ‘Cowboy.’ He is willing to ride almost anything into battle, and since he has had three tanks shot out from under him, he sometimes has to do just that. The ‘Cowboy’ lost his last iron steed at Gerensweiler. Then he put on a little personal rodeo. Three German tanks got the range of the General Sherman which the ‘Cowboy’ commands. The General Sherman was disabled and one crew member was wounded. Everybody abandoned the tank until the enemy stopped shelling it, then ‘Cowboy’ climbed back in and started firing the 75-mm. gun, but the range was too great. So out he jumped and ran through 500 yards of small arms and artillery fire to a group of tank destroyers. He mounted the turret of the nearest and took over direction of its 90-mm. fire against the three enemy tanks. One was kayoed and the other two retreated.” 3
The G.I.’s dubbed this ox “Double Trouble, and the rider, Glenn Ohrlin, says, “It was hard to keep your rope from slipping over their withers . . . flat back. We had lots of saddle horses, borrowed broncs from local trucking companies. They had very few motor vehicles in private use. Right after the war the civilians had very little. They rode trains, street cars in larger cities and bicycles." Photo Courtesy Glenn Ohrlin, Mountain View, Arkansas
In January 1944 a news tidbit said, “Al Jones, discharged from the army because of his age, has been using one of his rodeo trucks to do some sort of hauling for the government.”
Wherever in the world they were on military duty, cowboys were busy trying to capture any kind of four-legged critter that was big enough to ride. One Associated Press report from Leyte, Philippines, said: “Pfc. Marion West, former cowboy and rodeo star of Weed, N.M., wrangled himself a captured Japanese horse to become the first mounted military police on Leyte.
“West, on a looted saddle, now gallops past jeeps and other mechanized equipment to unjam traffic jams.”
If these cowboys ever managed to congregate more than two four-legged critters in one place, they put on a rodeo. Letters to the Hoofs and Horns editor told of such events in India, Burma, Japan, France, Australia, Germany, Italy, New Caledonia, etc.One of the most informative epistles highlighting such antics came from Bud Antone, who said, “Dear Ma Hopkins: I’m a busy soldier nowadays, guarding these people over here in Tokyo, but I managed to slip away Sunday, November 11, to go to the rodeo down at the Meiji Stadium, just a little way out of town. It was estimated that about 55,000 allied military personnel were there. It wasn’t much of a show, but they all seemed to enjoy it. But I’ll bet they didn’t have as much fun as we fellows at the chutes did. Some of the boys managed to get hold of some Japanese riding horses and rode ‘em in the grand entry. A few had English saddles and the balance rode without saddles. We had bareback riding, bull riding, and saddle riding. I beat up < [collected] half a dozen saddles, loose ropes, and a handful of Japanese cavalry spurs—that’s all we had to ride with. They had some rugged looking bulls but they weren’t as bad as they looked. Some of the broncs weren’t so hot either, just went to stampeding. The bulldogging was the most comical. The Japanese horses would start out all right but the next minute they’d all go different directions, the steer heading one way, the dogger another and the hazer still another. Once they got control of their mounts they’d start out again and usually wind up around 40 or 50 seconds.
This photo of Glenn Ohrlin from Himeji, Japan in the spring of 1946 proves the rodeos put on by American G.I.’s were well attended! Ohrlin noted the oxen were borrowed from local farmers and were in prime condition from working in the rice fields. He says, “They all bucked. One got mad and fought Red Sink of Malta, Montana after unloading him. We had a series of these rodeos in Himeji in 1946, Spring.” Photo Courtesy Glenn Ohrlin, Mountain View, Arkansas
“Cowboys from all over the world gathered that day, the British, Aussies, New Zealanders and Americans. Lt. Dick Ryan was the director of this ‘National Allied Championship Rodeo’ as it was called. Lt. Ryan rode the Emperor’s white horse ‘First Frost’ and it was said he was the first man to ride it since the Emperor did.
“After the people began to leave, one of the boys decided to try out the bull that was left in the chute. He was a big black one and hadn’t been used in the bull riding. Well, anyway, the bull left the chute with his rider, went through the side gate which was open, hit the ambulance and lost his rider there, but he continued on through the aisles of the stadium and you should have seen the people scatter. Nobody was reported injured, so I guess the bull just went out to see the victors of this island….” 4
We don’t know which Japanese rodeo this was, but from the information in the “Cowboy Bible” there could’ve been more than one going on. A letter from Jimmy Manskers and Robert “Midge” Sloan said, “We are dropping you a few lines on our way to Japan. It has been a long time since we were in the arena, so it looks like the only way we will get there is to put on our own show. We have about everything to make a show except the stock and grounds. We have stolen every piece of rope we could find on this ship and made loose ropes and if we can’t find anything else to put it on we will have to be satisfied with that white horse of Hirohito’s. If everything goes right you can look for us at some show back in the States some time next year. If and when we have a show here we will send in the results.” 5
A lot of poems were written by homesick soldiers, or by folks at home missing those soldiers, and Ma Hopkins printed as many as she could fit in. One of the best, credited to “Mrs. Bud Blake”, is titled
The Doughboy's Dream
I dreamed last night of the big rodeo,
The boys slapping my back saying “What ya draw, Joe?”
“The bulls sure are rough, boy, now you watch your step,
On one of these mosshogs you’ll sure lose your rep.
Look at that kid! He’s drawed big Hammer Head!
I mean that poor cowboy sure was born dead.”
Out of the chute, the gate opens wide,
With a bawl and a bellow, me spurrin’ his side.
That hump’s jumpin’ before me, his tail over my head;
Man! I can just see that hospital bed.
Whippin’ and spinnin’, he’s sheddin’ his hide;
I’m still aboard him—Hell, I’m makin’ this ride!
The whistle now blows, the crowd gives a roar,
My head aches, I’m sweatin’, my new shirt is tore;
But I’m one happy cowboy—I’ve got the high score!
At the sound of the guns, I wake with a start;
It’s only a dream and I missed the best part—
The cheers of the riders and drawin’ my pay.
I hope this old war will be over some day,
And all of these soldiers will be goin’ back home
To ride all the shows and never more roam.
And the doughboy muttered “That dream ended too soon,”
As he stood his guard ‘neath the Philippine moon.
America’s ranch country gave until it hurt for the war effort. Wilma (Mrs. Vernon) Whitaker from Chambers, Nebraska wrote Ma Hopkins to renew her husband’s Hoofs and Horns subscription, and reported: “Vern received a serious injury last fall at the hands of a sniper in Italy. He was in the hospital for some time and after his release was given limited service at another hospital. Then he asked for another go-around with the Germans and was recently reclassified and is waiting to see if his request for combat duty will be accepted. Our little cowhand will soon celebrate her first birthday. We think she looks like her Dad who has never seen her. She and Vern’s folks and I are running the ranch and along with other things are tending to Vern’s future roping and dogging horses, two colts sired by Frye’s stallions. My brother Lloyd (Spud) Richardson, has recently landed in France. Another brother, Raymond, is somewhere in France or Germany.”
Another letter to Hoofs and Horns, from Mary G. Quirk of Woodston, New Jersey, read, “We have received word from the War Department that Rabbit was killed in action at Bougainville on April 16, 1944.”
In reply Ma Hopkins wrote, “We are surely sorry to hear this bad news and extend our sympathy to his family. Rabbit was well-known at the Eastern rodeos and had many friends. He was one of nine brothers in the service, eight of whom were overseas, and he was the first of the family of twenty children to pass away.”
In “News and Letters” for the July, 1944 magazine we read, “Pfc. Francis Stiller writes about the rodeo at Honolulu: ‘Dear Ma: The Honolulu Junior Chamber of commerce put on a rodeo at the Honolulu Stadium May 3 – 6. There were 138 contestants, a few were island boys, but most of them were from the armed forces. It was sure a happy bunch of boys that collected in that old arena. It had been better than three years since a lot of us had been astraddle an old pony, but you would never have known it. Lots of the boys had sent home for or had brought their levis, boots, hats, ropes, etc. There were several C.T.A. boys, among them Fritz Truan who flew up from Midway to make the show. Kinda shows you how the boys long to get back to the rodeos.
“’They used all Island stock which was pretty fair, but we were kinda lost without good roping horses. They had the six major events, Bronc Riding, Steer Riding, Bareback Riding, Calf Roping, Bulldoggin’ and Wild Cow Milking.
“’The crowds were up in the ten thousand mark and at the night shows were even bigger. Most of the audience were service men and they really enjoyed it.
“’I did some trick riding and roping, but on the second day I made the hospital with a dislocated shoulder. Only one other injury, when Pepper Parker of Red Lodge, Mont., pulled up with a broken ankle.
“’I sure hope some of the other boys in other parts of the globe have the good fortune we had here and can put on a show, for it would really help the morale of a lot of the boys. Keep that good old Bible coming our way, Ma.”
This is the Henry Roth sketch Ma Hopkins was so proud to feature on Hoofs and Horns’ front cover in June of 1943. Red Billingsley Collection, Courtesy Anita Billingsley Schoen, Sheridan, Wyoming
Ma Hopkins took special interest in making Hoofs and Horns the best publication possible for the cowboys and cowgirls in the military, and several of the magazine’s covers through the war years were especially patriotic. The June 1943 cover featured a drawing by Seattle, Washington artist Henry Roth. Roth said, “After reading the letters to you from the boys in the service, I got an idea for a drawing which I am sending you.”
Ma Hopkins said, “To Mr. Roth, sincere thanks and deep appreciation for a subject that so hits the spot at the present moment.
“We know from our letters that Hoofs and Horns is read in foxholes and many other places on the battle fronts wherever cowboys are, and we also know that their thoughts and dreams are of other happier days in the arena.
“Mr. Roth has caught the longing that is in every cowboy’s heart in a way that shows his understanding and sympathy. We present this picture with especial pride.”
The following month Ma wrote, “In keeping with the purpose of our magazine, and with the part the cowboys are playing to keep Old Glory flying, Olaf Weighorst has made this special cover design.
“Yesterday and Today” is the title of this Olaf Weighorst original drawing that appeared on Hoofs and Horns’ cover for the month of July in 1943. The Cavalry at the turn of the century and in the 40’s is depicted. Red Billingsley Collection, Courtesy Anita Billingsley Schoen, Sheridan, Wyoming
“Olaf Wieghorst has the knack of fitting his pictures to the time and occasion, and we think that he has never done a cover picture that so completely fits the occasion as this one does.
“All of the magazines in the United States will feature the American Flag on their covers for the issue that will be on the news stands for July Fourth. Many will be in colors, but none will be more outstanding nor more appropriate than ‘Yesterday and Today.’"
In July of ’44 Ma wrote in her column “This and That”, “Writing this on the evening of D Day, knowing that our fighting men in the European theatre of war are engaged in the greatest military operation of all history, my boys all seem closer to me than ever. Many of you are taking part in that invasion, others are doing their share in the push in Italy, while still many others are scattered in the vast expanse of the Pacific fighting against another treacherous enemy.
“No matter where you are I know you’re getting the job done and I’m more than proud of you. There is no such word as ‘quit’ in the cowboys’ code. Your work at home on the ranches and in the rodeo arenas has made you adaptable and resourceful and the sense of fair play is ingrained in you – all of which makes you fine friends and bitter medicine for an enemy.
“That you are acquitting yourselves with courage and honor there is no doubt. For your safety, the prayers, not only of your own dear ones but also of other millions, are going out in your behalf.
“And when you come back the arena gates will swing wide in welcome and what a reunion that will be around the chutes!
“I thank you for all the fine letters you write me. I answer as many as I can, but we have been short of help here in the office and I think the work on Hoofs and Horns must come first, for I know how you say you look forward to it.
“So we’ll keep the ‘Bible’ coming to you with just as much news as we can pack into the pages. That seems an awfully little bit to do compared to what you’re doing, but we hope it helps.”
About the cover for that issue, Ma wrote, “Complying with a request from the U.S. Treasury Department, we are using a reproduction of a Hundred Dollar War Bond on our cover, as are many other publications this month.
“To give it the proper ‘punch’ and tie it up with the spirit of Hoofs and Horns, Olaf Wieghorst has drawn us a picture that brings home the necessity for every one of us to support the Fifth War Loan Bond Drive.
Again Weighorst seems to effortlessly meld past and present in this skillful sketch. It’s a cover that surely made people sit up and take serious notice. Red Billingsley Collection, Courtesy Anita Billingsley Schoen, Sheridan, Wyoming
“Coming right on the heels of the invasion of Europe, where millions of our boys are fighting for their lives and our safety in our righteous cause, this drive should make us dig deep. And Americans will do just that!
“Olaf Wieghorst has been making the cover pictures for our July issue for several years, and he always comes forward with an idea that just fills the bill.
“As an artist he’s Tops, as a man he’s Tops, as a friend he’s Tops. If we knew any better words, we’d use them.”
When the Great War finally ended and the cowboys began to experience hope of returning home, some of their comments were golden. S/Sgt. Vern Whitaker wrote, “When I get back to those Nebraska sandhills I am going to wire the gate shut and stay there.”
Smoke Williams wrote from Japan, “. . . Outside of a little shaking up and a Purple Heart from the Okinawa campaign, I finally managed to stay till the finals, anyway . . . ‘Well folks, school’s out. I hope it don’t start no more.’”
Ray Blasingame wrote from Ramah, Colorado, “Dear Ma: At last I am home from the war and back where I can pursue my own occupation. It is so good to see everyone and to see how they all appreciate us fellows who were lucky enough to come back in good shape. I guess I speak for all the fellows when I say we think this wonderful country was well worth fighting for, and a man who fought feels very proud and I don’t believe any of us feel the world owes us anything. It is enough just to be back.
“I bought a prospective rope horse with my mustering out pay, and just as I’ve always said, I’ll rodeo as good as I can next year. It’s been four years since I’ve roped any or rode any broncs. Keep sending my H and H here, it’s still the same old morale booster, and I guess I could never be without it. My sincere thanks to you and Virginia for getting the good book to me through thick and thin and from foxhole to mudhole – Holland, France, Germany, Belgium, and all the other places were not quite so miserable after the arrival of H and H.”
In the spirit of the sport they loved, cowboys made it through the War by doing whatever they could to help one another survive. As their letters proved, rodeo at home played a huge part in boosting their morale and helped keep them hanging on day to day until they made it back to the good old USA.
Once they were home, getting back into the routine of rodeo undoubtedly helped them de-program from the horrors of war with fewer scars; and perhaps more rapidly and smoothly assimilate back into the business of daily life in a free country.
© 2011, Rhonda Sedgwick Stearns, All rights reserved
This material should not be used with the author's permission
image by Trace Frost, www.tracefrost.com
Rhonda Sedgwick Stearns
Find more about Rhonda Sedgwick Stearns in our feature here
and visit her web site, www.doublespearranch.com.
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