Winning a Buckle at Kowbell Rodeo

The author wearing the coveted buckle in the junior bull-riding at Kowbell rodeo, 1994.

Twenty seven years ago:

It didn’t take long for Travis to become known as a good bull rider. He was getting on bulls wherever and whenever he could, and he was riding well.

Soon he became over-confident. Before he was ready, he entered the Friday night senior jackpot. Travis bucked off and hung up to a wild little bull named Wolf-wolf, who stomped all over him. Busted and cut up, Travis decided that he needed to wait a while before moving up again.

I was the opposite at first. If it hadn’t been for Travis’s encouragement, I would have quit. I could say that I had been on a bull. I had even made it to the buzzer a time or two. That was good enough.

That began to change. Before long, I was spending the week dreaming about Friday, and riding once a week no longer satisfied me. Travis and I started going to Kowbell on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday when we had the money.

“When are you going to quit this?” my dad asked one Sunday evening.

“Yeah,” my mom chimed in. “I’m afraid you’re going to get hurt. A lady at work said that they knew a boy who was hurt really bad at Kowbell. When are you going to quit?”

“When I win a buckle,” I said. Travis had won a buckle a few weeks earlier in the junior bull riding—I had to have one, too. “If I win a buckle tonight, I’ll quit,” I said as I was walking out the door.

Travis said I needed to start getting on “good bulls.” I needed to draw the bull named Red-Hot. That evening, out of all the bulls in the pen, that’s who I ended up with. Travis smiled when the announcer called out the draw. “Just stay on, and you’ll have your buckle,” he told me.

The bull was small but wiry. His down-turned horns flopped while he slung his head and bucked in circles, not quite spinning.

My ride wasn’t pretty, but I managed to stay on him.

“Seventy-five points for John Bird. That puts him in the lead,” the announcer said over the loud speaker.

Festus, the rodeo clown, slapped my back as he handed my rope to me. “Good ride, cowboy.”

At the end of the evening, I walked back to the office where Jack was sitting on his stool. “What do you want?” he asked, pretending not to know.

“I think I had the high score in the junior bull riding,” I said.

“Well, I reckon you did.”

Jack opened a drawer and pulled out a cheap, generic buckle—one made in a factory in Mexico. Every kid that rode at Kowbell long enough had one. I heard that Jason Bennett threw them in a box in his closet where he had over 100.

That didn’t matter to me. I couldn’t have been happier had I just won Cheyenne.

And I knew then that I couldn’t quit.


This story came from a book I wrote for my daughter in 2010. I still have the buckle, by the way.

About Nowhere Tribune

A husband and daddy, striving to love his neighbors and be kind to his pets. I love good food, good beer, and a few good friends. My other interests are hiking, taking walks, lifting weights, reading books by manly authors like Hemingway and Twain, and splitting fire wood with my bare hands.


14 thoughts on “Winning a Buckle at Kowbell Rodeo

  1. Now that’s a brave thing to do: getting on a pissed off bull. To be honest, I was horrified when I found out how they got the bulls to go crazy and I feel sorry for them. We have a yearly rodeo here, it comes with the carnival. It’s not as good as it used to be though.

    Posted by Clever Girl | January 31, 2020, 12:23 pm
    • A lot of what people say about rodeos is misinformation–the flank rope, for example. It is put loosely around the bull’s flank, and not his “boys.” I’ve put them on myself. They aren’t tight. I’ve also had my spur hung in one on a spinning bull, and that was a whole other story.

      Posted by Nowhere Tribune | January 31, 2020, 1:05 pm
      • Oh really? I’m glad to hear that! I always thought the worst. So, they never put the rope around the bulls balls, it was always around the flank? Or did the rules change over the years?

        Posted by Clever Girl | January 31, 2020, 1:26 pm
  2. Great story, started with a great photo. While I understand, the visual just isn’t the same today with the required(?) helmets instead of a Resistol with a bull-rider roll. I never rode a bull, but I did raise cattle in the 70’s and 80’s. I was President of the Indiana Cattlemen’s Association and Director of the NCA. The buckles I had were awarded for membership drives in the National Cattleman’s Association.

    Posted by Roadtirement | January 31, 2020, 1:07 pm
    • Thank you! In most associations, the helmets are optional. They may be required in high school rodeos now, though. The vests were just getting popular in my day, but those didn’t take away from the look.

      Posted by Nowhere Tribune | January 31, 2020, 1:09 pm
  3. My main takeaway here is that you wrote a book for your daughter. That’s just as cool as bull riding

    Posted by Shayne | February 3, 2020, 11:39 am
  4. Wow an honest to goodness cowboy! Great story and good thing you kept the prize.

    Posted by Snowbird In Training | February 4, 2020, 5:37 pm
  5. I think you have a great knack for storytelling. And I like that you kept the belt buckle with pride, even if it was cheap and generic. Hell, you rode a bull. That’s more than most folks can say.

    Posted by Tippy Gnu | February 5, 2020, 12:39 pm
  6. Great story and great picture! And I suspect your parents kind of knew you weren’t about to quit. Also, good on writing a book for your daughter! Have you been updating? It would be a great thing for her to have!

    Posted by Jay | February 5, 2020, 2:28 pm

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