Earl W. BascomHistory shows only a half-dozen western artists who actually lived and worked as cowboys during the open-range era of the West, when there were no fences and great herds of cattle roamed free. Cowboy artist and sculptor Earl W.Bascom was the last of this rare breed.
Practically born in the saddle, Earl's life started in a sod-roofed log cabin on the 101 Ranch near Vernal, Utah on June 19, 1906. The 101 was started by Earl's grandfather, Joel Bascom, who crossed the plains in the 1850's as a Mormon pioneer.
Earl herded cattle with his older brothers and for amusement rode calves and donkey colts. His first bronc riding experience came in 1909. He and his brothers and his father were out riding when a bumblebee stung Earl's horse and bucked with him out through the meadow. Earl hung on and rode him all the way until his older brother finally picked him off the horse like a pickup man does at a rodeo. This experience set a pattern for Earl's life. Earl was only three years old at the time.
"The horse is my life and specialty," Earl explained. "I worked for some of the big horse outfits between Purple Springs and the Sweetgrass Hills. On one roundup some 7,000 horses were gathered in one bunch a mile wide. You've never seen a prettier sight in all your life."
When Earl was six years old, his mother, Rachel Lybbert Bascom, died of cancer, leaving five small children, the youngest only nine months old. At the time, Earl's father, John W. Bascom, earned a living rounding up wild Indian ponies in Utah and trailing them to the auction yards in Rifle, Colorado. After his wife's death, John decided to leave the Vernal area, which was getting dry and overgrazed, and move his family to the grass prairies of Canada. The family put all their belongings in a covered wagon drove six days to the nearest railroad and headed northward by train.
To young Earl and his brothers a train ride was probably one of the most exciting things in their life. They had heard of train robbers and outlaws, but had never even seen a train before. True children of the West, Earl and his brothers were versed in outlaw history. And, not far from where they had just boarded the train in Price, Utah was the site of Butch Cassidy's Castle Gate holdup.
As the train pulled away from the station, the young boys could not help but dream of the hair-raising outlaw stories told to them by their father. Aunt Alice's brother Joe Gurr was killed by cattle rustler Felix Wade in a showdown at Brown's Dance Hall. John Bascom, as a Deputy Sheriff, took part in the daring capture of "Mad Dog" Tracy, the notorious killer, and his escapee partner, David Lant. Earl and his brothers knew that their father's .38 colt revolver had killed the outlaw William Pidgeon in a shootout up on Blue Mountain. Later, their father and three other lawmen had narrowly missed being ambushed at Lybbert Gulch by members of Butch Cassidy's gang.
With these outlaw stories swirling through their young minds, Earl and his brothers were keyed up in anticipation of outlaw raids and daring shootouts. And, as if on queue, the door to their train car slammed open, and in staggered a man in a black suit and a flat-top hat, yelling "Help, Help!". The boys whirled in their seats. It was happening! A holdup!
"Help", the man continued to yell, staggering with the sway of the moving train. "Help-er, Help-er next station. Helper, Utah coming up." Disappointing to the boys, the holdup was a false alarm.
The Bascom family finally arrived at the newly settled Alberta town of Raymond, not far from the U.S border north of western Montana. The town of Raymond was named after the millionaire rancher, Ray Knight, who founded the town and who's father had struck one of the richest gold mines in Utah following the prompting of a dream. It was the only cowtown in the world fashioned after Paris, France with all the streets converging to a central point like a wagon wheel. The town also boasted a fine hotel and an opera house.
Ray Knight had large ranch holdings, totalling nearly a million acres, the largest being the Kirkaldy set in the rolling hills of buffalo grass on the Milk River Ridge. The ranch pastured hundreds of horses, some 18,000 head of cattle and a large herd of several thousand sheep. Ray hired Earl's father as a ranch foreman. "We ate along with the 25 ranch hands and the Chinaman cook," Earl noted.
Many of Earl's cowboy experiences took place on the prairie hills of the Knight ranch. "I remember when the prairie began to be fenced. Ray Knight put in a fence 100 miles long. My brothers and I and others dug post holes and set cedar posts for miles - 100 posts per man per day was the standard."
"There were two things Ray Knight loved," Earl recalled, "horses and rodeos." Ray Knight became known as the "Father of Canadian Rodeo" when he promoted and produced Canada's first rodeo in 1902. The Raymond Stampede has been held continuously since that time.
It was there at the Raymond Stampede in 1918 that Earl entered his first professional rodeo. At one of these early rodeos, the arena director rode over to Earl and his older brother Mel, who were standing in front of the chutes, and said "You kids better get over the fence so you won't get hurt." "But sir!" the boys pleaded, "We've entered the bronc riding." The arena director stared at them with his mouth aghast. "What's the matter, sir?" the boys asked. "Don't you believe us?" "I can't make up my mind," he confessed.
"Ray Knight used to like to see us ride his big broncs. The higher they threw us the wider he grinned," Earl reported. Ray had told the boys that they could practice on any bronc he had on the ranch. "On one roundup," Earl recalled, "we gathered 1,200 head of horses and bucked them out."
Ray Knight and a partner, Mr. Ad Day, had formed a rodeo stock company called the Knight and Day Stampede. Some of his infamous bucking horses weighed over 1,500 pounds and many became world renowned bucking at Calgary, Pendleton, New York and Chicago. Horses like Slim Sweden, Easy Money, Box Car, Wild Boy, Jack Dempsey, Horned Toad, Hot Shot, Spot-on-the-Belly (later named War Paint) and Reservation (later called No Name).
"Wild Boy weighed 1,700 lbs. and he was so strong I saw him split a saddle in two," Earl said. "I won first place riding Spot-on-the-Belly. Reservation (later called No Name) gave Bob Askins the World Championship title at Pendleton. Slim Sweden took Pete Knight to the pay window at Calgary. I was the first person to ever ride that horse back in 1931 but I bucked off right at the ten second whistle. My brother Mel later rode him to the championship at Lethbridge, being the only cowboy along with Pete Knight to ever successfully ride that notorious outlaw."
"One thing that helped me in my rodeo career," Earl recalled, "was some advice that an old time bronc rider, Walt Whitney, gave me. He said that if you want to succeed in rodeo don't ever smoke or drink. He was at a rodeo once and the night before the finals he stayed up all night partying with the boys. The next day Walt didn't buck off, he said he just went to sleep and fell off. And Walt was a champion bronc rider.
"He borrowed one of my saddles that I designed and made, and took it to the rodeo at the Dempsey-Gibbons fight at Shelby, Montana. He won so much money at the rodeo at one end of town that they refused to let him ride at the other rodeo at the other end of town. So I admired his abilities and took his advice."
Earl rodeoed professionally for 23 seasons and traveled the rodeo circuit with his three brothers - Raymond (nicknamed Tom after Tom Mix), Mel and Weldon. Sometimes they traveled with the Lybbert brothers or the Lund brothers. One year when the Bascom boys and their father went to the Calgary Stampede, one of the officials exclaimed, "How the heck many Bascoms are there?" To which the father of the clan proudly recounted, "Six boys, four girls and a stepson." With Bascoms entered in every event at the rodeo and one being the pickup man in the arena, they seemed to be everywhere.
Besides competing in the three rough stock events of saddle bronc, bareback, and bull riding as well as the timed events of steer decorating and steer wrestling, Earl tried his hand as a rodeo clown and bull fighter. "During the Depression years of the 1930's, rodeo was my only way of making a living," Earl recalled. "It was hard to get a paying job. You might work a month for a rancher for thirty dollars and grub. But in rodeo, I could make a month's wage in just 10 seconds of effort."
In the years between 1935 to 1937, Earl and his brother Weldon and some other Canadian cowboys - Mel and Jake Lybbert and Waldo "Salty" Ross - put on the first rodeos in southern Mississippi. Earl was the director of these rodeos in Columbia, Mississippi. This rodeo is known in history as the first rodeo to use electric lights in an outdoor arena.
"We built a rodeo arena with chutes and corrals and a grandstand for the spectators," Earl remembered. "Sam Hickman, a prominent Mississippi rancher who was financing the rodeo, and I went to New Orleans to purchase some rodeo stock. We got some brahma bulls for bull riding. Devil's Pet and Sweetie Pie were some of the names. We had some longhorn steers for bulldogging that had been raised in the swamps of Louisiana. We had a bunch of wild horses shipped in from West Texas. The best of these bucking horses we gave colorful names like Boll Weevil, Hot Pepper, and Dizzy Dean."
People came from all over the area to see the rodeo. There were the usual rodeo events and several specialty acts - Jasbo Faulkerson as the clown, Tad Lucas for fancy riding, Milby Lybbert with his trained colts, "Suicide" Ted Elder with his spectacular act of riding a team of horses while jumping over a burning Model-A Ford. Texas Rose, wife of Weldon Bascom, made her first performance there as a fancy trick roper and trick rider. She later gained international fame touring the world with Bob Hope and performing in Hollywood movies.
The first Mississippi rodeo in 1935 was so successful that the Canadian cowboys bet on another one in the fall of '36, which also was successful.
Sam Hickman invited the cowboys to spend the winter at his B Bar H Ranch on the Pearl River and put on another rodeo in the following spring of 1937.
Part of the deal during the winter months, besides breaking horses and herding cattle on the ranch, was for the cowboys to wear their big hats and fancy boots and each day ride their horses to a cafe in town to eat. People would gather wondering who the new strangers were in town. This was Mr. Hickman's idea to advertise the up-coming rodeo.
"Actually the people in this area had never seen anything like us, especially our fancy boots," Earl remarked. "Folks had quite a time deciding whether they were called cow-boots or horse-shoes."
Earl remembered one young lady admirer who came to the arena, saying she wanted to be a cowgirl and ride a horse. So one of the cowboys went and got her a gentle horse, then asked her, "What kind of saddle do you want?" "What do you mean, what kind?" she queried. "Well, do you want a saddle with a horn (western type) or one without a horn (plantation type)?" explained the cowboy. "Oh," she said, "I'll take one without a horn. The traffic isn't very heavy today."
According to the townsfolk, the most unforgettable event of the whole rodeo was the Ladies Wild Mule Ride. "A farmer came to the rodeo arena, " Earl recalled, "with a mule that had him scared to death as it would kick, bite and buck and was mean as a hornet. He asked if we could help deal with this wild animal so we decided to use it in a special event at the evening rodeo."
The mule was saddled in the chute, snubbed to a saddle horse and dragged fighting and snorting out into the middle of the arena as the rodeo announcer calmly asked, "Is there any girl or young lady in the audience today who would like to ride this wild beast?"
To make sure there was at least one volunteer for this event, Earl borrowed a long pioneer dress and a big sun bonnet which the women folk wore in those days. He rolled up his pant legs and put the outfit on and then sat in the stands waiting for the announcement.
When the challenge came for a lady buckaroo and the crowd remained sheepishly quiet, Earl stood right up and waved his hand as the first and only volunteer for this death-defying event. He stepped out into the arena as the audience gasped, walking daintily over to the beast, trying not to step on the dress with his boots and spurs. He swung into the saddle and away they went on a wild ride a-whippin' and a-spurrin'. Seeing that daring lady ride that wild mule sent the crowd into hysterics. Women were screaming. One lady fainted.
Finally the mule stopped bucking so Earl jumped off, disappeared behind the chutes and changed out of his costume. To this day during Mississippi rodeo season, old timers can be heard recalling what has almost become a legend in the area - "You know, a girl rode a wild mule here once. But no one ever found out who she was, where she came from, or where she went."
"We had a lot of fun putting on those rodeos in Mississippi. But the best part," Earl conceded, "was finding a part-Indian gal, Nadine Diffey, who became my wife. In fact, three of us Canadian cowboys took Southern Belles as wives."
As an internationally acclaimed rodeo champion and one of the top all-around cowboys, Earl traveled throughout western America and Canada winning championship titles including:
All-Around Champion, 3 Bar Ranch Stampede, Saskatchewan, 1930
Bareback and All-Around Champion, Lethbridge, Alberta, 1934
Saddle Bronc, Steer Decorating and All-Around Champion, Raymond, Alberta, 1935
All-Around Champion, Nephi, Utah, 1936
Saddle Bronc, Bareback, Bull Riding and All-Around Champion, Pocatello, Idaho, 1937
Bareback and All-Around Champion, Rigby, Idaho, 1938
Bareback, Bull Riding and All-Around Champion, Portland, Oregon, 1939
Saddle Bronc, Bareback and All-Around Champion, Raymond, Alberta, Canada, 1940
One of his best years in rodeo was 1933 when he won second place in the North American Championship contest at Calgary, set a new world record time, set two new arena records, and won third place in the Championship of the World.
History shows that the Bascom brothers - Raymond, Melvin and Earl - sometimes called the "Bronc Bustin' Bascom Boys", helped pioneer the sport of rodeo, making significant contributions. In 1916 they made rodeo history when they designed and constructed the first known side-delivery rodeo chute at Welling, Alberta and put on rodeos for the neighboring ranches. In 1917 they built a second arena with a side-delivery chute in New Dayton, Alberta, producing the first rodeos in that area.
In 1919 at Lethbridge, Alberta, the Bascom boys built a rodeo arena but redesigned their side-delivery chute by reversing the chute gate so that it hinged at the horse's head thus forcing the horse to turn as the gate is opened. This reverse-opening on a side-delivery chute reduced the need to only one man to work the chute gate and eliminated the hazard of banged-up knees. This Bascom chute design is now the standard for rodeo chutes used world wide.
Earl Bascom is known in rodeo history as the inventor of two important pieces of rodeo equipment. He designed and made rodeo's first hornless bronc saddle back in 1922, which everyone called the "Mulee." It was first used at the Cardston Stampede. He designed and made the first one-handed bareback rigging back in 1924, being first used at the Raymond Stampede. Today these two items are standard equipment used at all professional rodeos throughout the world.
In 1926, Earl designed and made a new style of rodeo chaps which had a high-cut leg. Pete Knight borrowed them to have a pair made for himself and the style soon became known as the "Pete Knight Chaps", a forerunner to today's professional rodeo chaps.
In 1928, Earl designed and made a muscle exerciser - the first known exerciser and muscle builder made specifically for rodeo cowboys. He made it out of steel springs taken from the spring seat off a buck board wagon.
Earl saw the last of the Old West as a bronc buster, cowpuncher, trail driver, blacksmith, freighter, stagecoach driver, sheep herder and sheep shearer, miner, trapper, wolf hunter, wild horse chaser, rodeo champion, cattle rancher, dude wrangler and, finally, Hollywood movie actor playing along side Roy Rogers. It was Roy Rogers who dubbed Earl, "Cowboy of Cowboy Artists".
During his long rodeo career, Earl competed in the rodeo events of bareback riding, saddle bronc riding, bull riding, bull riding with a saddle, steer riding, steer wrestling, steer decorating, wild cow milking, wild mule riding and wild horse racing. And he worked as a rodeo producer and promoter, rodeo announcer, rodeo pickup man, hazer, chute man, rodeo clown, rodeo bull fighter and performed as a rodeo trick rider.
For his contributions in helping pioneer the sport of rodeo, Earl has been awarded honorary memberships in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association. During his active rodeo career he was an early member of the Cowboys Turtle Association, the historical forerunner organization to the PRCA.
In 1980, Earl was honored at the Raymond Stampede in Raymond Alberta, Canada. where he was awarded an all-around champion trophy saddle some 40 years late. Back in 1940, Earl won the All-Around Championship at the Raymond Stampede having won first place in the saddle bronc and bareback riding events as well as the steer decorating event, but he was never awarded the all-around trophy saddle until 1980.
In 1984, as a permanent tribute to his rodeo greatness, Earl was inducted into the Canadian Rodeo Hall of Fame. In 1985, he was inducted into the Utah Sports Hall of Fame, being the first rodeo contestant so honored to sit among such great athletes as boxer Jack Dempsey and football player Merlin Olsen.
In 1985, Earl was honored at the 50th year anniversary rodeo in Columbia, Mississippi which Earl and his brother started back in 1935.
In 1987, Earl was the first rodeo cowboy to be inducted into the Raymond Sports Hall of Fame in Raymond, Alberta, Canada. Also in 1987, he was honored by the Brigham Young University Department of Gerontology for his continuing achievements as an outstanding senior citizen.
In 1989, Earl was honored as "Legendary Cowboy" at rodeos in Utah, California and Alberta, Canada. In 1990, Earl was honored by the National Outlaw and Lawman Association for the part his family has played in the history of the Old West.
In 1992, Earl was honored by the Brigham Young University's Emeritus Club with a Special Recognition Award for his life-long achievements.
In 1995, Earl was honored several times. He was made an honorary member of the National Police Rodeo Association being a rodeo cowboy and the sibling of a Deputy Sheriff. He was honored by the Marion County Cattleman's Association commemorating the 60th anniversary rodeo in Columbia, Mississippi which Earl first produced in 1935. Also at Columbia, he was inducted into the Marion County Cattleman's Hall of Fame.
In Colorado Springs, Colorado, he was honored by the organizers of the 1995 Rodeo Reunion for being the world's oldest living rodeo clown and bull fighter. He also finally received, after waiting some 65 years, his "All-Around Champion" trophy buckle which he had won back in 1930 at the Three Bar Ranch Stampede in Saskatchewan, Canada.
The National High School Rodeo Association has established an Earl W. Bascom Award for the saddle bronc and bareback events at their annual High School Finals Rodeo. Rodeos at Vernal Utah, Columbia Mississippi, Raymond and Cardston Alberta Canada, and Hesperia California have all established rodeo championship awards in honor of Earl Bascom.
Earl Bascom's rodeo accomplishments have been written into the history books, "Rodeo History and Legends" and "Fearless Funnymen - The History of the Rodeo Clown."
In addition, Earl has been honored as Grand Marshall of parades in Canada and the U.S., has received special recognition from several Governors of States, and further honored by State Senatorial resolutions. His life-long rodeo and cowboy experiences are written into permanent history in the Congressional Record in Washington, D.C. And President Ronald Reagan sent Earl a personal congratulation on the occasion of his Hall of Fame induction.
Unique in art history, Earl Bascom had a natural claim to fame - by his birthright. Earl's father, Deputy Sheriff John W. Bascom who was born in 1869, was a cousin to Frederic S. Remington and also to Charles M. Russell, the two great master artists of the Old West.
The Bascom family originated in Southern France as French Basques, the name being an extraction of Basque Homme meaning Basque man. Earl was descended from a long line of lawmen and a bit of European royalty, to boot.
His great-grandmother Sarah Bascom was a direct descendant of European Royalty. And, not only was Earl's father a Deputy Sheriff of Uintah County, Utah who chased the outlaw Butch Cassidy and his Wild Bunch Gang, but also Earl's third great grandfather, Oliver Green of Rhode Island was an army sergeant who died during the Revolutionary War.
Earl descends from two other early American lawmen - Thomas Bascom, constable of Northampton, Massachusetts in 1666 and John Watson, constable of Narragansett, Rhode Island in 1687. Earl's grandfather, Joel Almon Bascom was a horseman in the Utah Black Hawk Indian War, served as Chief of Police in Provo, Utah and later was the first town marshall of Mona, Utah. Another grandfather, C.F.B. Lybbert, was the blacksmith and town Marshall of Levan, Utah.
Earl's great grandfather, John W. Bell, a soldier of the Nauvoo Legion, was a Nevada pioneer of 1854. A great uncle, Ephraim Roberts, was a pony express rider from Utah to California. And, another Bascom cousin was one of the most famous mountain men in American history, Jedediah Strong Smith - a member of the Bascom family through his mother Sally Strong.
Cousin Tom Lybbert, was a Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman. Another historically notable relative was George N. Bascom, a Lieutenant in the U. S. army, who arrested the Apache Indian Chief Cochise and accused him of stealing cattle from an Arizona ranch back in 1861. Cochise escaped and declared war, beginning 25 years of Apache Wars. On the infamous side of history, the Lieutenant's nephew was "Bad" Billy Bascom, who died in a shootout in Arizona.