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Team Roping Event Presents Pieces of Past

By Bryan Painter Modified: July 8, 2008 at 10:11 am •  Published: July 8, 2008
Editor's note: This story was originally published in The Oklahoman on Sunday, September 13, 1998

BUSHYHEAD - Patchwork quilts lay draped across the beds of Model A pickups - always within reach of fully-loaded picnic baskets.

These were the luxury suites of rodeo when a 9- year-old Clem McSpadden became an avid fan of the sport in about 1935.

"We didn't know what the term tailgate party meant, but that's what it was," the 72-year-old announcer and former legislator said. "A lot of people would fry chicken, and they'd have sandwiches. And if you were a contestant, 'Well come on over and eat with me.'

"There was no swooping in, getting on one head and then catching an airplane to go 800 miles to a rodeo the next day. It was a visiting thing."

In his own words, that's the definition of the annual Clem McSpadden Bushyhead Labor Day Pasture Roping.

"Back When..."

"Back when I was a kid, contestants wanted to win," McSpadden said, "but it wasn't life or death. They wanted to have fun."

For two days a year, life on this Rogers County stretch of grass leans a little closer to the turn of the last century than the beginning of the next millennium.

The arena is 260 acres of pasture just a railroad track's distance from Clem McSpadden Highway - also known as U.S. Highway 66 - 13 miles north of Claremore.

This native of the bluestem country borrowed and bettered the concept after hearing of it in Texas.

As McSpadden was told, the idea was derived as a way of settling a western dispute by means of horns and hooves.

Some businessmen had finished on the bragging end against some ranch hands at a jackpot roping. The ranch cowboys challenged them to a sequel. Only this would be on their terms - a pasture with a 100-foot barrier.

The animal is given that much of a head start.

McSpadden absorbed the idea and decided that, as a true Oklahoman, he'd enhance it. That day, the 101-foot barrier of the Bushyhead Pasture Roping became a part of roping lore.

"... and the home of the brave."

With the final words of the National Anthem, everyone readies.

That doesn't mean just ropers.

At the 16th Annual Bushyhead Labor Day Pasture Roping - and all those before it - everyone is involved, or at least there's the potential to be.

Pickups, tents and livestock trailers trickle down each side for about four city blocks by McSpadden's rough estimate.

Speakers are fixed atop trailers, carrying the voice of the founder across the McSpadden Ranch.

Just before the first steer of the day is released, the paying public is reminded of the most important rule: "This is meant for fun, it's meant for visiting." Larry Kilgore, 71, of Broken Arrow and Leo Roberts, 72, of Ardmore have no intentions of violating that rule. They were teammates with McSpadden on the title winning rodeo team at Oklahoma A&M about 50 years ago. For them, Bushyhead isn't a planned trip, it's a given reunion.

Kilgore stands with a piece of fried chicken in his left hand and a plump deviled egg pinched between the fingers of his right as he watches a steer dart away from a roper and leap into the pond in the middle of the pasture.

"There isn't anything like this," he said.

About that time, McSpadden injected rural philosophy into his play-by-play.

"If anyone asks, 'How's the water on your place?,' we can say, 'Well the one in the middle will still swim a steer.'"

Actually, the steer is the subject of envy. He ignored the white posted sign that prohibits swimming.

On this day, the temperature reached 104 degrees at nearby Claremore, just short of the record of the hottest September day on record for Claremore.

At the Bushyhead Pasture Roping, that's just a part of the atmosphere.

"I think we've had about half sunshine and half rain over the years, but it's worked" McSpadden's wife, Donna, said. "It's never stopped because it was raining, it has never stopped because of heat or because it's cold.

"People know that if it's real, if it's genuine, you have to accept the elements."

They not only accept the elements, they sort of embrace them. It's a no-tie affair.

The attire of the day varies from straw cowboy hats to ballcaps, jeans, T-shirts, short sleeves, overalls or shorts.

Larry Sheetz, choosing a cowboy hat and jeans, sat in the shade of a trailer with his family. Guest Book: Clem McSpadden

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