“Who’s the best roper when all of the Murray Ranch family cowboys gather at the practice pen?”
Only right answer: “Any of ’em could be.”
It all depends on the day, the draw, and probably a bet or family challenge that often comes into the equation as well.
Certainly, when Steve Murray and his boys, Todd and Mitch, and the oldest grandsons, Reed and Rhett, shake out their loops, the Wabaunsee County competition has semblance of the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas.
They’re a roping clan, and each and every one has collected ample pay window receipts for skills in the arena.
It’s a generation thing, and now Reed and Rhett are in the spotlight, following in boot steps of the family.
Sons of Todd and Bobbi Murray of Belvue, the teenage cowboys are diligent in the practice arena, running an average of more than three dozen cattle daily, with rewards reaped at recent prestigious rodeos.
Reed Murray, 17, returned from the Kansas/Oklahoma Border Bash High School Rodeo at Guthrie, Oklahoma, where he and his partner Coy Arnold of Hutchinson stretched a steer in 6.4 seconds to be runner-up in the team roping.
“We had a good run, but it’s interesting that our neighbor Brandon Hittle of Harveyville, and his partner Shad Winn of Westmoreland won the roping with a 6.2 seconds run,” Reed credited.
Recent rains have been detrimental to practice sessions for the Murrays, as Reed, his brother Rhett, their dad Todd, Uncle Mitch and Grandpa Steve of Alma, work to perfect roping skills.
“We really try to run about 30 steers a day, on different horses, and always rope the dummy too, regardless of conditions. I hate to miss any practice days trying to get ready for the Kansas High School Rodeo Finals, June 1-4, at Topeka,” Reed said.
However, not quite the immediate urgency, little brother Rhett, 14, wants every second in the arena, too, preparing for the National Junior High School Rodeo Finals, June 19-25, in Lebanon, Tennessee.
“Rhett qualified for that national competition for the third straight year during the recent Kansas Junior High School Rodeo Association Finals at Whitewater. Rhett is really an outstanding roper,” Reed credited.
Who’s the best of you brothers? “I can beat Rhett, but he’s tough,” Reed admitted.
Rhett won the team roping with Jesse Boos of White Cloud as his partner, placed second in ribbon roping and fourth in calf roping at the state finals.
“I calf rope, too, but Rhett really loves the tie down roping. He’d sure been working hard in that event, and was happy to qualify for the national finals,” Reed noted.
While heading, heeling and stretching steers requires ample roping skills, to be a tie down roper is considerably more physically draining and practice demanding.
According to big brother, Rhett on horseback runs and ties eight or ten calves daily along with stretching steers. “He’s very good, and I try to help him as much as I can, too.
“Flanking and tying is a big part of calf roping, so we also work a lot on that with calves tied to the post. We have a tying dummy, but the live calves are better,” Reed said.
Horse power is essential for roping success. “I’m fortunate to have a good buckskin mare that we call Miss Kitty as my heading horse. I’ve been roping on her for seven years,” Reed said.
Rhett team ropes on a brown gelding called Pecos, while Luke, a Paint gelding, is used by both Reed and Rhett in tie down as well as for ribbon roping when Rhett’s entered.
Both Pecos and Luke came from the boys’ other grandpa, Danny Elwood, and they are thankful for the support they have from both sides of their family.
Looking to the state high school finals, Reed is sixth in the team roping standings. “We sure want to make the top four to qualify for the National High School Rodeo Finals. That’s definitely possible, but it’s going to take top runs. I’ll be calf roping, too, but I’m not high enough in standings to ever make nationals,” he said.
Not only do the Murray brothers rope in the pen, they cowboy in the real world. “We help Grandpa look after lots of summer grazing cattle in the Flint Hills,” Reed said.
“Dad works at Frito Lay, but we also run our own cattle, and Dad helps out at the Johnson Ranch near Dwight every week. I’ve helped there some, but Rhett goes with Dad a lot of the time,” Reed continued.
Further proof of “real cowboy ability,” Reed is a horse trainer. “I keep six or eight young horses in beginning training during the summer, and also work on finishing a few rope horses,” he said.
Students at Wabaunsee High School in Alma, Reed will be a senior this fall, and Rhett enters as a freshman. Both also play basketball, following in line with their dad and uncles’ court skills, and that of their grandpa Steve, who has coached a number of state winning high school basketball teams.
Looking ahead, Reed is uncertain of career plans. “I’m thinking about going to McCook Junior College after I graduate, and then complete an agriculture degree at a four-year school. I sure plan to college rodeo and rodeo all my life,” he assured.
Rhett’s not thought ahead enough for his lifetime work, but on horseback with rope in hand is a positive.
Yep, roping is in the Murray cowboy genes, plenty of experience, and the right kind. When the chute gate opens and a well-mounted Murray cowboy speeds out after a renegade steer, no shortage of critical eye to evaluate and advise the run guaranteeing champions for generations to come.