Monday, October 24, 2011

Steamboat, A Cowboys Dream

Frances and Etta Irwin riding into Cheyenne for Frontier Days
©Shirley Morris All Rights Reserved
© Shirley Morris All Rights Reserved.

The great Cheyenne Frontier Days was well established as the "Daddy of them all" by its fifteenth season. Newspapers, mostly from the east had been claiming the "cowboy is dead!" for going on twelve years now, some say longer.

San Francisco Call published the cowboys death story and blamed it on the cowgirl for civilizing the poor boy.  Still, every year, cowboys, cowgirls, entertainers, trick ropers, trick riders, bronco riders, steer ropers, relay racers would come. One by one, in groups, by train, by wagon and on horseback, they poured into the richest city in the west, Cheyenne. The electricity would fill the skies as Frontier Days came nearer and the anticipation of watching the cowboys saddle bronc contest made the hair on your kneck stand up.

There was no doubt the old west was alive and well, and so was the cowboy. Not a soul on earth could tame or "civilize" the cowboy during Frontier Days.

Thousands came and filled all the available hotels and rooms for let before thousands more would come and camp in the hillsides alongside their autos, tents and wagons for as far as the eye could see. Signs and billboards advertising Frontier Days were posted alongside numerous warnings to visitors not to give the Indians firewater. Turns out, that may just have been another advertising ploy to bring the crowds to an even greater frenzy. The rodeo goers wanted the "real experience" of the west and promoters made good on their word to give it to them.

Some say Steamboat was the greatest bucker of all time. He got his name when he was being loaded and reared up, hitting his muzzle on a cross board. It must have chipped a bone because people said he "whistled like a steamboat" when he bucked from that time on.

First rider to ever try his luck with Steamboat and draw him as a mount was Otto Ploeger, from Sybile, Wyoming. Otto was known as a good rider.

You would never think this horse to be the most vicious of all the buckers. He was absolutely docile! A cowboy could lead him out to the middle of the arena, saddle him with complete confidence he would live through it and the rider, like Otto, could mount him with no problem at all. It was only then that all hell would begin to boil under and through the muscles of the bucker. Steamboat bunched his feet, stood tense, transferring all his might to his visibly shaking powerful muscles and then launch into a series of stiff-legged jumps.

Fifteen minutes later, Otto Ploeger woke up looking up at some half dozen very concerned cowboys and doctors beneath the grandstand at Frontier Park.

And so it was with almost every cowboy to be fortunate, or not so fortunate, depending on your perspective, to draw Steamboat in the competition.

Steamboat and C B Irwin
© Shirley Morris All Rights Reserved.
Steamboat would methodically dump each and every cowboy who tried to hitch a ride and more than one said there was no shame in pulling a whole lot of leather from the hurricane deck of the mighty bucker. Just as predictably as the cowboy was thrown, Steamboat would immediately stop bucking as soon as his load was lighter. He became as gentle as any ordinary saddle pony and children would regularly approach and pet him when he was shown off in many parades.

But in 1912, Dick Stanley, an accomplished rider from Oregon came to Cheyenne Frontier Days and as the luck of the draw would have it, Dick drew Steamboat.

It had been raining and the arena was a muddy mess. Dick, say the judges, rode Steamboat that day, officially conquering the great bucker. Many protested his ride saying ".... great as it was, it amounted only to a questionable decision over the valiant black horse."

They went on to say, ".... Steamboat, his lightning feet mired down, finally stood, trembling, and Stanley leaped off. Those who know Steamboat know he had not finished and he would have bucked harder than ever when he got is second wind."

The decision stood and Dick Stanley was the first rider to officially ride Steamboat to a standstill.

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