Cowboy Heroes

by Jim Olson 

“The Bowman Brothers”

More than Everett . . .

Recently I wrote about one of rodeo’s greatest men, Everett Bowman. However, there were five Bowman brothers in the family (actually six, one died young) and they all made headlines in the sport of rodeo. Ed, Walter, Dick, and the youngest, Skeet, were each great hands in their own right and also made contributions to the sport of rodeo during its infancy. Although Everett received more publicity and is obviously the best known, the other brothers are credited with things like: owning and training the first calf roping horse to back up and work rope while a calf was being flanked and tied, the first horse trailer on the rodeo circuit, the first to get off the horse on the right side and flank a calf, and many other things as well. These men started their rodeo careers in the mid 1920s. Here are the stories.

Ed Bowman, oldest of the brothers, made several innovations to the sport of calf roping. He was the first man to show up at a rodeo with a horse that backed up and took slack out of the rope during the run. His famous horse, Back up Pete, learned how to work rope by pure accident. One day, while working cattle on the ranch, Ed roped a wild steer in a brushy area. Then he got off Pete to run down the rope and tie the steer. When he did, a mesquite branch hung on his chaps and, upon coming loose, it swung back and whacked Pete on the nose. Well ol’ Pete ran backwards taking slack out of the rope at a high rate of speed. Ed realized immediately this was a much easier way to flank and tie cattle. Back at the practice pen, he taught Pete to do this on queue. The command was, “Back up Pete.” At the first rodeo he entered after teaching Pete this trick, folks were impressed with the ease in which Ed was able to bed his cattle. They won the event. A few months later, at another rodeo, several guys had trained their horses to back up like Pete did. Within a year most of the top ropers in the country had trained their horses the trick as well. Times were much quicker than before as a result. Ed Bowman was the first to have such a horse however, and folks around the country came to know the famous horse simply by the command Ed would bellow as he ran down the rope, “Back up Pete.”

Another thing Ed did to help revolutionize the sport of calf roping, was to get off on either the right or left side of his horse, depending upon how big the cattle were. If the cattle were small enough, Ed would get off the right side of the horse, run down the rope and flank the calf then tie him (a feat unheard of at the time). If the cattle were too big, he would get off the traditional way (for the time), on the left side of the horse, and run down the rope and leg the calf before tying it. Ed was a shore-nuff athlete. He also did things such as wear tennis shoes instead of boots so he ran faster to the cattle from his horse and he tied his ropes off shorter than usual so the distance from horse to calf was quicker.

Ed also became known as a coach to the Bowman brothers as he was always figuring out better ways to do things. He often coached younger brothers Everett and Skeet in the ways of rodeo and winning. Ed did not follow rodeo as vigorously as younger brother Everett, or even baby brother Skeet, but he was just as handy. Ed had a passion for good horses and spent most of his life raising and training them. He had several champions in cutting and rodeo circles after retiring from the rodeo arena.

Skeet Bowman, the baby of the bunch, is probably best known in the rodeo world after brother Everett. Louis Bowman, author, and nephew of the bunch (Dick’s son), said Skeet was the best roper of the whole crew. Skeet won many calf roping titles at major rodeos and probably would have won a World Championship or two, but he had pretty much quit full-time rodeo by the early 1930s. You see, prior to 1929, records were sketchy and not officially kept to determine who the World Champion was. Championships were often determined by who won a certain rodeo in those days. It wasn’t till the early ‘30s that Championship races were a thing to go after and by then, Skeet was mostly done with rodeo.

Skeet rodeoed full-time with brother Everett throughout the mid and late ‘20s as a way to make a living. It sure beat cowboy wages when you won as much as those two did, but along the way he injured his back steer wrestling.

Back then, it was not uncommon for the dogging steers to weigh in at a thousand pounds or more. This favored stouter contestants such as brother Everett who was, as they say, strong as a mule. The back injury bothered Skeet off and on, so once he and Everett had put a little money together, they bought a ranch outside of Safford, Arizona. Skeet chose to run the ranch instead of rodeoing. He was still a winner at calf roping contests around the Southwest for quite some time after becoming a full-time rancher, however. He consistently turned in times unheard of for the day. You might say he, “raised the bar,” in the calf roping event. He also became the sheriff of Graham County, Arizona, a position held for many years. He later bought Everett’s portion of the ranch and was an important member of his community the rest of his days.

Brother Walter (Walt) Bowman may have been the rounder of the bunch.

He left for California and a cowboying job way out West while still young. He cowboyed around California most of his life and rodeoed locally. He was one tough hand however, and could win just about anywhere he showed up.

At Prescott’s 4th of July rodeo one year, Walt decided to make an appearance because he knew the rest of the family would be there. It was a tradition among the Bowman’s to make certain rodeos such as Prescott even though Everett was the only one who, “followed the trail,” as a profession for more than a few years. Well ol’ Walt made his way to the rodeo, arriving without any money. According to nephew Louis Bowman, “Older brother Ed always kind of took a shining to Walt — kind of took care of him when need be.” So even though Walt had no money, no horse, and was dressed in brogan shoes, Ed sponsored his $5 entry fee in the bulldogging and loaned him a horse. Walt wound up winning Prescott and about $300! A fortune at the time.

The middle of the five brothers was really not much of a cowboy at all. Oh sure, he grew up on a ranch and knew all about cowboying from the time he was knee-high to a grasshopper, but Dick Bowman used to say that he and the automobile were born together in 1896 and he was always more inclined mechanically than a-horseback. Dick went to WWI and was introduced to all kinds of machinery there that plumb excited this ol’ country boy. When he returned, he became an engineer, hydrologist, driver, electrician, carpenter, plumber and mechanic of all sorts — all self-taught.

Even though Dick did not rodeo and cowboy like the other four brothers, he made a contribution to rodeo which revolutionized the sport at the time. He invented the first horse trailer used on the rodeo trail. While he may not officially be credited with inventing the horse trailer, and other trailers and what-not had been used to haul horses around prior to this, Dick’s trailer was definitely the first rodeo trailer and the first to be used by cowboys. It came about like this:

Brothers Everett and Skeet were trying to get from Safford, Arizona to Cheyenne, Wyoming for their first big-time rodeo outside of Arizona. They were in a crux over their horse situation. Back then, folks hauled horses in the back of trucks, or most of the time, they rode them. Although the brother duo had trailed a large herd of cattle from Globe, Arizona to Ely, Nevada just over a year before, making the entire round trip a-horseback, they knew it was awful far to Cheyenne to ride and get there on time. However they could only haul one horse in the truck. What to do . . .

Dick told them, “Why don’t you load one in the truck and haul one?” They liked the idea, so Dick fashioned a hand-made trailer for his brothers to use — in one afternoon. Although it took them over a week to travel all the way to Cheyenne, on primitive and sometimes non-existent roads, having two horses there instead of one enabled Everett and Skeet to clean house. They won more money at that rodeo than either had ever seen at one time. This launched their rodeo careers!

Using that trailer, those two were able to go to many rodoes around the country where you probably would have only seen “locals” in the past. As stated above, the two even won enough money during the late ‘20s to buy a ranch back home. Although folks gawked and laughed at those country bumpkins from Arizona when they first showed up with a contraption hooked to their vehicle with a horse in it, they didn’t laugh long. It caught on quickly and others were copying the “Bowman Trailer” inside of a year. Guys like, Randy Bloomer, of famed Bloomer Trailers are still improving on the invention to this day, but now you know who made the very first one.

So while Everett Bwman received most of the press, and rightfully so because he did more for the sport of modern rodeo than most any other man in history, now we know the stories of his brothers. Tough hands and good men, all of them.