The Cowboy Legend: Casey Tibbs

According to the ProRodeo Hall of Fame, Casey Tibbs is to the sport of rodeo what Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig are to baseball; what Jack Dempsey and Muhammad Ali are to boxing; and what Red Grange is to football.

Casey Duane Tibbs was born to John F. and Florence M. (Leggett) Tibbs in the family’s log cabin northwest of Fort Pierre, South Dakota, on March 5, 1929. He attended rural school at Orton Flat.

Young Casey, who started riding in local rodeos when he was 14, was training bucking stock and competing at rodeos around the country the next year.

In 1949 at the age of 19, Tibbs became the youngest man ever to win the national saddle bronc-riding crown. Between 1949 and 1955, he won a total of six PRCA saddle bronc-riding championships, two all-around cowboy championships, and one bareback-riding championship. He inspired audiences with his trademark “Purple Shirt” (which matched his “purple” Cadillac) and a riding style that depended on balance and rhythm instead of pure strength.

Casey Tibbs was anything but shy. In 1958, he appeared on the television show, “This Is Your Life,” with Ralph Edwards. Except for a brief stint in 1969, he retired from rodeo to concentrate on TV and movie roles in 1964. He also organized a rodeo troupe that performed at the World’s Fair in Brussels; wrote, produced and starred in the movies Born to Buck (1967) and Young Rounders ; and starred in the movie Bronc Busters . He was featured in Wild Heritage (1958), Tomboy and the Champ (1961), and Breakheart Pass(1975). Tibbs was also a regular in stunt work in television and movies. In 1973, he introduced rodeo to the Japanese with 162 performances in that country.

In August 1989, Tibbs was awarded the Golden Boot from the Motion Picture and Television Relief Fund for his contribution to the industry.

His picture appeared in such diverse places as the cover of Life magazine, Roy Rogers Funny Book, counter check blanks, plus countless newspapers and books. For many years, he wrote a syndicated newspaper column, “Let’er Buck,” for Rodeo Sports News. He was also a pioneer in bucking horse breeding programs, and was one of the founders of the Rodeo Cowboys Association (later PRCA), dedicated to improving the image of cowboys and professional rodeo.

Outside of rodeo, Tibbs enjoyed the high life, indulged his taste for beautiful women and good whiskey, and reportedly spent his money as fast as he made it—yet he always found time to visit children in hospitals, and do charity work with groups such as 4-H.

As well as being one of Rodeo’s greatest competitors and most colorful personalities, Tibbs was a visionary. It was he who first thought up the idea of holding a World Series of Rodeo, which became “Rodeo’s Greatest Spectacle,” the National Finals Rodeo in 1959.

Today, pro rodeo pays millions in prize money and attracts sell-out crowds around the nation annually.

A larger-than-life bronze statue (“The Champion”) of Casey on the famed bucking horse Necktie was dedicated that same month at the ProRodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Edd Hayes, sculptor of the “Champion,” said that inside the bronze he had inscribed a heart with the words “Ride Cowboy, Ride.”

Casey Tibbs died on January 28, 1990, while watching the Super Bowl at his home in Ramona, California. He is buried near his hometown of Fort Pierre, South Dakota.

He still holds the world record of 6 PRCA Saddle Bronc Championships, and is the only cowboy to date who has won 4 PRCA Saddle Bronc Championships in a row.

As country singer Charlie Daniels said, Casey Tibbs was “as western as the sunset, and cowboy to the core.”