Everett Cobers — Early-Day Rodeo Promoter

by Jim Olson

He is best-remembered for being Gene Autry’s business partner in the World Championship Rodeo Corporation. Pretty much everybody has heard of Autry, his star power is still alive today. Everett Colborn however, could arguably be remembered as the greatest rodeo producer of all time.

Born Everett Edward Colborn to Mark and Mary Colborn on July 26, 1892, he entered this world into a ranching family near DeLamar, Idaho. A top hand by the time he was a teenager, it was said he often received stock in lieu of money for his wages. He had an eye on the business side of cowboying from the get-go. Although he had some success as a professional roper, Everett entered the ranching profession during his twenties. He bought the family ranch.

While he still rodeoed a bit, ranching and the business side of rodeo (producing) appealed to Everett. In the 1920s, Doc Sorensen and Everett Colborn founded the Colborn and Sorensen Rodeo Company producing rodeos throughout the Northwest. Their maiden voyage was producing the first ever Henry’s Stampede. Caldwell Night Rodeo was organized in 1935 and the stock was provided by Everett Colborn and Doc Sorenson. Numerous events Colborn and Sorensen helped start live on to this day.

If you will recall, Colonel W.T. Johnson produced some of the biggest rodeos in the United States during the 1920s – ‘30s and, according to the cowboys, paid out some of the smallest purses won. Cowboys were not satisfied with the smaller than should be payouts, and at Boston Garden in October of 1936, they struck and wound up forming the Cowboys’ Turtle Association (CTA). This was the predecessor of the PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association) as we it know today. As it turned out, Boston was Johnson’s “last rodeo.” Disgusted over the strike, he sold his rodeo company – lock, stock, and barrel.

In early 1937 Everett left the partnership of Colborn and Sorensen Rodeo Company (on good terms) to join Bill and Twain Clemans of Florence, AZ and Harry Knight of Casa Grande, AZ in the purchase of Colonel W.T. Johnson’s World Championship Rodeo Co. Twain Clemans was president of the corporation, Everett Colborn was executive director, Bill Clemans was executive secretary, and former bronc rider Harry Knight was manager of the newly formed World Championship Rodeo Corporation. The stock reportedly included one-hundred-fifty saddle horses, one-hundred-fifty bucking horses, fifty bucking bulls, one-hundred-head of bulldogging cattle, ninety calves, fifty wild cows, parade horses, saddles, and various other equipment.

Colburn, who had also been a director and judge for Col. Johnson, moved from Idaho and bought Johnson’s fourteen-thousand acre Ranch in Dublin, Texas. He called it the “Lighting C.” Along with the Clemans one-hundred-twenty-eight-thousand acre ranch in Florence, the company also used Colborn’s Idaho ranch to run the rodeo stock. This partnership was largest ranch / rodeo company of its day dedicated to the raising of rodeo livestock. The headquarters stayed in Dublin, with Everett running things from the Lighting C.

Author and rodeo historian, Willard Porter said of Everett, “Everett Colborn produced some of the best rodeos ever held. Among his peers, there were few, if any, who could do it better.”

The World Championship Rodeo Company, then one of the largest in the country, definitely did things in a big way. A September, 1937 Florence, AZ. Blade-Tribune article reported that, “a train called the ‘World’s Championship Rodeo Special’ left Texas transporting the world’s largest rodeo herd to New York City for the Madison Square Gardens Rodeo.” Besides Madison Square Garden, the company also produced (amongst others) Boston Garden, Phoenix, Houston, Fort Worth, San Antonio and Chicago – some of the biggest and best rodeos of the day.

The company was also known for having some of the best bucking stock: Hell’s Angel, Kickapoo, Home Brew, Conclusion, Harry Tracy, Sea Lion, Hell-to-Set, Broken Bones and Reckless Red were some of the greats belonging to the World Championship Rodeo Company.

Cowboy star, Gene Autry owned the Flying A ranch out of Oklahoma about this same time. Besides being a famous movie cowboy, he also was a big-time stock contractor. However, in 1939, Autry felt the call of duty and enlisted to go fight in World War II. Before leaving, he made a deal with Everett and partners to merge the Flying A with World Championship Rodeo Company. This way he would be free to go to war without having to worry about his ranching / stock contracting operation.

The merger of two of the largest stock contractors in the country created, by far, the biggest contractor / producer of rodeos to date. Under the agreement, Everett would remain executive director and Autry would provide the “star” power. Later in the 1940s Autry acquired the company in its entirety. Colborn continued to serve as the company’s director until his retirement in 1959.

As a testament to Colborn’s sense of community, about 1940 the city fathers of Dublin approached him about putting on a show there. Colborn stepped up and put on one of the biggest rodeos in the country, right there at home (a fairly small community). It was touted as the “Pre-Madison Square Garden World’s Championship Rodeo.” It became one of the best rodeos in Texas. Reportedly, forty-seven-thousand fans flocked to the newly built “Colborn Bowl” during the 1947 edition.

Everybody in rodeo wanted to be involved in the Madison Square Garden show, which was pretty much the National Finals Rodeo (NFR) of its day. However, Colborn would tell the cowboys, specialty acts, other contractors and even the press, “If you want to go to New York, then come to Dublin first.”

After the rodeo, everyone would help Everett and company drive the stock and entire operation several miles from the ranch to the railhead, where they all loaded a specially commissioned train bound for New York. It must have been quite a time. All of this (including the Madison Square Garden Rodeo) took almost two months. The Colborn crew even had Twentieth Century Fox movie cameras rolling with them during the drives, train ride and New York rodeo. They made a feature film called, “Rodeo Goes to Town.”

This era has often been referred to as “The Golden Age of Rodeo.” It was when rodeo officially morphed away from the old Wild West type shows and un-organization of the past, into the big-time future. It paved the way for what we have today. Much of this was accomplished with Everett at the helm. Another Everett – Everett Bowman, was president of the CTA. The two men worked together and with Colborn heading the production and Bowman ramrodding the cowboys, rodeo stepped into the modern era.

Everett was a family man. His wife Ava and daughters Rosemary and Carolyn were very much a part of his busy life. Many old black and white photographs are a testament to this as the family is right there with him at big rodeos.

The Rodeo Heritage Museum of Dublin, TX. website said of Everett, “He was not just a stock producer, he produced a show,” and that, “he placed the epicenter of American rodeo in Erath County (where Dublin is located) while cementing his status as ‘the Father of Rodeo.’”

The great stock contractor, Everett E. Colborn died March 20, 1972 in Dublin, TX. He was posthumously inducted into the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum Hall of Fame in 1979.       n