When I was about 18 years old I hauled a Ford Backhoe for a friend, Donnie Mullins from over at Simonton and dropped it off at a place on I-10 west of Houston, out near Katy. There was a small private landing strip that ran adjacent to I-10 and a railroad track. It was a small dirt runway at an oilfield supply company.
A plane came in and the pilot didn’t have the front nose gear locked in. As he was taxiing the nose gear collapsed and both props on the twin engine plane dug into the dirt. They needed the backhoe to help free it.
The guy that oversaw the runway and was in charge of digging the plane out was Blue Wheaton. There was a mobile home down at one end of the property where this fellow lived. After I got unloaded I was invited inside. A lady was there, I’m not sure if it was Mrs. Wheaton or perhaps someone Blue was hoping to make into Mrs. Wheaton.
She was cooking and asked me to stay for dinner. So having no where I needed to be, I agreed.
She was a real talker and kept telling me that her sons were on their way and she really wanted me to meet them. They were bullriders and were passing through on the way to the next rodeo, I think in Louisiana.
Sure enough, a little later we hear a vehicle pull up with loud rock n roll music playing. Now was it really rock and roll blaring? Anything that wasn’t fairly hardcore Country and Western Music was Rock N Roll to me.
We knew when they had arrived because the music was playing to the point of vibrating the mobile home.
They both, along with a third person made their way inside. Now I’d seen bullriders, and these three guys weren’t bullriders. They talked a good story but with their longer hair and the loud music, I pegged them right off to be the phony’s they probably were. I have always been good at sizing folks up like that.
Now was their hair really all that long? Back in those days if anyone wore their hair that touched the collar of their shirt, I would have considered a “longhair”. Of course being on the road, rodeoing, could have kept them out of a barbershop for a few months.
In a little while I got in the old truck and headed out from Marble Falls. A day or so later, I ran into my friend Wallace Herbert back in Marble Falls and was telling him about these “so called bullriders” that I’d met down by Houston.
He was really into the rodeo scene and reach over and pulled out a Rodeo News Magazine and flipped it open to the current world standing. The Kirby Brothers, Sandy and Kaye were both top ranked rough stock riders. As was the other guy, their traveling partner.
Sandy went on to have a great career. I still see where he, along with his younger brother, Butch judge PRCA events around the country. Butch too went on to have an illustrious riding career. However Kaye, the middle son died back in 1977.
When I first wrote about this experience several years ago I had thought the two Kirby boys that day were Sandy and Butch. However with more research it was evident that it wasn’t Butch, as he would have still been in high school in 1971. I have since been able to get ahold of Butch and his wife Jo, the daughter of Johnny Cox (The World Famous Shetland Jockey at Paleface Park). Their input corrected a few things about my encounter that afternoon down by Katy, Texas.
With more research I found out that the very talkative lady was Mildred Kirby, a Rodeo Trick Rider. I found an article from the early 60’s that was in the New York Times Newspaper telling about her and her boys being on the Rodeo Circuit traveling from hither and yon. The newspaper archive is not readable online but I’m in hopes that I can obtain a copy of it. It would be a great addition to this story.
So as one can tell from the story, I had no idea what I was talking about.
Tribute to Butch Kirby
There is also a grouping of family photos showing she and her sons on their travels, that is registered in the Library of Congress. It appears they are from Look Magazine. Below I am adding the article descriptions that I found. Hopefully we can come up with a copy of the photographs to add here later.
This is the NY Times Article from July 23, 1977 that was mentioned above.
The Kirby boys of Salem County, N.J., are in Cheyenne, Wyo., this weekend, discovering all over again what life is like on the American frontier. Cheyenne’s annual rodeo, which the city fathers call Frontier Days and advertises as “The Daddy of Them All,” begins its 81st stand today, meaning that right on through next week the town will swarm with frontiersmen and frontierswomen out of colleges and high schools and homes and houses from Church Buttes to Spotted Horse. The days will be all dust and noise and sweat and violence and there will be sounds of revelry by night. As the week wears on, pedestrians will watch their step to avoid tripping over sunburned frontiersmen and frontierswomen sleeping the sleep of the pure heart among broken bottles. “A nest of squirming maggots,” was one cowboy’s coalmentary on the scene. It is happening that has become old hat to the Kirby boys, who will be going for the money in the arena and, probably, kinging off between performances to work rodeos going on simultaneously in Salt Lake City and Ogden.
The thing is, the Kirby boys were bred for rodeo. That can be said of a lot of kids in Buffalo, Okla., and Red Lodge, Mont., but Sandy and Butch and Kaye Kirby were foaled in Woodstown, N.J., about 10 miles from the Delaware Memorial Bridge, and got to be cowboys there in tomato and asparagus country.
Going to Cheyenne, 22‐year‐old Butch had earned $19,246 toward the 1977 bull‐riding championship and was sitting first in the world in that event. Sandy, 28, was second on bulls with $16,572 and had picked up another $9,125 riding bareback and saddle broncs to be fourth in all‐round competition. (The titles are based on prize money won, and the wrangler with the most money earned in two or more events is the all‐round champion.)
Butch competes only on bulls but Kaye, the middle brother, can do it all—the free‐riding events and steer wrestling. Through most of his 10 years in rodeo Kaye has worked the Eastern circuit, going West for the big shows. This year an injured hand has wiped him out of Cheyenne.
Near Woodstown is a place called Cowtown, N.J., a spread operated by Howard Harris 3d, who raises bucking stock and puts on rodeos. The Kirby kids’ mother, Mildred, was a trick rider and as her sons came along she worked them into the act. When Kenneth Sandy Kirby was 5, he was riding two‐horse teams Roman style, standing with a foot on each horse.