Ken Leighton 12:03 p.m., Jan. 24
- Community Blog
- From 4220 feet:
Rodeo Daze-Cowboys and Drunk Indians
Piggin' strings and bucking shoots used to be part of my everyday life. Rodeo clowns were my constant companions and mutton busting came to be one of my favorite things. Of the two sports that originated in the U.S., baseball and rodeo, I was once thoroughly entrenched in the latter. Originating in Pecos, Texas, all those years ago, rodeo has become synonymous with America's wild west heritage and the reputation has been well-earned.
The Adolph Coors Company signed me as its national spokesperson in 1989. The first thing my grandmother said was "isn't there a detergent or soft drink company you could work for instead?" My people stand against alcohol use in any form and the year I worked for Coors was simply overlooked. But Peter Coors signed my check and his new passion was rodeo, so, I saddled up.
For forty six weeks straight, I rode horseback in professional rodeos across the country-from Albany, New York to Poway, California. I travelled the states appearing in one show per week. Twelve cases of beer, Coors, of course, were delivered to my hotel room everyday for me to give away for "goodwill." I never felt so popular. I often had to check the hotel phone each day to figure out where I was.
One day, we were lined up at a rodeo in Rock Springs, Wyoming, to ride the "circle 8" which is when all the contestants of a rodeo ride out for the audience. Someone said, "Lane's down at Calgary." By the time we finished the opening routine, we heard that Lane was dead. Lane Frost had been my friend in rodeo. His last interview was with me in Santa Maria, California and I saw snippets of that interview on the news over and over and over.
Then, they made the movie "8 Seconds" and it tried to do justice to his life. But that didn't touch how deep his friendship to Tuff Hedeman was. I was with Tuff at the very next rodeo in Fort Madison, Iowa, and he showed up, ready to ride and do the press tour. Tuff and I were auctioned off at a benefit for some charity. We both had to dance with someone who had bid on us.
"How are you even here?" I asked him. I heard some rich businessman flew him and Lane's saddle to his dad after the bullrider's death. "You gotta cowboy up or you die too," he told me. What a trouper. He was barely there and racked with grief, but that's what cowboys do.
I loved the rodeo circuit. The supercross appearances were too much for me. It was drunk men and their drunk friends and their drunken behavior. But I was on contract, so, in front of 30,000 people at Jack Murphy Stadium along with many other venues, I did my spiel on the Adoph Coors Company and its 10,500 employees in Golden. Colorado. I've said the speech so many times...
One month of my year, I was sent on an alcohol awareness junket. The goal was to balance the promotion of beer with a fair warning of its danger. No press was booked and I was sent to Indian reservations-mostly in New Mexico and Arizona. One stop at the Navajo reservation in Window Rock, Arizona, was enough to get the full impact of the downside of alcohol use among our earliest residents.
Many Native American dreams have been obliterated by ethanol alcohol due to their inherent trait of never having consumed 'fire water' before white man brought it here from Europe. We brought the potent beverages when we came to develop and settle into the territories which would later become the fifty states. The evidence of alcoholic damage is evident and far-reaching when one visits the reservations.
In a time when family events are rare, rodeo still holds its allure for all ages. There are two kinds of competitors-riders and ropers-and it is thrilling to see a horse and rider compete as one in the arena. I'll never forget the year that I spent "going down the road" with all those proud horsepeople and of my brief exposure to the damage caused by ethanol brews to our Native American population.
For now, SherryD Formerly known as Miss Coors Rodeo