Life as a Rodeo Cowboy
Gerald Roberts is a twice All-Around World Champion Cowboy
Gerald rode in three rodeo events: bull riding, bareback riding and saddlebronc riding, the latter being his favorite. His rodeo career spanned three decades from the mid-1930's to 1966. He won his first title in 1942, at the age of 22, and his second in 1948. He won the North American Calgary All-Around Championship at the Clagary Stampede in Alberta in 1950. He claims the Calgary All-Around as the highlight of his career because every event had to be worked in order to win it. He donated the huge trophy that he won in Calgary (which he figures is worth about $25,000 today) to the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
In 1965, Gerald became an original inductee in the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. In 1990, Gerald was inducted into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs, Colorado, along with Lane Frost. Gerald is the first and only cowboy to ever be inducted into the Kansas All-Sports Hall of Fame in Wichita, Kansas. On July 31, 2005, Gerald Roberts was inducted into the Kansas Cowboy Hall Of Fame in Dodge City, Kansas.
He is one of only 16 rodeo cowboys in the history of Professional Rodeo to win multiple All-Around World Champion titles. He is the only Professional Rodeo Cowboy to ever win an All-Around title under two associations: he won the first title under the Turtle Association in 1942 and the second under The Rodeo Cowboy Association in 1948. He was recently named #43 of the top 50 athletes of the 20th Century from Kansas by Sports Illustrated.
He's also been featured in numerous books and magazines, including Life Magazine, Pro Rodeo Sports News, Cowboys and Indians and American Cowboy, to name a few. Gerald was the very first Professional Rodeo Cowboy to endorse Wrangler Jeans. Blue Bell, Inc. began making western pants, called Wranglers, in 1947. In 1948, to win the acceptance of rodeo cowboys and spectators, Blue Bell paid Gerald to wear and promote the new brand. Each pair included a small comic book. Wranglers became one of Pro Rodeo's largest corporate sponsors.
endorsing Wrangler Jeans
the height of his career, about 1955, Gerald became a stunt man in Hollywood
in the old television and motion picture westerns. Gerald's first movie
role was doubling for Arthur Kennedy in the movie Lusty
Men. Gerald also worked with such actors as Glenn Ford
and Jack Lemmon, doubling for Lemmon in the movie, Cowboy.
Gerald played two parts in Cowboy:
Columbia Pictures Promo Shot - 1958
Gerald Roberts & Glenn Ford
Gerald Roberts, Glenn Ford & other actors on the set.
He also worked on television westerns such as Gunsmoke, Maverick, Have Gun Will Travel and Rin Tin Tin, in which Gerald played both the Cowboy and the Indian again. He had a speaking role in the television mystery series, Boston Blackie, in which Gerald, who played a farm kid with two blood hounds, is hired to help track down the bad guy. When they find the "bad guy," Gerald's character is surprised at who he turns out to be and exclaims, "Him?," in amazement. Gerald laughs at this one-liner as he ponders over how many ways there are to say that one word! "There's a thousand ways to say, 'Him?,'" Gerald says with a chuckle.
In 1958, Gerald was offered a role in the pilot series of Rawhide but turned it down to go to Brussels with Casey Tibbs to help develop a wild west show.
Despite the glamour of Hollywood, Gerald feels that becoming a stunt man might have hampered his rodeo career. Had he not been tied up in Hollywood, he could have entered more rodeos and potentially won more championships.
Pictures Promo Shot - 1958
Buzz Henry, Gerald Roberts & Glenn Ford
Gerald's good friend, the infamous pro-rodeo cowboy Casey Tibbs, also became a stunt man in Hollywood. When they weren't entering rodeos or performing stunts in Hollywood, the two of them traveled around the world together putting on exhibition rodeos - which greatly popularized the sport of rodeo.
Gerald in Mollala 1947
professional rodeo career started at the age of 13 when, in the footsteps
of his older brother and sister, he left home for Perry, Iowa with $13
in his pocket and a brand new homemade western shirt that his mother had
made for him. Gerald's first rodeo performance was in Clyde Miller's Wild
West Show in Perry, Iowa. Gerald was in heaven - he rode bulls and steers
every thirty minutes, all day long. That gig was abruptly ended, though,
when Gerald's spur got caught while riding a bull causing a chain of events
that left him unconscious for nearly 8 hours. When Clyde found out Gerald
was only 13, he shipped him straight back home to Strong City, Kansas.
Actually, Clyde let him stay on the tour as a "hand" until they reached
Abilene, Kansas which was close enough for Gerald to "find his way
Gerald proudly points out that, if the National Finals Rodeo had been in existence in his heyday, he would have qualified a whopping 42 times for the NFR:
Calf roper Olin Young, along with six-time All-Around World Champion cowboy, Larry Mahan, hold the record for the most combined NFR qualifications with 26 each. (From an article written by Gavin Ehringrer, Western Horseman, June 1993)
Other rodeo triumphs:
Of Gerald's numerous belt buckles and trophy saddles, he gave some of them to the Cowboy Hall of Fame, the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame and to close friends or family. He gave an All-Around buckle that he won to his friend, Glenn Ford.
Unfortunately, many other buckles and saddles were loaned out and never seen again.
Gerald at a rodeo about 1942
riding saddlebronc was his favorite, Gerald rode more bulls because, well,
he won more money. As he puts it, "I couldn't afford not to. It's
a dangerous event and anybody who says he isn't leery or doesn't respect
what a bull can do is either crazy or lying." Gerald says that successfully
riding a tough and ornery bull made him elated.
Gerald Roberts, Casey Tibbs and cowboy friends at a rodeo.
Gerald Roberts - a young cowboy.
After seeing Gerald ride first hand, here's what one rodeo reporter, Lura Bruce, had to say . . .
Roberts on "No. 11" - Lewiston, Idaho 1947
(photo by DeVere)
Hover over this picture!
to see Gerald riding "Alley-oop" - Phoenix 1949
(photo by DeVere)
Train . . . at
the age of 15, Gerald and another cowboy (Gerald calls him "Nevada") set
out, starry-eyed, in search of wild horses in Nevada. They headed out
on a freight train to Pueblo, Colorado and then caught the Denver and
Rio Grande Western R.R. in Denver and went clear to Reno, Nevada. Gerald
laughs as he tells the story. . .the other cowboy just disappeared in
Reno. Gerald has often wondered what happened to "Nevada" - wondered what
he thought when he found out that Gerald had gone on to become a World
Champion Cowboy. But, Gerald never saw "Nevada" again. Suddenly, Gerald
was in Reno by his lonesome. The Depression Era was in full force at the
time and Roosevelt had set up camps all across the U.S. where people could
eat and sleep, shower and wash their clothes. This was working out perfectly
for the 15 year-old, pennyless young cowboy from Kansas. Gerald stayed
in the Reno camp for a few days and also learned to ask housewives if
they needed any work done in exchange for a meal. Gerald says, "You didn't
beg for anything, you offered to do something." But Gerald was really
young and homesick, so he caught a freight train and headed toward Kansas.
good friend, Casey Tibbs.
Gerald met Casey Tibbs at the Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo in the mid-1940s. At the time, Gerald was a spokesman for the Cowboys' Turtle Association, which only cost $5.00 to join. Gerald, who had nine years more rodeoing under his belt than Casey, signed him up. The two became very close friends and devised a rodeo travel schedule that Gerald called "making two rodeos at the same time."
By Plane . . . Gerald and Casey Tibbs were the first Rodeo Cowboys to start flying between rodeos. In 1947, "we went to renting airplanes and we were making two and three rodeos in a week, sometimes four. But, everybody was cussing us because we'd show up at a rodeo here and a rodeo there. We were actually the ones who started it and it wasn't long until everybody was doing it." Before their airplane mastermind, one or two rodeos a week was about all a cowboy could make.
a twin engine cessna, Gerald, Casey Tibbs, Bill McMacken, Jack Buschbom
and Bill Coffee, the pilot, headed out from Sidney, Iowa on their way
to Los Angeles. About twenty-two miles east of Denver, they had flown
into a storm. There was no place to land because all the airports were
snowed in. They stayed in the air as long as they could but when they
started to run out of gas, they had to make a crash landing in a wheat
field at 2 o'clock in the morning. It was pitch black and they couldn't
see a thing. Right before they hit the ground, the pilot turned on the
landing lights and there was a windmill right in front of them! The pilot
swerved "that thing just enough to miss the windmill and we hit in one
field and bounced into a fence and over a ditch, skidded across the road,
and into another wheat field." All five of them walked away without
a scratch. Twenty miles from anywhere, they picked up their saddles and
started walking. Casey Tibbs went back to the plane to recover a bottle
of whiskey to keep them all warm for their journey. "It was gone
before we'd walked a mile," Gerald says, smiling. I guess that's
a pretty good story," Gerald proclaims with a grin. I guess those cowboys
showed that airplane they could "ride" that too!
Injuries are no strangers to cowboys; it comes with the territory. And Gerald has had his fair share: pulled muscles, a few broken ribs, a broken thumb, a few broken toes, a broken wrist, a separated and a broken shoulder, and worst of all, a broken ankle that was nearly torn off by a bull on October 25, 1946 at Madison Square Garden in New York. Although Gerald had successfully rode the bull for eight seconds, as anyone who's ever seen a rodeo knows, the danger doesn't end just because the ride is over. Before Gerald could get out of the arena, the bull stepped on his leg, and "broke my leg square off, practically tore my leg off." The injury occurred with such force that the bone in his ankle or lower leg pierced through his cowboy boot and into the dirt floor of the arena. As they took Gerald out of the arena, he remembers Buster Ivory walking alongside carrying his foot. The doctor in the operating room told Gerald, "Well, we'll just have to cut this off." Gerald emphatically replied, "You aren't planning to cut my leg off. I'd rather die." Gerald was very lucky that day, as he'd been so many times before. There just happened to be a doctor present, Dr. Michael Diane, who had just gotten back from doing field surgery in the war. He told Gerald he thought he could save his leg and they promptly transported Gerald across the street to the Poly Clinic Hospital. Dr. Diane was operating within 30 minutes and successfully put Gerald's leg back together. Dr. Diane told Gerald that he'd possibly never walk again and certainly wouldn't ride the rodeo.
we're talking about a rodeo cowboy here - the toughest of the tough. A
man whose whole life was about riding unruly and uncooperative animals.
A man with rodeo fever in his blood.
He's as true a cowboy as they come.
Gerald Roberts' Portrait
riding "A WIld One" - Strong City, Kansas
(photo by J. Homer Venters)
Hover over this picture!
to see Gerald Roberts riding "Blackbird" - Tuscon 1946
(photo by DeVere)
winning the bronc riding at Strong City, Kansas- 1948
(photo by J. Homer Venters)
Family Rodeo Pictures!
brother, Ken Roberts
sister, Marge Roberts
You Go Girl! That's Awesome!
Champion Ken Roberts
Gerald's daughter, Lala
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