Paddy Ryan: Pioneer Bronc Rider

The Paddy Ryan bronc spur made by Oscar Crockett originally sold for $6.50 silver mounted on one side, $5.50 plain nickel finish or $4.50 plain steel. Some say the spur was actually designed by Ryan, others say Mr. Crockett simply had Ryan endorse this particular model. Either way, spur collectors and western enthusiast everywhere have most likely heard of the Paddy Ryan spur. But just who was Paddy Ryan?

John F. “Paddy” Ryan was a Minnesota native. He was born on October 1, 1896. His father, James Ryan was a pioneer and homesteader. The family moved to Ismay, Montana in 1910. This is where Paddy got his cowboy education—working on the family homestead and for neighboring ranchers. He entered his first rodeo at Miles City, Montana in 1916. He competed in most every event at one time or another, but bronc riding and bulldogging where his favorites.

Paddy cowboyed and rodeoed around Montana until he joined the United States Army during WWI. He was mostly stationed in France and spent approximately two years there. After returning from the war, Ryan became a full-time cowboy, traveling the country in pursuit of rodeo dough.

As the Wild West shows made a transformation into becoming rodeos, more like what we know today, Paddy Ryan was one of the top bronc riders of that era. He followed rodeos and Wild West shows regularly throughout the teens, twenties and into the early 1930s. He won most of the big shows of the day including Pendleton, San Antonio, Cheyenne, Salt Lake, Calgary and Madison Square Garden. He competed at the first ever Tucson Fiesta De Los Vaqueros in 1925, a place he would eventually call home. In 1924, he was awarded the prestigious Roosevelt Trophy, the equivalent of winning the World Championship today.

In those days, the Roosevelt Trophy was a rotating award. The winner got to keep it for one year and then turned it in the following year to the subsequent winner. However, in 1925, Paddy’s friend, Will Rogers, had a replica made that could be kept. He presented it to Paddy as a gift. Ryan treasured the trophy for the rest of his life. In 1974, he told the Tucson Daily Citizen in an interview, “I suppose that was my biggest thrill in rodeoing.”

During the 1930s, Paddy retired from rodeoing and became a full-time rancher near Sheridan, Wyoming. However, he came out of retirement at age forty to enter the Sheridan, WYO rodeo one last time. He won the bulldogging event and went out on top, never entering a professional contest again. However, he did serve as a rodeo judge on numerous occasions.

During his rodeo days, he traveled with his best friend and fellow bronc rider, Bob Askin, also from Montana. The duo rodeoed hard, played hard and fought hard together. Ryan was known for being a colorful character and hard fighter. His slight form did not bother him from tackling a large steer, riding the meanest bronc or scuffling with a larger man. But it was all in good fun, he normally shook hands and partied with his “competition” afterwards.

Rodeo historian, Willard Porter, wrote of Paddy, “In all sports, men emerge from time to time that are so charismatic, so theatrical, that the press takes them into its collective fold to heap upon them colorful adjectives. Such a man was John F. Ryan, better known to the rodeo world as Paddy.”

After ranching in Wyoming for nearly thirty years, he moved to Tucson in the early 1960s. In 1974 he told the Tucson Daily Citizen, “I’ve lived a good, full, busy live and I’m content now to take it as it comes. I’ve got a lot of wonderful memories. I’ve enjoyed the years…I’ve done my riding and now the youth has it.”

Ryan and his wife Elizabeth had two daughters, Patricia and Cynthia. Elizabeth’s obituary on December 13, 2001 read, “Elizabeth was a kind and gentle person who loved animals and traveling.”

Paddy preceded his wife in death, passing on November 23, 1980 at his home in Tucson. The great pioneer bronc rider, John F. “Paddy” Ryan was inducted into the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum Rodeo Hall of Fame in 1978. His legacy and the collectible spur which bears his name lives on to this day.