Laces tied snug, tennis shoe cowgirl Pat North Ommert made hundreds of laps around as many arenas throughout the United States from the 1940s to […]
Back When They Bucked with LaTonne Sewalt Enright
Written by: Gail Woerner< Back to Articles
LaTonne Sewalt remembers the first barrel race she was in at Comanche, Texas. She was 9 years old and was riding her horse, Little Joe, just for fun, on a trick-riding saddle her folks had given her. She wasn’t even in western clothes, she was wearing shorts! The barrel race was about to start when her dad, Royce Sewalt, said, “OK, LaTonne, you’re next,” as he pointed at the arena gate that was opening. She was off and running. Little Joe was completely spooked when he saw the bright silver barrels they were headed for. He’d never seen bright shiny barrels before and he purposely stayed way far away. They didn’t score very well.
LaTonne and her dad, a top-rated calf roper, trained Little Joe, a half-thoroughbred and half-Quarter horse, in the roping pen at home. They were using three old rusty barrels. Little Joe wasn’t quite ready for those ‘strange’ looking barrels. When they got home LaTonne’s dad painted those old rusty barrels bright colors, and in short time Little Joe never gave the color of the barrels another thought. He got better and faster.
LaTonne went with her calf-roping dad to most all of his rodeos. Some rodeos didn’t have a barrel racing yet and when they did it was often called a “sponsor” event. If they did have barrel racing, her dad entered LaTonne and Little Joe.
In early 1950 the Houston Rodeo had barrel racing for the first time. LaTonne and Little Joe won. She rode her bay horse around the clover leaf six times to outride her older and more experienced competitors. She was only 11 years old. She received $695 for winning, plus a buckle. Roy Rogers, the cowboy movie star featured at that rodeo, was appalled when he saw that the buckle little LaTonne received had a bucking horse on it. Rogers told her he would have a second buckle made for her. He also gave LaTonne a kiss as she received her winnings.
Rogers got a photograph of LaTonne and Little Joe taken by a photographer at Houston and gave it to the Nelson Silvia Buckle Company, which had provided the buckles for the Houston rodeos. When LaTonne received the buckle there she and Little Joe were emblazoned on the buckle. In fact, that design was used extensively for years by Nelson Silvia on buckles being made for barrel racing events.
LaTonne went to eight rodeos in a row and won all the go-rounds and averages: Childress, Jacksboro, and Texarkana, Texas; Memphis, Tenn.; Little Rock, Ark.; Colorado Springs, Colo.; Burwell, NE and an all-girl rodeo at Tulsa, Okla. for a total of $3,997. Her competitors were adult women, including Billie McBride, Florence Youree, Wanda Harper Bush, Margaret Owens, Amy McGilvray and Sherry Combs. “I’m sure they hated to see me enter,” said LaTonne. She won the 1950 World Champion Barrel Racing title at the Tulsa Pavilion, which was indoors, at the All Girl Rodeo Finals. LaTonne, still only 11, won $4,665.82 that year, and had 316 points higher than her nearest opponent Margaret Montgomery. The Girls Rodeo Association had only been in business since February of 1948 and this was their very first Finals.
LaTonne Sewalt was born January 23, 1939 to Royce and Myra Sewalt in Brownwood, Texas. Royce was a calf roper and competed in rodeos because he was good enough to make a living at it. He used the money to buy cattle, which he would raise and then sell. He won the RCA World Champion Calf Roping title in 1946. LaTonne always wanted to be with her dad, whether he was just outside around the horses and cows, or at a rodeo. “It was a lot more fun than being in the house”, said LaTonne.
Once she started to barrel race, LaTonne’s mother made all her outfits. LaTonne had a fascination with trick riders and her mother designed the clothes for her daughter similar to what the trick riders wore, which were very beautifully designed. Her younger brother, Ronnye, also roped calves, like her dad. “Mom was our biggest cheerleader,” said LaTonne, “She built our confidence and deserved a lot of the credit for our success.”
LaTonne also won the GRA Barrel Racing World Championship again in 1954. She truly feels that her horse, Little Joe, never got the credit he deserved for being such a versatile and great horse. On occasion, she let some of the other barrel racers use Little Joe, and he always gave them all he had. Often they would be in the money, too. “He seldom knocked over a barrel or lost to another horse,” LaTonne remembered. In addition to his barrel racing talents, her dad also used the little bay gelding in calf roping and as a hazing horse. Little Joe died in 1958 due to a twisted intestine. Although she tried competing on a couple of other horses they just never could do what Little Joe had done.
LaTonne graduated from Afton (Okla.) High School as valedictorian of her class in 1957. She continued to compete in barrel racing until 1960, but didn’t rodeo full time. But she always took time off from school to compete at the Fort Worth and Houston rodeos. The WPRA Reference Guide showed her in fifth place in 1958 and in 13th place in the barrel racing event in 1959. Until 1968, LaTonne was the youngest girl to ever win the Barrel Racing World Championship. That year, 10-year-old Ann Lewis, of Sulphur, Okla., won the title.
LaTonne married Joe Green, a bull rider, in 1958. They had one daughter, Kellye Ann. They divorced later. Fred Enright became her husband in 1962, who was a former football and track coach who had moved into sales. They had daughter, Rene Michelle. LaTonne graduated from college cum laude in 1967 with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Business Administration and a Masters Degree in Business Education.
LaTonne was inducted to the Texas Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame in 2004. Her dad, Royce Sewalt was inducted in 2002, and brother Ronnye, in 2001.
LaTonne taught accounting and typing, now called keyboarding, for 35 years at Paschal High School in Fort Worth. She retired from teaching in 2003. She moved to Decatur, Texas, to be near her daughter, Rene Fuller, when her husband became ill. He died in 2016. Today she is enjoying her five grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren. She says they are all within a short distance so she gets to see them often.