Max Reynolds

by Siri Stevens

Keeping the Spirit of the West Alive

“Heroes get remembered, but legends never die,” is a quote from Babe Ruth that gets used a lot, but Max Reynolds takes it a step further with his Wild West Acts. Spinning guns, trick roping, cracking whips, and Roman Riding while portraying Buffalo Bill and Wyatt Earp are just some of the feats this Lexington, Nebraska, cowboy has showcased to countless fans over the years to keep the spirit of the Wild West alive.
Everything from the opening of the National Finals Rodeo to a private family party for the sheik in Abu Dhabi fills Max’s long list of performances. He was also the stunt double as Buffalo Bill (played by Peter Coyote) on the 1995 CBS mini-series “Buffalo Girls” starring Reba McEntire as Annie Oakley, Anjelica Huston as Calamity Jane, Sam Elliott as Wild Bill Hickock, and Russell Means as Sitting Bull.
As a kid, Max watched the likes of Leon Adams and Jerry Olson perform and was inspired to learn Roman Riding on ranch horses at home. There wasn’t much the young cowboy was afraid of while growing up in Arapahoe, Colorado — except for getting caught by his parents.
“I was afraid they wouldn’t let me do it, so I did it out behind the barn where nobody could see me,” Max said. “I was afraid they’d stop me, but I got to where I could gallop around. Then one day, I had them going good and I came out by the house and I guess Mom was out putting clothes on the clothes line and I came flying down the road on those horses and she saw me, but it was too late to stop me then. They were supportive of it, and probably would have always been, but I was afraid they wouldn’t be.”
When he started trick roping, there weren’t any instructional videos on how to do it. Instead, it was books with drawings and instructions on which direction the rope was supposed to spin. Luckily, he soon crossed paths with J.W. Stoker who took him under his wing and taught him the ropes. His first performance was at a high school talent show at a neighboring town where he did some trick roping. He started performing at rodeos when he was 15 years old and by the time he was 16 he landed one of his first big performances at the National Little Britches Finals in Littleton, Colorado. “I can’t remember much, but I do know I was nervous,” Max said. “If you aren’t a little nervous I think you lose your edge.”
Learning the skill was one thing, but learning the trade was another. Getting his name out there and picking up jobs performing was tough work when relying primarily on word of mouth. “You have to prove yourself, then once you do that everything takes care of itself and people will start calling and you’ll get more contracts and it just snowballs from there. It’s like anything else, you need to get known before you can get anywhere.
“As an amateur, a man by the name of Floyd Rumford from Abbeyville, Kansas, gave me my first big summer run of rodeos and that was a big first for me,” Max said. “I was in college then, so I was about 19. Then when I turned pro, Bob Barnes gave me my first big run of professional summer rodeos in 1982.”

Max trick roping as a teenager - Courtesy
Max Roman Riding at the Mesa County Sheriffs Posse Rodeo - Courtesy
Max sharp shooting - Sharon Endsley

After graduating high school with a class of six in Arapahoe, Max competed in team roping and calf roping while attending Colorado State University in Fort Collins. Although he earned his degree in animal science from CSU, he opted for a career in animal art instead. While in college he met Jerome Robinson who eventually produced Pro Rodeo Classics. Robinson also produced the Western American Extravaganza, a show that was taken around the world to places such as Finland, France and South America. “Some of the overseas shows were with people I looked up to when I was little, like Leon Adams and J.W. Stoker,” Max said of his travels in the 1990s.
Now 69 years old, Max continues to perform and has several gigs in the works with his wardrobe designed by his wife, Cathy, whom he married in 1980. Wild West Acts is just himself performing at rodeos and other Western events and he’s been part of the Great American Wild West Show since it was started by Don and Sharon Endsley in the mid-90s.
“Don and J.W. Stoker were very good friends, so I guess Max was the second one we called,” Sharon said. “J.W. said ‘Max Reynolds would be perfect because he is so versatile and can do so much,’ and now I love him like a brother.”
Not too long after that, The Great American Wild West Show did 97 performances in 28 days with millions in attendance in Los Angeles. They were also featured in a documentary which landed Max on the cover of the LA Times. “He has been one of the backbone performers for all of these years,” Sharon said. “I can’t brag enough about him.”
Timing is everything for Max. “You only have so much time you should be out there performing, six to ten minutes is the maximum,” he said. “You need to hit the happy area where you leave them wanting to see more, but you need to do your best stuff in that small timeframe.”
He considers Roman Riding to be his riskiest feat since there’s fire involved. “You’re jumping through fire, and if the arena conditions are muddy or slick, or if one of the horses decides not to jump, it leaves you out there,” Max said. “It’s the most dangerous, but it’s also the most fun.”
Audiences agreed, as his Roman Riding was the part that stuns the crowd the most. “Max on those two horses brought down the house everywhere we went,” Sharon said. Finding the right horses is harder than it sounds since they need to be able to learn to perform, and they need to look the part.
“For Roman Riding, you need to have one with a good mind on them and I have had all kinds,” Max said. “Some would take anything, and since you put them in a lot of different situations you want them to handle those without blowing up on you. Some of them are naturals and nothing bothers them, like some people can give a speech and not have a problem, but some are scared to death of giving a speech.”
Trick roping and gun spinning took the longest to master since the action is too fast to think about. “Your mind and body have to be coordinated,” Max said. “You can’t think that fast; you work at your craft for all of those years and it’s automatic.”
Practice paid off as Max was nominated for Specialty Act of the Year three times in the 1990s. “You never know where life is going to lead you,” Max said. “I don’t know how many can say they were in a movie with Reba McEntire and Peter Coyote, and the rest of those stars. It’s not like I made a living at it (acting), but it was an adventure.”

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