For the first time in history, three generations of one family will qualify for the National Finals Steer Roping, held in Amarillo, Texas, Nov. 19 […]
Gene Peacock has spent his life immersed in rodeo and the cattle business. The 84 year old Cottonwood Falls, Kan. man was a rodeo contestant, laborer and judge, as well as a feedlot manager and order buyer.
He was born in 1928 south of Seminole, Okla., one of nine children of Curtis and Marie Peacock. After his schooling ended with the eighth grade. he helped his parents ranch and farm. By the time he was 15, he was competing in the bareback riding, bull riding and saddle bronc riding. In his late teens, Gene made a dollar a day working for a local farmer and rancher. A 4th of July rodeo was advertised in Oilton, Okla., and Gene had a friend with a car, so they entered the rodeo. He won $75 at the rodeo, “and I only had made $65 working all winter,” he marveled. His rodeo career began in earnest.
Gene joined the Rodeo Cowboys Association, predecessor to the Pro Rodeo Cowboys Association, in 1945. At that time, cowboys could not cross over and compete in both RCA and amateur events, so Gene stuck with RCA rodeos. Bareback riding was his strength, but he also competed in the bull riding, occasionally the saddle bronc riding, and even roped and bulldogged a little bit.
He rodeoed “all over,” he said, “from Washington State to the East Coast.” Gene competed at Madison Square Garden in New York City and the Boston Garden five times. “Those were the biggest rodeos there were back then.” Madison Square was 53 performances, and Boston followed it. Together, they ran about seven weeks in length. Gene competed there five times, from 1945 to 1952, only missing one year, in 1949, when he was injured. New York City was big time for the Oklahoma cowboy. Madison Square was a 15 header, Gene remembered, “but I couldn’t stay sound. I never did win it but I won go-rounds there.” He had broken his neck when he was young, and “it bothered me at times.”
During his rodeo days, he became friends with Gerald and Ken Roberts. Gerald was the RCA’s all-around champion in 1942 and 1948, and Ken won the world bull riding title three times. Gene lived with the family on and off for several years. E.C. and Clara Roberts, parents of the boys, requested that Gene work for them. “They raised a lot of horses. I’d go nearly every year in the spring and break horses for them. They’d call and need me, and I’d go and stay a while.” For a couple of years, Gerald did the entering for Gene, and paid his entry fees and expenses, and if Gene won, Gerald got half of Gene’s winnings.
He also worked for the world champion brothers with the Roberts’ stock contracting business as arena director and flankman, first as part time and then full time in 1948. He often competed at the same rodeos at which he worked. At that time, the Roberts family provided stock for rodeos in Phillipsburg and Abilene Kan., Vinita, Okla., Burwell, Neb., and many others. When the Roberts brothers sold their company in 1961, he continued to work as arena director for other stock contractors. He was also on the labor list for many contractors, helping feed, sort and load timed event cattle at rodeos across the nation.
Gene had been an order buyer in Oklahoma, and in the early ‘60s, his company moved him to Strong City, Kan., to work at their feedyard, the Crofoot Cattle Co. He wound up managing the feedyard, and became a board member of the Strong City, Kan., PRCA rodeo.
Gene quit competing in 1965 (his last ride was in Strong City), but he didn’t leave rodeo. By that time, he had begun to judge PRCA shows and high school rodeos. Throughout his career, he traveled with the likes of Charlie Beales, Jack Buschbom, and Wallace Brooks, brother to world champion Lewis Brooks. He suffered injuries like any rodeo contestant, but they were never career-ending. He broke his neck three times, his ankle once, and numerous ribs, fingers, and a leg a time or two. The injuries slowed him down temporarily, but he always bounced back from it.
Gene’s favorite horse was the 1961 Horse of the Year, Jesse James. At the time, Gene worked for Walter Plugge, a stock contractor in Nebraska, and Gene bought the straight palomino, a saddle bronc, for $100 in Ft. Pierre. When Plugge went to sell the horse, E.C. Roberts was at the sale and refused to buy him, thinking he was too high-priced at $320, which was what Plugge wanted for him. Gene said, “I’ll buy him,” and sent the horse home with Mr. Roberts. Jesse James had an illustrious career with the Roberts’. “He’d rear out of the chute, and the farther he went, the harder he bucked.” Gene never had the chance to ride him, but flanked him plenty of times. When Mr. Roberts sold the horse in 1961, he went for $2300, a significant amount of money paid for a bucking horse at that time.
Gene was married to Walter Plugge’s daughter, the late Barbara Nichols, and they had two sons, Allan, and Phil. They were later divorced and in 1977 married Patty. Together they have fourteen grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Rodeo was different back then. Contestants don’t stay in the same town as long. “Back then, we used to go to a lot of two or three day rodeos, a day ahead of time, and stay till it was over,” Gene said. Oftentimes those early day rodeos were multiple go-round events. “Now, sometimes (cowboys) are there two hours” and then leave. And rodeo has more money. “I remember in 1950, I won the first go round in the bareback riding in New York. It paid $860, and Gerald (Roberts) and I thought we were rich and had plenty of money.”
At the age of 84, Gene just quit his order buyer business, but it’s still in his blood. He heads to the sale barn every week, and continues as a board member on the Strong City rodeo committee. He’ll celebrate his 85th birthday this June, and jokes that his family threw him a party for his 80th because “they thought I’d never have another one.” On June 9, they’ll throw another party this year, with family from Oklahoma and friends from all over in attendance.
The cowboy may be aging but his rodeo friends and memories are still young in his mind. He loves his rodeo memories. “I met a lot of great people that I cherished and we liked each other. I made a lot of friends.”