Riding a horse sure beats walking when you live 3 1/2 miles from school and your family doesn’t own a car.
Gene Peacock learned to ride before he could walk, and his abilities grew as he did, soon becoming a top all-around cowboy.
“I was breaking colts myself by the time I was six when I rode a horse to and from school,” Peacock remembered last week at the Flint Hills Rodeo grounds in Strong City.
“When I was 14, I worked all winter and spring for our neighbor at Mannford, Okla., so by the Fourth of July, I had enough money to enter the rodeo,” Peacock continued. “I won the bull riding and bronc riding, and placed in the calf roping. I got $63, and right then I decided that’s what I wanted to do with my life. It had to be better than working for a dollar a day.”
From a family with eight children, Peacock, who’ll turn 80 next month, was named after his dad, Curtis Eugene Peacock. Competing successfully at a few rodeos, his dad supported the family by looking after cattle over a wide area. “Dad was a top cowboy, and we always had good horses,” Peacock credited.
Following his dad’s footsteps and the objective set as a teenager, Peacock hitchhiked to Kansas in 1948, soon moved in with the Emmett Roberts rodeo family, and rodeo, horses and cattle became his life. He’s a Gold Card Member of the Rodeo Cowboy’s Association and is proud of the Number 401 gold buckle he wears signifying that membership.
“I’ve operated Ribeye Order Buying for 37 years, along with running cattle on leased pastures, but rodeo and horses have always been my main interest,” contended Peacock. A past four-term president of the Flint Hills Rodeo Association, he’s been a director since 1968. “I’m older than anybody on the board, twice as old as most.
“I spend a lot of time at the arena. I ran the weed eater all morning and have been spraying herbicide this afternoon. We’re getting ready for the 71st annual rodeo, June 6-7-8,” Peacock said.
Contesting in all rodeo events at one time or another, Peacock specialized in bareback broncs and bull riding. “I won some in calf roping and bulldogging, but I only weighed 130 pounds, so I was better in the riding events,” he claimed.
At one time or another, Peacock traveled with world champions Gerald and Ken Roberts, Jim Shoulders, Harry Thompson, Jack Buschbom and Casey Tibbs, among others. “They were all my close personal friends,” recognized Peacock as he related stories about each.
“Jim was the old man. He was born on May 13, and my birthday is June 13. He called me the little kid, but he was really only a month older. I just got a picture in the mail from his widow, Sharon, of me on a bull at Madison Square Garden in New York,” Peacock noted.
Crediting Mr. and Mrs. Emmett Roberts for helping him get started, Peacock was ramrod for Roberts Rodeo Company in the ’50s. He was largely responsible for care of the livestock in the Flint Hills and at rodeos produced throughout the Midwest.
Roberts’ rodeo stock was grazed at Mayetta, and a call was received that a top bull was out with a neighbor’s gentle cow herd. Peacock was sent to bring the bull home. He had to rope the runaway, and after a tough battle, the bull went over a cliff and hung himself. Peacock slit the critter’s throat, had him processed and took the meat to Strong City in an Oxydol soap box. Emmett Roberts wasn’t known to cuss, but his initial reaction approached upper limits.
“I competed in rodeos all over the United States, but Madison Square Garden and Boston Garden bring back the most memories,” Peacock recalled. “We were in New York for five weeks and Boston two weeks. Gene Autry provided the stock at both of them.”
Peacock competed at each of those rodeos for five years. “I was in the bareback bronc riding and bull riding. We rode 15 head at Madison Square Garden,” Peacock reminisced. “I won the first go-round in the bareback riding one year and got $800. That was a lot of money in those days.”
Injuries plagued Peacock’s career, so he wasn’t able to make it into the year-end rodeo standings. “I never had much money, but rodeo was a great life with all of my friends, traveling around the country and getting on the top stock,” he reflected.
It’s been over five decades, yet Peacock can recall his best career rides. “I won two rodeos on Buetler Brothers’ bull 224, but then I drew him at Tulsa where the purse was higher, and he bucked me off,” the cowboy admitted.
Best bronc Peacock ever rode was Devils Tower of the Roberts string. “I won two rodeos on that big gray horse. Devil was sensational, and bucked off a lot of cowboys, including champion Bill Linderman, who said Devil was the rankest horse he’d ever been on,” related Peacock.
While he never drew Jesse James, Peacock is anxious to tell his ties to the 1961 Bronc of the Year. “I got him in Fort Pierre, South Dakota, for my (then) father-in-law Walter Plugge’s rodeo string in Nebraska, and Mr. Roberts then bought the palomino for $300. That was the most he’d ever paid for a bronc.
“When Mr. Roberts sold out in the early ’60s, Hoss Inman from Colorado paid $2,300 for Jesse. That was a record price,” Peacock critiqued. “There was a matched ride between the world champion bronc, Jesse James, and the world champion bronc rider, Winston Bruce, the next year at Denver. Hoss asked me to come out to flank the bronc. Winston almost won, but Jesse bucked him off right before the whistle.”
With his rodeo work slowed, Peacock went to work for Crofoot’s Feedlot. “It was kind of like when I started working for Mr. Roberts. I was the gate opener in the beginning and ended up being in charge,” Peacock evaluated. “Also, like with the Roberts, the Crofoots, E.C., Girdner, Jay and his son Terry, were like family to me and lifelong friends.”
Training horses has always been a big part of Peacock’s life. The feedlot gave him the opportunity to ride lots of horses, making mounts in demand over a wide area.
One horse stands out from all the others. “I bought a filly foal called Kitty Clip from Mr. Roberts when he had his last Quarter Horse sale in the late ’60s. I had ridden her dad and mom, and she was an outstanding horse,” Peacock described. “Worst thing is that she broke her leg, and I had to put her down when she was just seven. She never had any colts, and I never had another horse that I thought was quite like Kitty.”
Given the opportunity to go to Texas when Crofoots moved their operations south, Peacock stayed in the Flint Hills. “That’s when I got started order buying and running more grass cattle. It’s been good and allowed me to continue working with horses, cattle and livestock people,” he recognized.
Regularly attending auctions at Emporia as well as Springfield, Joplin and West Plains in Missouri, Peacock also does private treaty transactions. “I’ve had some of the same customers since the day I started,” he shared.
Affiliated with the Flint Hills Rodeo since he moved to Chase County, Peacock is proud of its heritage and his involvement. “This is the oldest consecutive rodeo in Kansas, and one of the best known rodeos in the country,” Peacock confirmed. “With the exception of a few cowboys on the coasts, most world champions over the last 70 years have competed here at one time or another.”
Whatever needs doing for the rodeo, Peacock steps in to assist. “I’ve been in charge of the Sunday church service for a long time, and last year I decided to invite some cowboys who had competed here over 50 years ago. I called 30, and there were 28 who showed up for church. Cowboys have always liked our rodeo,” he verified.
In attendance at the first National Finals Rodeo in Dallas, Texas, in 1959, Peacock has only missed the Finals three times. “I didn’t go the years it was in Los Angeles, but I’ve been to all the others in Dallas, Oklahoma City and Las Vegas,” commented Peacock.
Formerly a two-term director of the Rodeo Historical Society, headquartered at the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City, Peacock was able to keep up with many of his rodeo friends through that position.
Peacock’s sons, Allan and Phil, were “good hands” as youngsters, but they didn’t follow their dad into rodeo. However, Peacock credits his stepson, Chris Burton, and grandson, Ben Green, for looking after the grass cattle he has these days. “They are top cowboys, but they ought to be. I taught ’em how,” Peacock touted.
Married to his wife, Patty, for 32 years, Peacock seldom mounts a horse nowadays, but he rides one in the grand entries at the Flint Hills Rodeo, as he’ll do this year, June 6-7-8.
“I’ve seen lots of changes in rodeo, but it’s never gotten out of my blood. I’m fortunate to have been friends with so many cowboys, had the opportunity to go to so many rodeos and work around so much top rodeo stock here and throughout the country,” Peacock concluded.