“What else could he have done?”
That’s the reply Wayne Bailey’s dad gave when asked why his son became a cowboy.
While some might think it a smart-alecky reply, the response was sincere, honest and correct.
Raised deep in the Flint Hills the son of a cowboy, with cattle as livelihood and a horse as main transportation, Wayne Bailey was destined to be a cowboy.
“It’s the only life I’ve known. It’s been a good time. I wouldn’t change it for any other,” Bailey said last week in a late evening conversation when he wasn’t busy with his cattle business.
“We’ve been getting up long before light for more than three weeks helping ship cattle,” Bailey recognized. “We’ve got another three weeks before these double-stock and three-quarter season cattle are gone. Then, it won’t be long before the full-season cattle start coming off.”
Bailey, his wife Marcia and their sons, Buck and Wes, look after grazing cattle over a wide area just like Bailey’s dad, Derward, did decades before him.
“We also help a lot of other ranchers,” added the cowboy who lives 14 miles from Hamilton in Greenwood County, not too far away as the crow flies from the place he was raised 10 miles from Matfield Green in Chase County.
While “cowboy” is his occupation, it has been the realm of diversification. Not only has Bailey managed cattle operations, he’s been a successful rodeo contestant since youth.
It is Wayne Bailey’s achievement in the arena that is being recognized this week as the cowboy featured on the Series Buckle at the Wild Bill Hickok Rodeo in Abilene.
He’s shown steer wrestling at the Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo several years ago.
“I was tickled when I heard they wanted to honor me on the buckle,” Bailey appreciated.
However, attending all of the events involved isn’t going to be a relaxing time for the cowboy.
“They said there’d be a motel for us to stay in every night, but we’re shipping cattle,” Bailey insisted. “I’ll be there for the rodeos and activities, then have to go back to the ranch to gather cattle the next day.”
A sorrowful aspect of what would be a joyful occasion is that Bailey’s brother, Darwin, also a lifelong cowboy, passed away last week after suffering a severe stroke followed by a car accident.”
“We grew up as cowboys. Darwin was two years older than I am, but we did everything together and had similar lifestyles. So, his death is really putting a damper on everything,” Bailey admitted sympathetically.
Visitation with the family of Darwin Bailey is planned August 5, and his ashes will be scattered the next day into a Flint Hills pasture near Matfield Green, the same place where remains of the brothers’ dad rest.
Noteworthy, Derward Bailey, their dad, became a highly successful horse show speed event contender in his senior years. High-point rider in the Eastern Kansas Horseman’s Association many times, he annually won National O-Mok-See Patterned Horse Racing events throughout the country.
Not only is Wayne Bailey a champion cowboy, his wife is a champion cowgirl, and their boys are champions, too.
“We’re hoping our four grandchildren will follow suit. The grandson doesn’t have a choice either in my opinion, but I guess time will have to tell,” Bailey conceded.
“We weren’t even in school yet when Darwin and I started helping check and gather cattle,” Bailey recalled. “I remember Dad strapping us on our horses, so we wouldn’t fall off as we slept coming back from gathering cattle east of Matfield.”
Of course, when the brothers went to school, they rode their horses to get there and back.
No electricity or running water in the ranch home as Bailey was growing up, but he never missed that.
“We didn’t know what it was like to have them,” he said. “We pumped water when we needed it, and went to bed at night when it got dark.”
Electricity came in the’50s, but his folks didn’t get running water for another 30 years. “That’s just the way it was,” Bailey granted.
While “cowboy” was the family profession, it was also the recreation.
“I competed in the little ‘shodeos’ around, and my fiercest competitor was Marcia (Stout) up at Bazaar,” Bailey confided. “Our objective was always to beat each other. Then we’d team up in the scoop shovel and rescue races, and we were unbeatable, or at least we thought so.”
High school rodeo was then small-scale compared to the present. “There was really just one major rodeo at Topeka, and it qualified us to enter the National High School Rodeo Finals,” Bailey explained.
He competed in the national competition at Tarkio, Missouri, in 1963, and Ogallala, Neb., in 1965. “I got hurt at the state finals in’64 and had to miss that national finals,” he noted.
Winning the saddle bronc riding, placing second in bull riding and fourth in steer wrestling at the ’65 state championship, Bailey rode bulls, saddle broncs and barebacks and bulldogged in the national competition that year placing fifth in saddle broncs.
Interestingly, Marcia also competed at the’63, ’64 and ’65 National High School Rodeo Finals in goat tying, breakaway roping, barrel racing and cutting.
Winning has always been his nature, and Bailey has recollections of practice sessions as a youth.
“When we were shipping cattle as kids, Darwin and I would always jump on the ‘Brammer’ steers when they’d go down the alley to the catch pen. Anything that bucked, I wanted to ride,” Bailey contended.
“I only had one horse, and I used him in everything. I’d practice bulldoggin’ Hereford steers with little four-inch horns,” he reflected. “Seems like the neighbors were always bringing horses that’d bucked them off to ‘the Baileys,’ and Dad, Mom and I’d take their broncs to the Strong City arena for me to practice on.”
It was a long ways from Chase County, Kansas, to Henryetta, Oklahoma, in 1960, but Bailey attended one of the first rodeo schools in the country.
“I went down to Jim Shoulders place and learned more than I ever could have anywhere else about riding broncs and bulls,” Bailey recalled.
After high school, Bailey was drafted into the Army and served in the Vietnam conflict, while Marcia was on the rodeo team at Kansas State University where she graduated.
The couple was married in 1968, and their ranch life continued.
Marcia was raised on the famed Titus-Stout Hereford Ranch operated by her parents Elmore and Doris Stout. The sister of renowned livestock auctioneer Stanley Stout, (now) Mrs. Wayne Bailey also showed champion Herefords and Quarter Horses during her youth.
Bailey expanded his rodeo career in the’70s, successfully competing in saddle bronc riding and steer wrestling over a wide area.
“Darwin and I always rode in the amateur bronc riding at Strong City, and I finally filled my card and started competing in Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association,” Bailey recalled.
Steer wrestling is obviously considered Bailey’s signature event by those at Abilene honoring him this week, but there are others who consider him one of the elite rough stock riders of the Midwest.
“I really thought of myself in the early years of my career as a saddle bronc rider,” Bailey commented. “I competed in both events at pro and amateur rodeos well into the ’80s, and than I continued to bulldog for several years after that.”
With major wins over a side area, including topping a go round at Cheyenne, Bailey said, “I was too busy making a living to hit enough rodeos to qualify for the National Finals, but when I won the Eastern Kansas Pro Circuit in steer wrestling that was one of the biggest accomplishments of my career.
“However, if I could compete in any rodeo just one more time, it would be Cheyenne. That’s really some rodeo there,” he added.
As a side note, Bailey only competed occasionally in roping events as a youth, but he has the ability to shake out a loop successfully to doctor cattle when necessary.
“I never enjoyed roping all that much. I’d rather jump off my horse and bulldog a critter to the ground,” he remarked.
Verifying his versatility, Bailey was honored as the Top Hand in the Kansas Championship Ranch Rodeo at Medicine Lodge in 1990.
The Bailey sons have been heavily involved in rodeo, as well, winning major competitions from the junior level on up.
“I was still competing, so we had broncs and doggin’ steers to practice on,” Bailey noted. “We’d get up early in the morning to practice before it got real hot, then do our cattle work, and the boys could take a nap in the afternoon, before we’d practice again when it cooled off.”
Bailey clarified, “If you want to win, you have to work at it, and we did our best.”
It paid off with both boys claiming high school rodeo awards and competing successfully in the National High School Rodeo Finals.
“Buck won the state high school finals in steer wrestling, then rodeoed in college and continued to compete in amateur rodeos for several years,” Bailey tabulated. “After rodeoing in college, too, Wes rode in PRCA rodeos for a number of years. He was the Prairie Circuit champion saddle bronc rider a couple of times, and also entered the steer wrestling en route to winning some all-arounds.”
Wes Bailey does not have his PRCA card now, but continues participating in ranch rodeos.
“He rides the saddle broncs for his team,” Dad credited. “His Arndt-Bailey team has won several Working Ranch Cowboys Association events and topped a $50,000 ranch rodeo competition earlier this year.”
Marcia Bailey continued competing in barrel racing for a number of years and then was a member of women and co-ed ranch rodeo teams that collected several titles.
After more than 40 years as a contestant and suffering a torn rotator cuff, Wayne Bailey is now known as one of the top rodeo judges in the country.
“I started judging at a youth rodeo in the late ’60s, then did some amateur rodeos, before I got my pro card,” he said. “I judged a lot of pro rodeos, but now I stick to judging high school, amateur and ranch rodeos.”
He officiates numerous high school rodeos annually including the state finals for many years. “I’ve judged the National High School Rodeo Finals six times. High school rodeo has always been close to my heart, but it’s sure grown a lot since Marcia and I, and even when the boys, were competing,” Bailey said.
Always closely involved in operation of what is now known as the TS Ranch Hereford-Quarter Horse operation, the Bailey family assumed management of the place southeast of Cottonwood Falls after the passing of Elmore and Doris Stout.
“It’s a family operation, and all of us are involved in it. Wes lives at the headquarters now, and we’ve continued the sale and will keep it going.
“We’re having the 48th annual sale of Herefords and Quarter Horses on the last Saturday of February,” Bailey added.
Longtime treasurer of the Chase County Fair, Elmore Stout was a director of the Flint Hills Rodeo Association for more than four decades, serving as president 14 years.
“Buck and I and my niece, Cheryl, are now directors of the rodeo, so we intend to keep that going, too,” Bailey noted.
An interesting aspect of the cowboy’s diversity is his ability to operate Caterpillars. “I started running a bulldozer for a neighbor while I was in high school, and then I became a heavy equipment operator in the Army,” Bailey commented.
After returning to ranch life, Bailey purchased his own bulldozer and had a soil construction business .
While many cowboys don’t have much mechanical knack, Bailey evaluated, “When something breaks down, I have to figure out how to fix it, because there’s work to be done.”
As a machinist for Matfield Machine, he’s traveled throughout the United States as well as to Canada, Newfoundland and Sweden “rebuilding big shovels.”
Life remains busy for Bailey as he’s optimistic for ranching and rodeo. “Cattle prices are as high as they’ve been, and the gains have been good this year on grass. Our livelihood depends on making money with cattle,” he analyzed.
“Rodeo is big money now, compared to when I started. The contestants are extremely talented, and the stock is the best ever. Some of these bulls are really scary these days. It does concern me that there aren’t as many contestants in the rough stock events.
“There are lots of entries in the roping, but it seems like these young guys are afraid of getting hurt in the riding events. I was always ready to get on and prove that I was a cowboy,” Bailey contended.
However, Bailey emphasized, “The best part about rodeo is the bonding and fellowship of friends going down the road. You’re never out there on your own, because there’s always somebody you know through the friendship of rodeoing.”
Commenting on being chosen for the 2011 Wild Bill Hickok Rodeo Series Buckle, Bailey surmised, “Most generally anybody on a buckle is a world champion. Since I wasn’t a world champion, I must have gotten picked because I’ve done a lot of things right.
“I hope I will be remembered as a top competitor, an honest judge and a good person, a cowboy.”