America’s First Cowgirl: Lucille Mulhall
Lucille Mulhall was already a skilled roper at age 8.
The following is quoted from the book jacket of America’s First Cowgirl Lucille Mulhall, by Beth Day, Published by Julian Messner, Inc., 1955. Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 55-9850.
“World’s Champion Roper — America’s Greatest Horsewoman — Queen of the Range — and the only woman who ever roped steers competitively with men — Lucille Mulhall held the top spot in contests and vaudeville for twenty years. Will Rogers, friend and teacher, called her the world’s greatest rider.
“Born in the saddle, Lucille was the spirited daughter of Colonel Zach Mulhall, an Oklahoma ranch owner. Unlike her sisters, she wasn’t interested in dolls and sewing or piano lessons but preferred branding yearlings and roping wolves and jack-rabbits and steers; training her small, sure-footed ponies; practicing the trick riding that was to make her famous all over the country.
“While still in her early teens, Lucille was the top cowboy performer in the West. Extremely feminine, soft spoken, and well educated, she seemed a paradox, for she was so steel-muscled she could beat strong and talented men at their own games. She could have been a society belle, but she loved the rough, dangerous life and cowboying was in her blood. Had she been a man, she would have been content to work on a ranch, but as a woman she was a novelty and the only way she could make use of her singular talents was in show business. The term cowgirl was invented to describe her when she took the East by storm in her first appearance at Madison Square Garden (in 1905).”
“From the time Lucille was booked for New York, the newspapers had been attempting to describe the phenomenon that was Lucille Mulhall. They had struggled with such ridiculous descriptions as ‘Female Conqueror of Beef and Horn’ and ‘Lassoer in Lingerie’ to the simpler, more realistic ‘Cowboy Girl’ and ‘Ranch Queen.’
“Finally one of them managed to coin a word which would describe the life and talents of any girl who could rope and ride and do ranch work alongside men. The word was ‘cowgirl.’ It was invented to describe Lucille, and it has since become a part of our language.”
The World’s Rankest Bull: Since October of 2009, no professional bull rider has been able to stay on Bushwacker for eight seconds. At a recent P.B.R. event in Pueblo, Colorado, the riders explained why he’s so tough to ride.
By JOE SPRING
Published: July 19, 2011
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Dustin Elliott, a 145-pound professional cowboy, popped into the chute and felt energized by the lights above and the 1,600-pound bull beneath him. He wrapped a rope around his right hand, twisted right to left four times, then bounced up and down three times. The bull, meanwhile, looked casually to the left and waited.
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Andy Watson/Bull Stock Media
Bushwacker stands atop the Professional Bull Riders list of the world’s rankest — or toughest to ride — bulls.
“He’s got a real cool arrogance to himself and then when the gate opens he just explodes,” Shorty Gorham, a bullfighter, said of Bushwacker, who usually bucks most pros in three seconds or so. “But leading up until then you would think he’s just some farm pet that didn’t have an ounce of buck in him.”
Since October 2009, no cowboy has ridden Bushwacker for even eight seconds, the minimum needed to earn a score, and the average is 3.01. In 2010, he jumped, kicked and spun his way to more than $335,000 from American Bucking Bull Inc., which awards prize money to bulls. With an average score of 46.01 out of 50, he stands atop the Professional Bull Riders list of the world’s rankest — or toughest to ride — bulls. But it’s not the numbers that have the cowboys tweaked.
“He’s a smart bull,” the rider Robson Palermo said. “Every time he leaves the chute he got something for you.”
With a relaxed swagger in cramped quarters, hops that should not originate from hooves, and a stable of freakish, syncopated moves that have left riders flummoxed, Bushwacker sometimes appears more ballerina than bovine. In Springfield, Mo., last year, he bucked the rookie of the year, Silvano Alves, headfirst into the dirt, swung rump over muzzle, landed on his right-front foot, and Eskimo-kissed the ground.
Hours before his encounter with Elliott in the United States Air Force Invitational in late May, as the sun rose over his pen in Pueblo, Colo., Bushwacker champed a mix of hay, grain, vitamins and minerals. His trainer, Kent Cox, laid out the feed so the bull would dine at least 12 hours before bucking.
“You can’t eat a big old bowl of spaghetti and go run a marathon,” Cox said.
On days when the bull riding starts at 2 p.m., Cox rises at 2 a.m., ignoring the headaches that have plagued him since he took a horn to the right side of the face while riding a one-ton bull in 1997. The impact shattered his cheekbone, eye socket and nasal cavity. He had five operations to install 13 plates in his head.
A year and a half later, he got back on a bull. He could still ride, but he had lost the desire. He transferred his energy into training bulls.
Cox has had great success with Bushwacker, who took home the single biggest check when he won the $250,000 A.B.B.I. Classic Championship during the Professional Bull Riders finals last October. Money also comes from breeding. Earlier this year, a collector took sperm from Bushwacker. It sells for more than $2,000 a straw. The average bull can fill 150 straws per collection.
To help owners pair potential mates, the A.B.B.I. tracks the lineage of every premier dam and sire and the bucking success of their offspring. And though Bushwacker’s line sounds as if it came from the police blotter in a seedy Southwestern drag, it is rodeo royalty. Diamond’s Ghost sired his mother, Lady Luck. Oscar’s Velvet sired his father, Reindeer Dippin’, an ornery bull who went unridden in the P.B.R. three separate years.
“When Bushwacker was a baby he was mean — he’d hook my horse,” said his co-owner Julio Moreno. “Kent’s got him to where, you know, he could eat of your hand now.”
At noon, Bushwacker lay in his pen. He is caramel, except for the tilted white H on his face, the “1 3 6” scar branded to his left rump and white horns cut off into nubs.
Cox helped two cowboys and a cowgirl herd bulls into a truck. His wife, Gina, watched from a deck behind the pens.
“I call him the bull whisperer,” she said. “He lives, breathes and eats bulls, and if you don’t moo, he doesn’t care about you.”
Gina Cox grew up in a rodeo family in Illinois. On weekends, she helps out as a P.B.R. secretary.
“I consider the finals in Las Vegas our vacation,” she said. “And that’s maybe two hours of sleep every night.”
She laughed and ran her right hand over her left forearm, a $65,000 digital prosthetic. In 2004, she lost the arm in a car wreck.
“That was the one time he never left my side — for two weeks,” she said of her husband. “And probably the only time he was away from the bulls for that long.”
As Cox helped guide four other bulls to the trailer, Bushwacker looked out through the fence.
“You know that bull loves his job,” Gina Cox said. “Because when that trailer leaves and he’s not on it, you can tell he’s upset.”
She worries about her husband. He has had at least 13 concussions and often enters the pens to train the bulls with only two blue heeler cattle dogs at his side. He has been knocked down more than once.
As Cox swung open the gate to Bushwacker’s pen, the bull stood still and twitched his right ear into a cup. Cox walked in. Bushwacker trotted out. Soon he was on the truck and off to the arena.
The haul was a short one, comparatively. Cox drives Bushwacker from his home in Dublin, Tex., to more than a dozen events around the country.
After an hour-and-a-half nap at the hotel, Cox showed up behind the Colorado State Fair Events Center at 7. Pyrotechnics went off inside. Bushwacker waited amid a sea of fencing, swinging tails and tilting horns.
Cox went inside and clanked up steps to the platform behind the chutes. Chaw dripped off a grate that creaked under the weight of paunched contractors and square-jawed cowboys.
Cox flanked the 28th and 29th bulls, steadied riders in the chute by holding their shoulders and drawled with cowboys. The gate slammed open. Clumps of dirt flew up into the scrum of hats.
Shortly after 9 p.m., after more than 40 bulls had gone out, Bushwacker ambled into the chute. Cox stood over his still flank. The opening piano from Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” blared from the speakers. Elliott finished squirming and nodded vigorously. The gate opened.
Bushwacker short-hopped into the arena. Drool flew out of his mouth and whirled over Elliott’s head. Bushwacker bounded more than two feet into the air, kicked his hind legs up, and drove his front legs into the ground. Instead of waiting for his back legs to touch dirt, as most bulls do, he sprung off his front feet immediately.
This is Bushwacker’s signature move, and it is as effective in its offbeat athleticism as a point guard executing a crossover dribble to ditch a defender. Elliott came forward and lost the weight of his feet underneath him.
Possibly sensing the rider’s weight shift, Bushwacker staccato-hopped to the right. He accelerated into five successive spinning jumps. His tail whipped his own rump with emphatic snaps. Elliott flew to the right and hit the dirt. The clock showed 6.57 seconds.
Bushwacker kicked out of the arena and into the night. He stopped at the last gate and waited for the next truck. Inside, after the last ride of the night, Kent and Gina Cox walked over to Elliott.
“There’s nobody that we’d be prouder to have ride him first,” Gina said. “That’s for dang sure.”
Then Kent Cox put his arm on his wife’s back and left the arena smiling.
“This is what we work all week long to come do, and the results are here,” he said. “He did his job, and, yeah.”
|3.||Valdiron de Oliveira||$209,858.33||$15,779.40||$7,946.19||$233,583.92||-$39,776.51|
|7.||J. B. Mauney||$82,488.33||$60,353.75||$0.00||$142,842.08||-$130,518.35|
|24.||Renato Nunes view injuries||$70,036.67||$0.00||$0.00||$70,036.67||-$203,323.77|
|32.||Ty Pozzobon view injuries||$5,300.00||$7,299.90||$29,546.68||$42,146.58||-$231,213.86|
SELAH, Wash. — It’s a Wednesday night like any other, except for the freezing December rain outside that’s turning highways into ice rinks.
Just up the hill from Rod Chumley’s ranch, North Wenas Road is virtually devoid of traffic, except for the steady line of pickup trucks turning onto Chumley’s property.
In those trucks are tough young men here for one thing only: to climb onto bucking bulls, for nothing more than a few bucks in gas money, an adrenaline charge unlike any other and a few hard-earned seconds of training experience in their chosen sport.
“They get a practice out of it, and at the same time, I’m training bulls,” says Chumley, who has been hosting bull-riding nights like this off and on, for some winter stretches on a weekly basis, for about five years. “They get to work on some skills, and I get some bulls bucked.”
The arena itself was originally built for Chumley to train horses, but now it’s ground central for his burgeoning business of training bulls to be good enough for the Professional Bull Riders circuits and the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.
“Now instead of getting bucked off in there,” Chumley says with a grin, “I’m watching other people getting bucked off.”
On any night the riders may range from seasoned pros to wide-eyed kids still finding their way. It’s just a word-of-mouth thing, but every bull rider within a six-hour drive is fully aware of what’s going on in Chumley’s arena.
“It keeps you tuned up,” says Allen Helmuth, a 26-year-old from Ellensburg who’s been riding bulls for six years, and won the 2009 PRCA Columbia River Circuit finals.
“Today we’ll be getting on calves, 21/2-year-olds that are still figuring out what they’re doin’. It’s good for practice and good for confidence building — number one, you should stay on, plus it helps you with your moves. It’s like dancing: You’ve got to have a counter-move for every move the bull does.”
Some of the riders at Chumley’s Wednesday bucking series have plenty of moves. PBR stars Cody Ford and Cody Campbell have been regulars, and Campbell is here again tonight — even though this arena hasn’t always been kind to him.
In early October, just a couple of weeks before he took off to ride in the Professional Bull Riders finals in Las Vegas, Campbell was riding in one of Chumley’s Wednesday night buckings when a bull’s horn smashed into his face, knocking out a couple of teeth and costing him 40-some stitches.
After tonight’s bucking is done, Campbell plans to spend a little time looking for those teeth. They’re still somewhere out in that arena dirt.
The surroundings feel like home to Levi Yonaka, a local rider who rode his first bull — or tried to — at Chumley’s arena a few years ago and later went on to reach the college national finals rodeo twice while representing Perry Technical Institute. He doesn’t mind a bit that tonight’s bulls aren’t proven buckers.
“A lot of times they’re more fun,” Yonaka says of the young bulls, “because you don’t know what they’ll do.”
What they do more often than not on this night is act up.
Most of the bulls in the back pen tonight have been ridden only by “dummy riders.” These are metal contraptions strapped onto the young bull, which instinctively tries to get it off. When the bull does what Chumley and his business partner, Gary Long, want it to learn to do — buck and spin — they press a button that releases the contraption and it falls off.
Some bulls figure out pretty quickly: Hey, that bucking and spinning sure gets rid of that irritating thing on my back. After Chumley and Long put each young bull through a couple of test rides with the dummy, they put a real rider on it in Wednesday night events just like this one.
If the bull tries the same violent bucking, kicking and spinning to dislodge the rider, it might be on the road to a career in the PBR or pro rodeo. If it doesn’t, it may soon be on the road to a slaughterhouse in Toppenish and a future atop a hamburger bun.
And the bull rider might be on the way to the hospital, if he spends too much time on the back of an inexperienced bull while it’s still in the chute. The bull is scared and angry, pouting about having this rope strapped around its torso and a stranger climbing on its back.
“Young bulls, they got no patience — not them babies,” says Long. “You’re sitting on a time bomb.”
That bomb explodes upon a young rider named Andy Elliott, when his bull — after five minutes of thrashing around in the chute — never quite leaves it when the gate is opened. Instead, the bull begins bucking and bashing into and against the gate and the chute, slamming Elliott into the gate before he was pulled to safety by two other riders standing above the chute.
“That’ll knock the flu off,” grimaces Elliott, who has been sick all week.
Elliott is Yonaka’s housemate these days, having moved to Selah from Arlington, Wash., primarily for access to Chumley’s training arena and the opportunity to get on a lot of bulls.
“There’s nothing like this where I was living,” Elliott says. “I’d have had to drive an hour and a half for something like this.”
Some of the others riding on this night came farther than that. Several riders drove down from North Central Washington, others up from Oregon, still others from Boise, Idaho. Campbell, who’s from a little town near La Grande, Ore., came hoping to get on a spirited young bull Chumley and Long years ago took to calling “Vegas” because even as a young calf, they could tell he was special.
The bull demonstrates that with a rousing, twisting, bucking ride with Campbell aboard, but the PBR star stays on for at least a full eight-second ride, though there’s no official time buzzer to announce it. Chumley, who grades each bull’s effort — using the old grading scale from school — gives “Vegas” an A for the ride. There are a lot of A’s given out on this night, plus a couple of D’s.
Getting one D doesn’t necessarily mean the bull won’t make it. A second low grade, though, would be the bull’s last.
“They get two chances,” Long says. “We want an 1,800-pound bull with kick and spin. We want an athlete. These (bull-riding) kids are too good now.”
After a particularly desultory effort by one bull, Long shakes his head. “He’ll get one more try because he had a B the first time. After another D comes a T — he’s going to Toppenish.”
“Vegas” isn’t the most impressive bull of the night by a long shot. Another young bucker, son of an award-winning bull, tosses his rider in three powerful, spinning leaps, sending the two bullfighters racing in to distract the bull and keep it from injuring the dazed rider.
Colby Reilly, a young rider from the wheat lands of northern Grant County, turns to a couple of journalists watching the goings-on.
“Y’all want to know what a good bucking bull looks like? That,” Reilly says and points at the bull, still snorting and bounding around the arena. “That right
This year’s bounty bull is Slash. The bounty will go to the rider if he stays on for 8 seconds, or Davidson will pay the bounty to Slash.
“We’ve always made it where if a guy is going to win that money, he’s going to earn it,” said Davidson.