Rodeo and Oklahoma just go together. Some of the best cowboys in the world are Okies, including the Etbauers (in the Rodeo Hall of Fame) and Lathams who came to Oklahoma after high school and made Oklahoma their home. We are proud that Texas County is known as the Saddle Bronc Capitol of the World. And we’re all sure that Oklahoma Panhandle State University is the best rodeo college in the world.
Now let’s talk about professional rodeo’s first million – dollar cowboy, Tom Ferguson. Also known as Old Bionic, Ferguson was born in Tahlequah, Okla., on Dec. 20, 1950. He moved to California at the age of three and later rode for the California Polytechnic State University rodeo team. The team took home multiple National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association championships, before Ferguson turned professional and returned to Miami, Oklahoma, in 1973. He joined the Rodeo Cowboys Association (RCA), which later renamed itself to the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA).
Darci Miller wrote an article about Ferguson two years ago that is worth repeating.
“Tom Ferguson’s reputation is unmatched. He won nine World Championships, which is the most all – time alongside Ty Murray and Casey Tibbs. Ferguson was the first cowboy to win more than $100,000 in a single season and $1 million in career earnings. He was the first to win six consecutive all – around titles (1974-79) and finished in the Top 15 in the world in two disciplines for eight years.
“Though he was known mostly for his prowess as a tie-down roper and steer wrestler, Ferguson was called rodeo’s best two – event man, Ferguson also competed in all of the timed events. He was inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in 1999.
“Ferguson won the honored with the Ty Murray Top Hand Award at the PBR’s annual Heroes and Legends Celebration in Las Vegas in 2018.
Ferguson initially tried the more traditional high school sports until those dreams were swiftly – and bluntly – dashed.
“I liked playing baseball,” Ferguson told Ride TV’s Rob Smets. “One year I went out for high school sports, and the director out there said, ‘Son, you don’t have no size, speed or agility. You’re no athlete. You need to go do something else.’
“I should send him a Christmas card every year, but I lost his address.”
“Ferguson dove headfirst into his rodeo pursuits, competing locally in junior rodeos – there were no high school rodeos at the time,” wrote Miller. (He) “attended Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, where he competed in collegiate rodeo, winning the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association tie-down roping title in 1970 and the all-around title in 1971-72. Ferguson got his rookie PRCA card in 1972. His $100,000 season came in 1978. In 1982, he won more than $17,000 at the Houston Rodeo, which at the time was the most money ever won by any cowboy at a single rodeo.
“In 1986, he became the first cowboy to hit the career $1 million mark.
“’It’s just a number,’ Ferguson said. ‘It’s a lot of money at that time. A pickup cost $5,000.’
“Ferguson may not be caught up in the dollars he won, but he was certainly determined to win every time he saddled up. He conditioned himself to think like a basketball player – they don’t make every shot, but don’t get caught up in their misses and modify their decisions to make the next one – and was always looking ahead to the next rodeo.
“In addition to his self-proclaimed hardheaded mindset, Ferguson was known for his work ethic. His practices were legendary and changed the game for the cowboys that came after him. They were organized and purposeful, with a goal of being perfect and not merely breaking a sweat and getting tired. He says people referred to him as Old Bionic because he didn’t make mistakes and he didn’t get tired.
“Though he was once told he wasn’t an athlete, he certainly trained like one.
“Retired since the late ‘80s, Ferguson … credits his father with instilling in him the desire to give back, harkening back to his Cherokee heritage and the kindhearted, giving ways of Native Americans.”
If you’re watching movies these days, the 1994 movie “8 Seconds,” is the story of Lane Frost, another Oklahoma cowboy. Frost was born Oct. 12, 1963. At the time of Lane’s birth, his parents lived in Utah. His father was a saddle bronc and bareback rider. His mother, Elsie, went to stay with her parents in Kim, Colo., and he was born in the hospital in La Junta. The family later moved to Oklahoma and he attended Atoka High School. In Oklahoma, he was the National High School Bull Riding Champion in 1981. He was the Bull Riding Champion of the first Youth National Finals in 1982.
He was the 1987 PRCA World Champion and a 1990 ProRodeo Hall of Fame inductee. He was the only rider to score qualified rides from the 1987 World Champion and 1990 ProRodeo Hall of Fame bull Red Rock. He died in the arena at the 1989 Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo as a result of injuries sustained when the bull Takin’ Care of Business struck him after the ride.
Netflix had a limited series in 2016 that you can watch about bull riding called “Fearless.”
Rodeo is an important part of Oklahoma and Texas County. Goodwell is the home of OPSU that draws in the finest college rodeo contestants in the world and Guymon is the home of the Pioneer Day Rodeo (which is also in the Rodeo Hall of Fame), one of North America’s best outdoor PRCA rodeos. Normally the Pioneer Day Rodeo happens the first weekend in May, but with the virus it has been moved to mid – August for 2020.
See you in the arena soon!