Gwen Petersen: In a Sow’s Ear 7-2-12
Stories shape nations and states. Who speaks? Who tells these stories? In the American west, cowboy stories enrich our present even as they reflect earlier times. No one would claim sainthood for every character who forked a horse, choused cattle or put up a tar paper shack on the prairie. But any rational individual admires and respects the values, ethics and handshake honesty of the cowboy. Cowboy stories inspire and affirm decency, honor, valor and freedom.
The Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame and Western Heritage Center, scheduled to be established in our little town of Big Timber, will be a blessing, a memorial, a shining way to celebrate cowboy and western history. A gift from past shapers of western life to future generations.
Having the Hall of Fame find a home in Big Timber is a wonderful fit. The idea blossomed here 60 years ago from the heart and mind of Leo John Cremer (1891-1953). In 1912, Leo and his wife Bertha, each filed on a homestead near Melville, Mont., and began ranching.
In 1926, Leo began his rodeo company calling it the Leo J. Cremer World’s Championship Rodeo Company. Early on he trailed his horses to rodeos all over Montana. Later, he used semi trucks to haul stock to bigger rodeos in other states – Utah, North Dakota, Texas, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Louisiana, Nebraska and Minnesota.
A born showman, an astute businessman, Leo supervised every aspect of his rodeos. He contracted high quality specialty acts including Hendrickson Roman-Riding act, Montie Montana, Rex Allen, Gene Autrey and the Sons of the Pioneers. When he agreed to produce a rodeo, the contract was sealed with a handshake – the same method employed for 17 years.
Leo took huge pride in his bucking stock. He traveled a large area to locate horses, then asked a good bronc rider to try them out. If the cowboy could ride the horse, Leo wouldn’t buy it. Leo Cremer established the greatest string of bucking horses ever assembled under a single ownership. So “deep was the bucking talent of his horses that many of them never bucked more than once or twice a year.”
Names of his best buckers were horses that had been broken to pull haying equipment – Earthquake, Jiggs, White Coyote and Scar Face. In the 1930s and 40s, cowboys tried to stay with Bobcat, Whirlaway, Will James, Madam Queen and Old Mexico. In the 40s and 50s, Golden Pheasant, Devil’s Partner, Come Apart, Big John and Sage Hen unloaded many a buckaroo. Big John and Sage Hen were voted Bucking Horses of the Year! Devil’s Partner and Come Apart continued bucking until they were 28-years-old.
Leo served two terms in the Montana Senate, first elected in 1949 and again in 1951. Leo Cremer, “Mr. Rodeo,” believed in family, good bucking horses and supporting his hometown of Big Timber. He once introduced a bill to have the State Capitol moved to Big Timber!
Leo’s spirit must be wearing a huge grin now that the Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame has come home to Big Timber. Stories belong to and come from people. Leo’s story helped shape the history and heritage of our state and our town – and the history and heritage of Montana cowboys. Thanks Leo.
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