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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 Abilene, Kansas, where Gerald and his wife, Pat, call home. On July 31, 2005, Gerald Roberts was inducted into the Kansas Cowboy Hall Of Fame on July 31, 2005 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.

Gerald endorsing Wrangler Jeans
Hover over the picture above!

Wrangler Jeans Promo
This ad, used to promote Wrangler Jeans, was also depicted in the book Common Threads - A Parade of American Clothing -by Lee Hall, published 1992, Little, Brown and Co- (pg. 102) as a portrayal of "Cowboy Clothing."

At 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:
a Cowboy (as Lemmon's stunt double) and the Indian who chases him. The Indian is shot by Gerald playing Lemmon's character. You could say, Gerald shot himself in the movie!

"Cowboy" Movie Cover

Gerald's stuntman promo shot

Columbia Pictures Promo Shot - 1958

Gerald & Glenn Ford

Gerald Roberts & Glenn Ford

On the movie set

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.

Columbia Pictures Promo

Columbia Pictures Promo Shot - 1958
Quick Draw!

 

Buzz Henry, Gerald Roberts & Glenn Ford

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 - Molalla 1947

Gerald in Mollala 1947

Gerald's 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 home."

Gerald didn't stay home long, however. Rodeo fever had over-taken his blood. He hitchhiked to Oklahoma to join the carnival because they too had a Wild West Show, this one run by Cherokee Hammond. They had a rodeo every hour during the carnival and Gerald rode bucking horses and bulls for $10 a week. The food was free and you just slept somewhere on the fairgrounds. According to Gerald, the best part was that he got to ride as much as he wanted and he rode everything he could. That gave him a lot of "cowboy experience."

It wasn't long before Gerald was traveling around the country hitting rodeo after rodeo, entering in three events: bull, bronc and bareback. Gerald says that in his day, it wasn't all rodeo and no play. The cowboys would stay in town for the week and stop along the way to the next rodeo to fish or something. It wasn't important to make all the points back then because they did things different in those days, they didn't have the National Finals Rodeo yet (which started in about 1959). For this reason, he thinks they probably had more fun traveling between rodeos back in his day than the Professional Cowboys do today.
Today, the top 15 money earners in each rodeo event at the end of the regular season qualify for the NFR.

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:

  • 16 times in the saddle bronc riding
  • 15 times in the bull riding
  • 11 times in the bareback riding

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:

  • Over his career, Gerald won 67 belt buckles and 16 trophy saddles.

  • 1930s-1950's: Numerous event titles at the top rodeos of the day such as Cheyenne, Salinas, Pendleton, New York, Boston and Houston.

  • 1938, Gerald won his first saddle in Carslbad, N.M. for the All-Around.

  • 1947, Lewiston Stampede: Gerald won all three rough-stock events to win the All-Around Crown

  • 1948, Lewiston Stampede: Gerald defended his All-Around Crown by winning the bull and bronc riding and placing second in the bareback riding.

  • 1948, Reno Nevada Rodeo: All-Around Title
  • 1949, Reno Nevada Rodeo: All-Around Title
  • 1951, Reno Nevada Rodeo: All-Around Title

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 - dashing young cowboy

Gerald at a rodeo about 1942
(Photo by Helfrich)

Although 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's take on the profession:
"Being a rodeo cowboy is not the easiest job in the world.You have to want to do it and you have got to be a good athlete. If you practice long enough, you will be good."

 

Rodeo Cowboys

Gerald Roberts, Casey Tibbs and cowboy friends at a rodeo.

Gerald as a young cowboy

Gerald Roberts - a young cowboy.

Gerald riding in Strong City

Gerald Roberts
Riding in Strong City, Kansas

Gerald riding a bull

Gerald Roberts


After seeing Gerald ride first hand, here's what one rodeo reporter, Lura Bruce, had to say . . .


First time I ever saw Gerald Roberts ride a bronc was in Boston Garden Arena in '42. From up where we sat he looked like a scarf flying in the wind, waving and fluttering, not a bone in his body. I thought at the time, "That's really riding" and after that I've always watched for his ride. What you see when Gerald rides is not just another contestant trying his luck. It's a great cowboy professional doing his stuff the way it ought to be done. . . . It's fellows like Gerald Roberts who have created the standards and traditions which have built professional rodeo to the great American sport that it is. Quiet, business-like, dressed always in conservative good taste, he shows up at the chutes with the air of a man who intends to win. He is making his way in the world in the work he knows best. .
. (Quoted from article, "Gerald Roberts - Top-Notch Contestant" by Lura Bruce, unknown publisher, unknown date).

Gerald Roberts Rodeoin'

Gerald 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)




By 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.

In those days, it was common for there to be 100 or 200 hoboes on every train. Gerald laughs as he says, "We were just a different type of hobo - little cowboy hoboes," still laughing. On his way home, he had a little mishap though. Through the grapevine, Gerald knew that the hoboes were going to have a big feast at a camp outside of Salt Lake City. As Gerald was getting off the train to join in the festivities, he accidentally stepped on the release on the uncoupling lever and uncoupled the train! Everybody down at the hobo camp was wondering who in the world had unhooked the train but Gerald didn't say a word. It got even more sticky when the R.R. detectives started looking around. Gerald tells this story with a lot of smiles and laughs.

After getting his fill of the hobo festivities and avoiding detection by the R.R. authorities, Gerald got back on another train and headed toward home once again. When he reached Newton, Kansas (about 60 miles from his home), Gerald, cold and hungry, realized that "the dang train wasn't even thinking about stopping and letting me off." Gerald devised a spur-of-the-moment plan . . . he proceeded to climb on top of the train and started screwing the wheels down. He screwed 13 wheels down just as tight as he could, from one car to the next. Pretty soon the train went straight through Strong City about 2 miles and finally they must have seen the wheels smoking and they stopped the train. The homesick cowboy promptly jumped off and went clear around town 5 miles to get home in order to avoid detection. Gerald recalls his dad, E.C. telling his mother, Clara, "Sounds like Gerald's home." Gerald is giggling.



Plane

Gerald, Casey Tibbs and friends with their new rodeo transportation!

Click Here to see more Casey Tibbs photos!

Gerald's good friend, Casey Tibbs.
Six time World Champion Saddle Bronc Rider.

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.

In 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!

Some time later, Gerald traded his brand new Packard convertible for a converted army twin engine cessna. He laughs as he says that it took all their money because it guzzled gas. When a couple of cowboys were flying from a rodeo in Colorado Springs, Jack Buschbom looked out the window and promptly informed Gerald that there was oil coming out of one of the engines. So the pilot turned the plane around and they flew back to Colorado Springs with one engine. Gerald left the plane in the hangar to get the engine replaced and, low-and-behold, the hangar got struck by lightning, burning up 13 planes, his included. Insurance didn't cover it because it was considered an "act of God." Gerald's reply, "Well, that's probably a good thing, that probably saved my life. We had a lot of near mishaps in those things."

Plane



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.

 

But 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.

Exactly 4 months later, on February 25th, 1947, Gerald was not only walking, he rode saddlebronc at Tuscon and the doctors couldn't believe it when Gerald showed up at Madison Square Garden later in 1947 to ride again. Gerald went on to win his second All-Around World Championship in 1948. "So I healed fast," Gerald says with a grin.   

He's as true a cowboy as they come.

Gerald Roberts' Portrait

Gerald Roberts' Portrait

Gerald Roberts Rodeoin'

Gerald 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)

 

Gerald Roberts Rodeoin' in Strong City, Kansas

Gerald winning the bronc riding at Strong City, Kansas- 1948
(photo by J. Homer Venters)




Family Rodeo Pictures!

Ken Roberts winning 1st place in bull riding - 1966, Tulsa, OK

Gerald's brother, Ken Roberts
winning the bull riding
1966, Tulsa, Oklahoma
(photo by Ferrell)

Marge Roberts riding in the Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo

Gerald's sister, Marge Roberts
on Strawberry
Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo

You Go Girl!   That's Awesome!

Ken Roberts advertising Camels

Rodeo Champion Ken Roberts
Advertising Camel Cigarettes

Gerald's brother, Ken Roberts, was also an original inductee in the Cowboy Hall of Fame and an inductee in the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame. Ken was a Bull Riding Champion three times: 1943, 1944 and 1945.
Gerald rode bareback, saddle bronc and bulls, but never took to the bulls like older brother Ken. Gerald rode bulls because he said he 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 lyin'," Gerald says.
(Quote from an article written by Gavin Ehringrer, Western Horseman, June 1993)
 


Lala Roberts

Gerald's daughter, Lala

 

Lala Roberts

Gerald's daughter, Lala
Learning early what it means to be a Roberts!

 

Jared Roberts

Gerald's Grandson, Jared
Riding Saddlebronc in Pecos, Texas in 2000.
Photo by Phifer.




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