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.