Cowboys are like horses are like cattle. How can that be many will question? One’s a person, and the others are animals.
Oh, they are closely intertwined, but yet each is entirely different, many contend.
Yet, a closer evaluation entails. It’s long been proven that the very best horses relate back to the same sound high performance foundation. Horsemen attribute their mount’s abilities to relatives five and even more generations deep into their lineage. The same is true for beef seed stock, and becoming such for bucking bulls.
Cowboys are no different. The Roberts family of Strong City was, actually still is, world renown as the very best cowboys ever.
Dad E.C. Emmett Roberts was the start, an outstanding bronc rider, pickup man, horseman and breeder, honoree as the National Rodeo Man of the Year.
Better known by history buffs and elder generation still-active rodeo followers were his world champion sons and daughter.
First recognized, Gerald Roberts, twice all-round world champion professional cowboy; perhaps the most cowboy’s cowboy of the threesome, three times world champion bull rider who could really ride about anything Ken Roberts; and the sweetheart of the trio world champion lady bronc rider, trick rider and Limousin cattle breeder in later years Marjorie Roberts.
All three Roberts children are Rodeo Hall of Fame inductees, Margie with the cowgirls, the boys with the cowboys.
But, behind every successful ranch or rodeo outfit, there’s those who stay home and do the work. First and foremost were mom Clara and son Howard, who did rodeo successfully to a degree but was in charge of the Chase County home base livestock and farming operations. Youngest son Clifford never actually took to the rodeo game, more interested in airplanes, and in adulthood tragically died in an airplane crash.
Flower in the eye of all them all was little sister Gloria Ann, who wasn’t ever very involved in the sport of rodeo. It has been said, (mom) Clara insisted, “This one is mine, you’re not ruining her, too.”
Yet, Gloria Roberts did assist with rodeo bookkeeping on occasion, but for the most part not in livestock operations.
However, Gloria did have rodeo in her blood, and that’s where the story continues today.
It’s her grandson. Kolten Beck is a cowboy desiring to follow in the footsteps of his great grandpa, his great uncles and great aunt Margie.
“I’ve always wanted to be a bull rider, and all of the rodeo champions in the Roberts family have always been my idols, my heroes. I’m 20-years-old and have never missed a Flint Hills Rodeo that was started by the Roberts family more than 75 years ago,” Beck said Friday evening as he was exercising after a full day of work at Manhattan Commission Company.
There have been several of E.C Roberts’s grandchildren and great grandchildren continue successfully in the rodeo family tradition, several even competing on the professional level, although not to the magnitude of earlier renowned championship generations.
Now, it’s Kolten Beck of Clay Center.
Gloria Roberts married Joe E. Beck, who didn’t have any rodeo interests, and they had a son Joe R., who never had the rodeo competition bug enough to get on any rough stock.
“But, Joe R. has never missed a performance of the Flint Hills Rodeo in his 50 years,” insisted wife Joyce Beck at Clay Center.
“Gloria and her family always went to the rodeo, and Joe’s made sure our family hasn’t ever missed the rodeo at Strong City either, no matter what conflict there might have been on the first full weekend of June,” Joyce continued.
“Kolten was always been excited about going to the rodeo. It was definitely in his blood from the beginning. Kolten’s has wanted to be a bull rider since he was very young, even though our own family really didn’t have any horses or personal interest in rodeo, other than Joe’s mom and relatives,” Joyce explained.
“Now, Kolten is riding bucking bulls, and Joe and I support him in every way we can,” Joyce said.
While Kolten worked in his dad’s Perfection Auto Body business at Clay Center during middle school, agriculture has been his interest. “I’ve worked for farmers during the summer ever since high school, was active in vo-ag classes and now I’m a junior studying agriculture technology at Kansas State University,” Kolten related.
Working at the sale barn on Fridays for the past year, Kolten finally followed his childhood and teenage dream last fall, too.
“I just decided to do it. I have several friends who are bull riders and compete in rodeos. I went with them to Club Rodeo in Wichita, entered up and competed on my first bull,” Kolten recalled with obvious tone of excitement.
When the chute gate opened, Kolten came out on Bull 426 from the McDonald Rodeo Company. The ride lasted 3 ½ seconds. It was far from a qualified ride, but Kolten Beck’s future was set in stone.
“I got up out of the dirt and was ready to get on another bull. It was a thrill and exhilaration like I’ve never known before. There was never any doubt I wanted to be a bull rider, and when I got on that first one, I was even more positive than ever,” Kolten assured.
Rodeo blood obviously flows strong in the young bull rider, three and four generations removed from the world championship heritage.
“I’ve been on about 55 bucking bulls, as well as bucking cows and steers. I’ve only made the eight-second whistle on one competition bull to date, but I feel like I’m getting better every time I get on,” Beck confided.
Sad that he was unable to know his great grandfather E.C., or his great uncle Ken and great aunt Margie, Kelton has fond memories of seeing his great uncle Gerald, although still quite young at the champion’s passing. “I can remember it like yesterday, and I met my great uncle Howard and Grandma Gloria as well as my second cousins who’ve been involved in rodeo.
“They all had Roberts rodeo stories to tell, and I took in every word, and got more excited about riding bulls,” contended Beck, who’s never even had a horse of his own, but would like to in the future.
“I’ve always been attracted to bull riding. I can’t ever see myself being a bronc rider. It’s too dangerous, too hard on the body. I know bull riding can be very hazardous, too, but that’s what I want to do,” Beck said.
Besides ability and desire, riding rodeo bulls requires special equipment, quite different than a saddle and bridle to ride a horse. “I got a bull rope from my friend Bill Sumerour, who is a real top young bull rider, and I bought my own spurs,” Beck commented.
“My chaps are actually replicas of Uncle Ken’s, and they were made in Uncle Gerald’s old Chaparral Chaps facility at Abilene by Randy McDonald,” Beck noted.
Quite contrary to the Roberts rodeo championship days, rodeo rough stock competitors today seemingly-wisely wear protective gear to help prevent permanently disabling injury.
“I got a vest and helmet from Bill Sumerour, too. I’m not scared of getting hurt, but considering the number of cowboys who’ve been seriously injured by bulls, and even the deaths of competing bull riders over the years, it’s just common sense to utilize protective gear when riding bulls today,” Beck declared.
All successful athletes have dedicated practice and require coaching. It’s easy to practice baseball and find a coach. That’s not the case with rodeo.
“I haven’t been to a rodeo school, but I practice on bulls, steers and cows owned by Bill Sumerour, and I’ve been to bull riding practice sessions in Washington and up by Lincoln, Nebraska. There are top cowboys and successful bull riders who have been excellent coaches for me,” Beck affirmed.
Modern technology helps, too. “My rides are often taped on video, and then the stock contractors, other riders and I critique the rides and determine what I did wrong and how I can improve the next time. That really helps a lot,” Beck acknowledged.
Nearly five decades ago, bull riders designed mechanical bucking bulls supposedly to imitate the real thing and help improve their skills. Some bull riders do mount those machines on occasion and credit their benefits,
More often mechanical bulls are night club and state fair attractions for anybody to get on for a fee, and to hypothetically feel a slow reproduction of what a bull ride might be like, although manipulated by an operator with a speed directional stick.
Since the Roberts rodeo days, inspiring rough stock riders have got on 55-gallon barrels hanging from four telephone poles or from a pasture gateway, and powered by one to four assistants on ropes, or some more sophisticated ones with heavy springs, to simulate the real rodeo livestock.
Commercially available are similar training barrels for today’s aspiring rodeo rough stock riders. “I use a drop barrel to practice bull riding. I’d seen some advertised on the internet, and just decided to build one for myself. It requires one assistant to operate the handle, and will jump and kick, and spin like a bull. The drop barrel has really been a benefit to me,” said Beck, who also has an old inoperable mechanical bull he intends to repair into operation for additional practice.
A member of the K-State Rodeo Club last year, Beck competed at a K-State bull riding event this spring. “I plan to join the club again, and I’d like to ride at the college rodeo, maybe make the rodeo team before I graduate,” noted the young cowboy, who has competed in a number of open rodeos and jackpots this summer, including his hometown Clay Center rodeo and nearby Washington.
“Actually, I’ve only made one qualified competition ride. I marked 65 points on a bull in an event at Washington, and it was just out of the prize money,” Beck said.
Most importantly, he’s getting better. “On the videos, everybody says I’m doing real well, with my legs, my left riding hand, my seat and my upper body. But, my free hand in the air seems to be throwing me off balance and attributing to getting bucked off sometimes,” Beck evaluated.
In the meantime, Beck’s practicing every other way he can, while trying to keep a positive mind set and working on exercises to increase upper body strength. “I would like to attend a bull riding school in the future, too,” he added.
One bull riding competition is forefront on the young cowboy’s immediate agenda. “I plan to enter the Flint Hills Bull Blowout at the famed Flint Hills Rodeo Arena in Strong City on Saturday night, Sept. 13. That has been my dream ever since I can remember to ride in that arena made famous by my Roberts rodeo family,” Beck affirmed.
Having mounted bucking bulls from a number of Midwest contractors, Beck said, “I’m also excited to be able to get on bulls from event sponsor Kim Reyer’s Flint Hills Genetics bull breeding program and those from the famed New Frontier Rodeo Company owned by Jimmy Crowther at Roxbury.”
Anybody competing in bull riding is going to be injured; it comes with the sport. “I’ve been knocked out once for a short time, but really haven’t had any serious injuries. I’ve always been able to walk away. I know the Roberts brothers had a number of very serious injuries in their rodeo careers. I might get hurt, too, but I’ll keep going if there’s any way I can,” Beck said.
No shortage of enthusiasm and the championship rodeo blood is obviously there, as Kolten Beck looks to “following through with a dream and goal, having fun doing what I love.
“When I started I had a goal of covering a bucking bull in my great grandpa’s arena. I would like to achieve that first, and continue riding bulls as long as I can,” he concluded.