Cowboy Heroes

heroes

Earl Thode.

Trevor Brazile has won eight of them. Ty Murray has won seven; both Larry Mahan and Tom Ferguson have six to their credit. Winning the All-around championship states you are the most versatile cowboy in the world. Way back in 1929, Earl Thode won the very first World Champion All-around Cowboy title of professional rodeo.
Thode, originally from South Dakota competed in bull dogging and roping events, but was best known for his classic saddle bronc riding style, an event in which he excelled.

Earl, born on December 7, 1900, was said to have been riding horses on the family ranch south of Belvedere by age five. By 11, he was considered a great rider – riding race horses at local county fairs. In his teens, he was breaking and training horses for his father and other area ranchers. According to reports, Earl had an uncanny way with horses.

Earl entered his first rodeo in 1920, the local White River Stampede, where he won the all-around championship; no small deal as this was a renowned rodeo at the time. For the next seven years, he mostly rodeoed around South Dakota also working as a cowboy. In 1927, Earl decided to make rodeo his full time career.

After the Madison Square Garden finale of ‘27, Earl and a bunch of other contestants were invited to England to perform for British Royalty. In an interview with author, Dan Woods, Earl was quoted as saying, “They made us bronc riders wrap our spurs with rags and wouldn’t let us use a quirt. ‘Twas quite different from this country, but everyone seemed to enjoy it.”

Earl had a unique spurring style (for the times), involving the fore and aft motion from point of shoulder to flank which all bronc riders are required to use today. He was the first to use this technique and is credited with its invention.

Earl’s rodeo resume reads like the “Who’s Who” in rodeo: four World Champion Saddle Bronc riding titles (1927, 1928, 1929, 1931) and one World Champion All-around Cowboy title (1929). He won all the major rodeos of his day including Calgary, Madison Square Garden, Fort Worth, Tucson, Phoenix and Cheyenne to name a few. He actually won the bronc riding at Cheyenne four different times, a record which still stands today.

Earl originally competed in the Rodeo Association of America (RAA) which was the predecessor of the Cowboy Turtles Association (CTA) formed in 1936, then changed in 1945 to the Rodeo Cowboys Association (RCA) and in 1975 to the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) which is what we have today. He was membership # 36. In 1979, Earl was inducted posthumously into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame.

It has been written that Earl probably should have a couple more all-around titles to his credit, but prior to 1929 records were sketchy. Also prior to ‘29, the World Champion was based upon winning a certain rodeo and not the whole year’s accumulation of rodeos. Earl was part of the reason they started keeping track of totals won in two or more events, thereby naming the all-around champion each year.

In 1929, while competing at Calgary, Alberta, Canada, Earl broke his leg and during the hospital visit which ensued, he was brought back to health by Nurse Edna Blodwen Cole (friends called her Blodie). Earl came back to see Blodie at Calgary the following year and then the two were married in 1931 when Earl returned once again for the rodeo.

Calgary was a special rodeo for Earl, he won several times there, he met his future wife there and in 1937, it was where he retired from professional rodeo. After getting banged up by the pickup horse upon dismount, Earl knew bronc riding at age 37 was not in the cards any longer.

Author, R. Lewis Bowman, (nephew of World Champion, Everett Bowman) remembers going to rodeos as a kid with his Uncle Everett and meeting Earl. The two champions were close friends, but what Lewis remembers most about the great Earl Thode, was he was kind.

“Earl had time for everybody. He would walk up and shake the hand of a kid, smile and visit a while,” says Lewis. “That made him pretty high up in my book as I was about five years old the first time I met him.”

Being kind to children was a trademark of Earl’s. He had two sons of his own, but often took in wayward kids, making his sons feel at times as if they were part of a much larger family. Earl could have hired cowboys to work on his ranch, but would hire a needy youngster over the more experienced man every time. He was involved in the Elk’s Lodge and instrumental in the Shriner’s parades, raising money for childrens’ hospitals. Earl donated beef to boys’ homes anonymously time and again.

It was also reported that Earl was a quiet and humble man, often feeling almost embarrassed at the attention given to him as a world champion and celebrity figure. According to youngest son, the Honorable Thomas Thode, “There are 12 people named after Pops that I know of and only three of them are blood related.”

In 1934, the Thode’s moved to Casa Grande, AZ where they homesteaded a 320-acre farm and ranch near Eleven Mile Corner. In the late 1930s, Earl and partners leased several parcels of state and private land in the area between Casa Grande and what is now Arizona City where they ran cattle on the desert during winter months. Earl bought a ranch west of town on Midway road in 1941 with proceeds made from the sale of the Eleven Mile Corner place and money made running cattle. The 1,000 + acres of patented land on Midway became what most old timers knew as “the Thode Ranch.” He ran cattle and raised cotton there.

Earl was very active in the Fiesta De Los Vaqueros rodeo in Tucson, traveled back to New York to direct the Madison Square Garden show several times, and was arena director at the Phoenix rodeo also. Locally, at Casa Grande Rodeo Days, he is credited with being the first arena director and committee president, a position held for many years.

Blodie became active in local politics. She joined the woman’s club, was elected to the state legislature an amazing 18 times and was instrumental in the formation of the Casa Grande Regional Hospital.

During this time Earl also bought a ranch at Douglas, AZ where he raised cattle and the family visited there in summer to get out of the desert heat. In the late 1950s, the Douglas ranch sold and Thode bought one in the White Mountains of Arizona, near Vernon, moving most of his ranching operation up there. On May 18, 1964, Earl was fishing alone in a small boat on a pond at his ranch; he was later found dead. It was determined that the boat capsized, drowning Earl in the chilly water.