Steer roping is a classic rodeo event and it’s celebrated in style each Father’s Day at the Ben Johnson Memorial in Pawhuska.
Not Ben Johnson the actor – he was the son. In fact, people on the Osage called him “Son.” He made an appearance in 1957 and placed second in the roping.
This year was the 60th time the best steer ropers in the world gathered to rope and tie three – possibly four – steers.
The roping is held in conjunction with the Osage County Cattlemen’s Association Convention, in its 79th year. The weekend includes a ranch tour, ranch rodeo, banquet, dance and the induction of two ranchers into its Hall of Fame.
The steer roping was started by a group of the senior Johnson’s friends who loved and admired him as a rancher for his courage, integrity and viewpoint on life.
Johnson was a great steer roper himself and was successful in all his business ventures on the Osage.
This year, the roping was moved from Father’s Day to Saturday. It rained. A lot. So the roping was moved from the very large outdoor arena to the inside one. But steer ropers are adaptable. Most of them have roped in the pasture and know that plans often have to be adjusted along with space.
Shoat Webster, whom we lost this year, won the Ben Johnson more times than anyone. He won the world champion steer roping title five times. He won the Ben Johnson six times, the first in 1954 and the last in 1965. He is one of a distinguished list of steer ropers who called Lenapah home.
The first was Fred Lowry who won six steer roping titles beginning in 1916. His won his last title in 1929, so he never got a chance to compete at the Ben Johnson which began in 1954.
Everett Shaw is on that champion steer roper list from Lenapah. He was a bridesmaid at the Ben Johnson three times, twice behind Webster, and placed in the top four several more times.
My favorite sign in the world stands at the Lenapah city limits. It welcomes visitors to Lenapah by telling them it’s the home of World Champion Cowboys Fred Lowry, Nowata Slim Richardson, Everett Shaw, Shoat Webster and Buck Rutherford.
Fast forward to last weekend. The steers were tough. One group had never been roped. They were small, sauntered out of the box and most didn’t run. The other set had been rodeo-roped quite a bit and were about twice as big as the first set, so they ran hard and many fought the tie. But the worst problem was once they were tripped, many popped up like a coil spring before the cowboy could get there to make his tie.
Six ropers tied three steers, allowing them a fourth in the short go. Because there are 12 spots in the short round, several ropers got in on the fastest two steers tied down.
Cody Lee, Gatesville, Texas, and hometown cowboy Shorty Garten battled it out for the championship.
Lee tied his first three steers in 14.6, 11.64 and 15.6. A solid tie on his fourth with 15.3 made his aggregate time 57.1.
Garten went to the short go 3.3 seconds behind Lee. He tied three in times of 18.3, 13.3 and 13.5. It all came down to the last steer. His draw wasn’t the best and Garten took 17.2 on that run, making his aggregate time 62.3. If Garten had won the title, it would have been 20 years between wins. He won it in 1993.
Lee won the championship for the second time in a row.
The fastest time of the day was 8.8 in the third round by Chet Herren, Pawhuska. With a no time in the second round, he was roping for go-round money and he made it work.
The roping is great, but it’s a social event, too.
I sat with many members of my ranch rodeo teammate Kate (Chambers) Huddleston’s family. The Chamberses are third generation Osage ranchers. Chambers Ranch played in the ranch rodeo the night before. The team members were Kate and her brother Lee, her daddy, Charlie, and her cousin David.
“How did you do?” I asked Charlie.
“Well, we didn’t win it, but we scared ‘um. We won the sorting and placed in the doctoring, but the cow milking killed us. Kate was milking and she holds up the bottle to me and says she doesn’t know if she’s got enough. I told her she had enough to get to running, but that probably took 20 seconds!
“We won second and we got some money, but I’d have throwed those checks in the creek to get the buckles.” He grinned.
Eighteen teams were entered in the ranch rodeo. To enter, the ranch must run cattle on the Osage. The combined team of Sweetwater/Whitmire won the rodeo, which tickled me because I used to work on the Whitmire. If my teammate’s team couldn’t win it, I’m glad the Whitmire team did.
The Ben Johnson is a place to catch up with friends, visit, see some good roping and solidify the feeling that ranching is alive and well on the Osage.