Tuesday, March 31, 2009

   Charlie Sampson, World Champion, won Cow Palace three times. 

I am a fan of Rodeo. I grew up on it, although none of my immediate family rode in an actual Rodeo. As I live just thirty minutes East of San Francisco I was walking the halls of the Cow Palace as a young girl. Every year we'd go to the Grand National Rodeo and Livestock Exposition. Man, it was something! On opening night every horse organization in all of California would bring its Color Guard to the Rodeo and ride in the opening ceremonies. The arena was 250' by 155', surrounded by bleacher seating. Draped in flags, and full of smoke and dust, the place resounded with the sounds of excited people. You could hear the clang and moan of the bulls in the chutes and beyond the exits. Every one would ride in - four abreast- holding American flags, California flags, their club flags and their affiliated flags. Then the house lights would go out leaving the whole cavernous Palace in darkness. A blinding white spotlight would blaze out, hitting a rotating ball of mirrors, the light fractured into a million bits sending blue shards of light circling the arena- and the place went wild! Horses spooked, whirled, bucked and riders fought for control. Sometimes someone would be thrown and the whole thing would get even more exciting as the loose horse was caught. 

Finally all the Color Guard riders would exit and a drum roll began. Bob Tallman- the Voice of the Cow Palace- came on and introduced the young lady that would be Queen of the Cow Palace. She'd ride out fast, circling the arena at top speed. Sometimes her horse would throw her too!  I wanted to be Queen. I knew I rode better than any of those girls. There was plenty of excitement at the Cow Palace and the show hadn't even begun yet. I could recount story after story- wrecks, famous rides and famous horses. I never missed a year.
I was lucky enough to see many of the greats- Don Gay, Larry Mahan, Jim Shoulders, Lane Frost, and Charlie Sampson. I mention him because he was a spectacular rider, a black American and one the first men to ride with protective gear. 
You see Charlie Sampson broke almost every bone in his face, and not just once. The times I saw him ride, he rode in a lacrosse helmet, much like the one pictured below. He also rode with a neck roll. At the time we thought it was a weird thing to do. Cowboys didn't have protective gear! They gutted up and rode with popping eyeballs, and broken, flopping limbs. But Charlie did it. And he was respected for it. And now many cowboys do it too. 

The cowboys of today are tough,good looking and fairly savvy. But it wern't always that-a way. It took men like Charlie Sampson to lead the way. 


Pony Girl said...

How cool you got to see Lane Frost! Wow, growing up on rodeo. What a life. I posted about protective gear in regards to bull riders today, too! ;)

Stephanie said...

I did not know that - didn't even know who Charlie Sampson was.

Very interesting post. I can remember how frowned upon those helmets and face masks were....

Blackfeatherfarm said...

I am so relieved to see more and more of the bull riders wearing protective gear. Nice post.

BrownEyed Cowgirls said...

My dad always said Charlie was the nicest guy. I didn't know that about the protective gear though.

I was in the fairway at Cheyenne the night Lane got hooked. We all knew something happened because the rodeo crowd went completely quiet. But we didn't know until later that night at the Cheyenne Social Club that it was Lane and that he had died. It was pretty devastating. He was such a nice guy too. Lane, Tuff and Ty(he was just a pipsqueak) used to come to bull ridings in Cheyenne when I was going to college there and hung out with some of the bullriders that went to school with us. They were so much fun. Wild-whoa, those boys were W.I.L.D! We used to have to sneak Ty into the Cheyenne Social Club. I hadn't seen Tuff in person in all these years, but could not believe the damage to his face when I saw him in Vegas a few years ago. He's lucky to be alive.

My mom believes that most of the damage to these younger guys is because of how huge and powerful the bulls have gotten. There is a huge difference between the bulls you see being bred and used in rodeo today vs the quick little brahamas and brahama mixes they used to use. Didn't mean those older generations didn't suffer damage(Charlie for example), but it sure didn't seem to happen as much or as drastically.

My parents always said the Cow Palace was T.H.E.E. rodeo to go to. Your lucky to have seen it so many times!

gtyyup said...

That was great...I'm in tears...but I usually am at every grand entry.

Dorene said...

It was nice of you to write about the Cow Palace in such a complimentary way, thank you. As someone that has worked at the Cow Palace since 1976, I've got mostly good memories also; much to many to mention. I wanted to send a photo that you would appreciate for your blog but can't see a way to do that here. Keep up the good work.