he 2022 Ben Johnson Memorial Award honoree fits the requirements to a T! Charles Walter Sylvester Jr., better known in rodeo as “Chuck” is the […]
Written by: Siri Stevens< Back to Articles
Tom Grigg was born in Shoshoni, Wyo., March 5, 1926. The 87-year-old still makes it to the Central Wyoming College three or four times a week to watch the rodeo team practice. “If somebody asks for help, I make a little suggestion on what to do,” he said. “Rodeo has been my life. Comes natural I guess.”
He didn’t start competing until he was at the University of Wyoming. He was able to go to college thanks to the GI Bill. He served during WWII in the Air Force, joining right after he graduated from high school. “I was playing football there and was a pledge at a fraternity. They were forming the rodeo team and since I came from a ranching family, I represented them on the team.” He went to two rodeos, winning the Fort Collins rodeo in the bronc riding, and that was the end of his college career. He finished out the year, came home, and went down the road. “At that time it was a whole different world. I joined the RCA and went to Denver and Cheyenne – traveling with guys, pulling a trailer with a car. He added bull dogging to his rodeo skills in 1952 and then started tie down roping as well. “My dad used to run the Pitch Fork Ranch and he came down to watch me in Shoshoni. He needed help and told me to come home, so I went with him.”
From there on, Tom’s rodeo career was limited to weekends and when he could get away from the ranch. His ranching career actually started when he was ten years old. “The Chapel Brothers ran horses in the northwest, and the CBC round up happened once a year where they would gather up thousands of horses, on thousands of acres. My dad took me on my first roundup when I was ten. We gathered those horses and I got paid $1 a day to help bring them in.”
He met his wife of 60 years, Shirley, while he was working at the Pitch Fork, running 1,500 head of cattle, 20,000 head of sheep and a round up wagon. “She didn’t like me at first – you know how cowboys are.” She came around after a couple years and the two brought three children into the world, Tracy, Tom, and Christy. “My oldest son (Tracy) passed away three years ago from a heart attack, he rodeoed. My youngest son, Tom, high school rodeoed too, but Christy wasn’t that interested in it. The kids were raised on a ranch, they had to work hard. From the time they could ride, they helped me.”
The family spent weekends going to rodeos with dad. Tom won All Around at the 1953 Cody Night Rodeo for the summer. Back in those days you had to work both ends of the arena. “We drove the 50 miles to Cody about three times a week to the night show,” said Shirley. “We pulled a two horse trailer with a car. Nobody in those days had a pick up. I loved going to the rodeos and I met lots of friends.” Tom trained all his rodeo horses except one calf roping horse that he bought. Tom added team roping to his events when he turned 50. “They didn’t have it in this country for years,” he said. Tom continued to rope until he was 70. He was in the Senior Pro Rodeo, making their finals several years.
Tom and Shirley supported their kids in rodeo during the school years. His support continued when they went to college, supplying rope horses and steer for practice, practice cattle and feed to the kid’s rodeo teams in Montana. He also supplied rough stock horses to Dale Stiles rodeo teams at Casper College during the late 1960s and early 70s.
Tom took a job as brand inspector for Freemont County, and then he had the opportunity to go to work at the Matador Ranch in Montana where he moved his family for ten years. They moved back to Riverton in the late 1970s and continued brand inspecting, retiring at age 70. He continued to teach young people how to rope and steer wrestle and was one of the founders of the Old Timers Arena in Lander.
When Central Wyoming College moved the rodeo program to their present location, the college did not have an outside arena and Tom allowed the college rodeo team to practice at his arena. He continues to be a familiar face at the practices and events, allowing some of the team members to board their horses at his place. During his life, he has had two major shoulder surgeries, two knees replaced, and open heart surgery to replace a valve and repair five bypasses.
He has a simple philosophy in life: Treat everybody the same and do your best in everything you do. “I remember lots of days it was 50 below and after waiting until it was 30 below, saddling up my horse to take care of the cattle. We used to calve 2,800 head of first calf heifers in Dillon, Montana. That’s where my kids learned everything.”