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Bull Riding for a Tehachapi guy from Chicago

Mountain Tales: First-hand stories of life in Tehachapi

After World War II ended, I separated from the Marine Corp between 1946 and 1948, when I re-enlisted. I spent some of the months in between in Tehachapi, where I met my future wife, Pat Davis, and many young people my own age. One such person was a tall, dark-haired, fun-loving young man named Bobby Lee Smith. He was known for his good nature and tall tales; he could really spin a yarn.

One day Bobby Lee told me of a coming rodeo in Kernville and asked if I'd like to go up there and do some riding. I declined, saying I was a city boy and had no interest in rodeos. A week or so later he stopped me in the post office and said "Hey Gracey! You wouldn't want to see me lose twenty bucks would you?" I took the bait and told him I surely didn't want him to lose any money. "Good!" he returned, "I've paid your entry fees in the bull riding competition at the Kernville rodeo!" "Great," I told him, "I manage to come through a war just so I can get gored by a bull!"

"Naw!" he laughed, "You'll do okay; you've got guts!" "Yeah, and I'd sure like to keep 'em all in their proper place; just where God put 'em!" I said. A few days later we loaded up a bone-headed saddle rack that Bobby Lee called his roping horse and we were on our way to Kernville. He followed the local rodeo circuits doing calf roping and riding the bucking broncos under the name "Foxtail Smith" and he was slated to ride.

We drove up the night before the event and I asked him just where in the hell we were going to sleep. "Aw, shoot! We'll just sleep in some barn or stable on a nice pile of hay!" It sounded good to me so after frequenting a few saloons, we headed for our accommodations. The horses were downright unfriendly about wanting to share their homes but we finally found an empty stall. We each had a blanket but it was darker than the backside of the moon and I asked just how he proposed to make any kind of bunk for the night when we couldn't see a danged thing. "Just throw down your blanket and dive in!" he said and he did just that. I did the same and soon drifted off to sleep with the pungent odor of barnyard in my nostrils.

Early the next day we found that Bob, in his sleep, had cozied up to a fairly fresh horse pile and he had what makes gardens grow in his hair, on his face and on his clothes. He smelled pretty ripe. We found a faucet where he cleaned up and we proceeded to the rodeo. I don't remember how "Foxtail Smith" fared on his calf roping and bucking bronco riding that day. He was pretty good and often made the time, but he was a brittle-boned bronc buster and had been known to occasionally break a bone when he hit the dirt.

My turn came around and as they announced my name I recall lowering myself into the chute onto the back of the biggest Brahma bull I'd ever seen with a set of lethal looking horns that were far too close for comfort. The rope they shoved into my hand was of braided binder twine; multi-strand. Bobby Lee had made it himself and it had a cow bell fastened 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 around my neck. I suspect Foxtail was "dressing me up for the kill." I'll say one thing: even if I didn't know what the hell I was doing, I was certainly dressed for the part. Someone called down to me, "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 hindquarters 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, I was too busy plowing up the ground with my chin. Bobby Lee rushed up and shouted, "You almost made time! Damn! You almost did it!"

After I got the horse manure and dirt out of my mouth, I said, "Well, Foxtail, I don't know which of my two rides I enjoyed the most." He said, "What d'ya mean. . . two rides? I thought you said you'd never ridden before?" I told him, "Bobby Lee, I've taken two rides on a bull: my first and my last." I figure 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.

– Doyle D. Gracey, USMC Ret.

The late Doyle Gracey was a much-loved Tehachapi resident who was married to Tehachapi historian and The Loop columnist Pat Davis Gracey.