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Rodeo days – A moment in time

The Spirit of Tehachapi


June 23, 2018

I have read the pros and cons about rodeos in the news lately, but the following event happened (it's hard to realize) some 71 years ago. It's an article from my husband, Doyle Gracey's writings. No opinions about the sport, "just the facts."

When World War II ended my husband, with only three years time in the military, was separated for a short while before he realized he'd left the Marine Corps a bit prematurely. By 1948 he was to re-enlist and spend another 27 years in Uncle Sam's United States Marine Corps making it an even 30 years. During the short interim between enlistments he was to leave his home in the mid-west and return to the little town of Tehachapi that he remembered when stationed at the Marine Corps Air Station in Mojave before being shipped overseas.

One of the local men of that time was Bobby Lee Smith – a young, fun loving man known for his good nature and tall tales for he could really spin a yarn. In order to get the "full flavor," and only eliminate a few profane words, I am going to continue as though my husband and Bobby Lee Smith were conversing as they did during this incident back in 1947. My husband wrote this tale and others of the Corps many years back. I will take a few excerpts from his old manuscript. Thus, the story begins....

(Doyle Gracey narrating.)

One day Bobby Lee told me of a coming rodeo in Kernville and asked if I'd like to go and do some riding. Bobby Lee did calf roping and bronco riding and was known in the rodeo circuit as "Fox Tail Smith." I told him, no, but he said, "Come on, Gracey, you wouldn't want me to lose twenty bucks would you?" Taking the bait I said I surely wouldn't want him to lose any money. Then he said, "Good! I just paid your entry fees for the Bull Riding Competition in the Kernville Rodeo."

"Great, " I said. "I manage to come through a war just so I can get gored by a bull."

"Aw, you'll do o.k.", he said. "You've got guts!"

"Yeh," I said. "...and I'd like to keep them right where they are!"

So, with a fatalistic attitude I decided to go. We drove up to Kernville the night before the rodeo. The headlights on his old pickup were so out of adjustment that we saw the tops of the trees but not too much road. Our overnight accommodations were in somebody's barn on a pile of hay. I soon drifted off with the pungent odor of barnyard in my nostrils.

I don't recall how "Fox Tail" fared on his events, but my turn soon came around and as they announced my name I recall lowering myself onto the back of the biggest Brahma Bull I'd ever seen with a set of lethal horns that were too close for comfort. The rope they shoved into my hands was of braided binder twine – multi-strand. Bobby Lee had made it himself and had fastened a cowbell to it. Someone clamped an old, stained cowboy hat on my head. I had already been fitted with spurs and I even had a red bandana scarf around my neck. I suspect "Fox Tail" was dressing me up for the kill! I'll say one thing - even if I didn't know what in the hell I was doing, I was certainly dressed for the part. Someone called down to me saying, "Are you ready?"

Just what in the hell could I say when I was seated on the brawny backbone of a 1700 pound bull? I said, "Let 'er rip!"

The chute opened and the bull, who was far more experienced than I, headed across the arena throwing his hind quarters from left to right and back again. After he had made several maneuvers of that type, he changed tactics and began to accomplish stiff legged head down jumps with his back bowed. It was on one of those high dives that Bobby Lee's homemade rope broke leaving me with a handful of nothing. My ticket had been punched and I was leaving the train. I lost my hat and disembarked head first between the bull's ample set of horns. I'm not sure where the bull went after that for I was too busy plowing up ground with my chin.

After I got the dirt and horse manure out of my mouth, Bobby rushed up to me saying, "Dam! You almost made time!"

Bobby Lee, I don't know which of my two rides I enjoyed the most." I informed him.

"What'dya mean? " he said, " I thought you said you'd never ridden before"

"Right, Fox Tail, I have taken two rides: my first and my last!" I assured him.

It may be that I set four records that day. I went up in the air the highest, stayed in the air the longest, hit the ground the hardest and raised the most dust.

(Each generation seems to find something foolhardy and a bit dangerous to do. Today, we sit back and click our tongues about the daring escapades of our young people. It seems that everyone has had a few of their own moments in time, but at least the only damage done was "personal." P.Gracey).


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