Cowboy Heroes

by Jim Olson

“Leonard Stroud – Greatest Trick Rider”

According to author Clifford Westermeier in 1947, “Leonard Stroud was one of the first cowboys to make a business and, certainly, a career of contesting (in rodeo).”

Stroud was born near Monkstown, Texas, December 1, 1893 into a ranching family. He left home at sixteen to join the Howe Circus and, after becoming a big hit, later joined the Ringling Brothers Circus where he performed in “Wild West” trick riding and bronc riding exhibitions. Due to his popularity, he was paid a phenomenal sum (for a cowboy) of $25 per week! He also toured with Pawnee Bill.

Deciding to follow rodeo instead, Leonard embarked upon a very successful career. During his rodeo prime (1914 – 1924), he competed in almost every event including trick and roman riding, trick roping, saddle and bareback bronc riding, steer and calf roping and bulldogging. Rodeo producers often had to rearrange schedules to accommodate Stroud’s participation in so many events. Trick riding is what he really became famous for however. (It should be noted here that trick riding was a judged event much like the rough stock events up until the 1930s.)

He is credited for being the first to perform such moves as going under the belly of a horse at a full gallop, passing under the horse’s neck to the other side at a full gallop and there is a trick riding move named for him to this day called the “Stroud Standout.” In this move, the rider “stands” out to the side of the horse, creating a ninety degree angle between horse and rider—and he would do rope tricks while “out there.” Stroud would also do many maneuvers while Roman riding—things like jumping over a parked car—with people in it! He was a crowd favorite, always flashy and colorful, and was known far and wide as a “showman.”

Leonard rode a saddle, specially designed by him and Porter Saddlery of Phoenix, Arizona, which incorporated several unique features, many of which are still evident (and now standard) on today’s trick riding saddles. First there was a very elongated saddle horn, serving as a central hand-hold. Other modifications included slotted handholds attached to the rear skirting, a low (practically flat) cantle, special saddle strings which could serve as handholds and various other leather straps.

Even though he was one of the best riders of his day, Leonard suffered injuries along the way. Once at a Colorado rodeo he slipped and fell under the horse while attempting to pass to the other side. He broke three ribs!

Aside from being the undisputed World Champion Trick Rider between 1914 and 1924, Leonard was also a serious contender in the other events he entered. He learned rope tricks from none other than Will Rogers, becoming an accomplished trick roper. This also helped his roping abilities in the calf and steer roping, where he won many titles at big rodeos. Of course, his riding abilities were second to none, this is evident of the many bronc riding titles he won, including Cheyenne in 1918.

Of course, nobody wins all of the time. Yakima Canutt, in his memoirs, tells a hilarious story about the El Paso, Texas rodeo of 1921. “Leonard Stroud rode a wild bronc that had been brought over from the Mexican side. He was a small horse, but could he buck! He was a crooked, fast sunfisher. He really unloaded Leonard. Doubleday, the official rodeo photographer, got a picture of it and Stroud gave him ten dollars to destroy the negative. I gave him ten dollars to print me up several of the photos and inscribe them, ‘Leonard Stroud Showing the Boys How. A Yakima Canutt Photo’. I passed them out to the bronc riders. It got a good laugh.”

Along the way, Leonard married Mamie Saunders Stroud who was also an accomplished trick rider and bronc rider. She got her start in Lucille Mulhall’s Roundup. The duo competed in many rodeos together throughout their storied careers. They moved from Texas to Oklahoma, and eventually made their permanent home in Rocky Ford, Colorado where they remained involved in rodeo in one aspect or another the rest of their lives.

Something that stands out during this period is the fact that most rodeo cowboys during the 1930s were supportive of the new cowboy organization known as the Cowboy Turtles Association (CTA). Not so with Leonard. While acting as the Arena Director of the Colorado State Fair in Pueblo, only months after the CTA was formed, he was against what he called the “Cowboy Union.” Leonard is quoted here in the Pueblo Indicator on July 31, 1937, “It won’t work (the CTAs threaten to strike if certain demands are not met). The cowboys can’t ride me. The expression, ‘ride ‘em cowboy,’ refers to horses and cattle, not me!” For reasons of his own, Leonard remained opposed to the CTA and never joined up.

The greatest trick rider from the early days of rodeo died June 29, 1961 due to health issues at a Denver, Colorado area hospital. Leonard was posthumously inducted into National Cowboy and Western Heritage Rodeo Hall of Fame in 1965.