One thing about Buddy Heaton, he lived his life to the fullest and certainly had a fun time doing it.
Yet, there were heavy hearts in all of his cowboy friends, when rodeo clown Harold L. Heaton passed away last month at age 82 in a Ulysses rest home where he had been for seven years.
Every acquaintance can cite their own tale of Buddy’s doings, but the best has to be when the free-spirited clown, recognized for his goat skin chaps and 10-gallon hat, rode his buffalo in John F Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural parade without Secret Service clearance.
Fortunately, there were no hard feelings about Heaton’s inauguration crashing, because President Kennedy later had Heaton perform for him personally.
Likewise, Buddy also entertained in front of numerous other famous people including Queen Elizabeth II, Winston Churchill and General Omar Bradley.
Born in March1929, to Lloyd and Fayetta Heaton, Buddy developed his riding skills early in life.
While most children were learning to ride their bicycles, Heaton was riding horses, bulls and buffalo.
By the age of 12, the southwest Kansas horse trainer had learned to jump horses over cars and had acquired a talent for performing as a rodeo clown and bull fighter.
Buddy’s early interests led him to a 33-year career on the rodeo circuit, including appearances at premiere rodeos in Cheyenne, Wyoming, Frontier Days, the National Western Stock Show Rodeo in Denver, and the Calgary, Alberta, Canada, Stampede.
Heaton later recalled, “When I was still very young, there was a rodeo man in Dodge City who hired me to clown and fight bulls whenever I could get out of school.”
Soon, Buddy turned his focus to being the barrel man at the rodeos. “I would get in a barrel and let the bull knock me around. I was wild,” he said.
The physically imposing 6-foot-three, 217-pound cowboy also competed successfully in all three rough stock events as well as steer wrestling.
During the 1950s and 1960s, Heaton expanded his rodeo clown act to include various animals and soon gained the reputation as an animal trainer.
On May 13, 1952, Buddy and his step-father Fred Hagaman’s legendary Appaloosa “High Hand” was born, sired by the stallion Heaton used in his clown acts.
Buddy soon trained High Hand for rodeo events, horse races, and tricks such as: smiling, pretending to bite Heaton’s back side, sitting, laying down, counting and most famously the illusion that Buddy could lift High Hand off the ground by simply laying his hand on the horses back when in actuality High Hand could jump straight off the ground with all four feet.
Heaton also taught his horse how to walk on its hind legs, which he continued to do even after retirement.
In 1957, Buddy won the bulldogging at the National Western Stock Show Rodeo on High Hand, who had never before participated in the bulldogging event. High Hand was inducted into the Appaloosa Horse Club Hall of Fame in 1988.
Heaton continued training animals, gaining renowned acclaim by successfully training the American buffalo, Old Grunter, who went by the stage name Clyde.
They were on the TV Show, “Wagon Train,” in 1960, appeared in several feature films and had some of the most elaborate pranks and/or ploys for media attention.
While in Salt Lake City, Utah, the two caused quite a stir when they rode an elevator at Tribune Newspaper’s Office Building.
Life Magazine published photos of Buddy and Old Grunter competing in a three-way race with a mule and a horse at Denver’s Centennial Turf Club.
On January 20, 1961, Heaton and his buffalo did garner national attention by participating in the Kennedy Inaugural Parade. Buddy actually shook hands with both President Kennedy and Vice-President Lyndon Johnson while in front of the reviewing stand.
Over the years, Heatoncontinued to travel the rodeo circuit working for many of the sport’s greatest stock contractors including Harry Vold, Reg Kesler, Paul Long and the Beutler Brothers.
The cowboy tradition was carried on through his sons, Ted, Tom and Buddie Lawrence, all who Buddy introduced to horses and the livestock business.
Heaton managed the livestock auction barn in Liberal for 25 years, before retiring to Hugoton.
Buddy was inducted into the Kansas Cowboy Hall of Fame in the entertainment/artists category in 2005.
Looking back at Heaton’s diverse legacy, his son Ted surmised: “What’s most amazing about Dad is all of the things he survived. His body was filled with pins from bull clowning, and he won several battles with cancer. He went through a lot and was a survivor.
“There could ever only be one Buddy Heaton in the world.”
Survivors include wife, Laura, sons Ted and Tom, daughters, Rhonda, Linda and Cindy. His son, Buddie, did precede him in death. Funeral services were April 18, at Ulysses.