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. They made the trip from Kimball, Minn., after reading a story by Cheryl Magoteaux in Western Horseman magazine. "My boy ropes and we might come down here next year and rope," he said. "It's different and that's what we wanted to see." There They Go... A padded thunder builds from the right and rear of the announcer's stand. It's a combination of hooves and dust. It's also the result of an approach that is unique to the sport of team roping. At Bushyhead, the team-roping header nods for the steer to be released. A gate to the roper's left is swung open. The steer exits and is followed by an outrider to the flagger at the end of the 101 feet. As the steer passes that point, the flagger trips the barrier in front of the team ropers. They can then leave. The roping, managed by Howard and Kay Hendren in recent years, began with 98 teams on that Sunday. Then 75 return on Labor Day for two more rounds. The fastest 12 in the average, the time of each team, advance to the final round. Going into the final round, McSpadden said the leaders in the average had a five-second lead over the field. "And that's a pretty good lead," he said, "but again, the pasture is such an equalizer." So true. At most rodeos or ropings, the top four or five teams in the average going into a final round usually have a chance of winning. Although there are exceptions, there's typically a sizable gap in times lower than that. At Bushyhead, Howard Edmondson of Dewar and Brandon Wright of Henryetta went into the final round at seventh in the average. This year marked Edmondson's first trip to the pasture roping, while Wright finished second in the average with Micah Lynch in 1997. With a time of 19.14 seconds, they had 74.22 seconds on three steers to go to the lead in the average. That held for the win. They collected checks that added up to $3,756, saddles and buckles. And they earned the opportunity to rope in the sweepstakes. In the sweepstakes, the top four teams in the average of the roping compete in a $1,000 winner-take-all format. Some years, there are no winners, because the task calls for roping Longhorn cattle weighing about 1,600 pounds, a few hundred pounds larger than the horses. "It was kinda like tying onto a tree," Edmondson said. But with a time of 25.42 seconds, including a five-second penalty for roping only one hind leg, they added the $1,000 to their haul. Asked why the win was special, Wright said, "People have heard of this roping, and everybody looks forward to it year after year." Nada Clark of Oologah was competing at Bushyhead for the fourth year. Not in team roping, but barrel racing. It also varies from the norm. On Labor Day, the half-mile long barrel racing pattern consists of two barrels with the pond dam serving as the third. Clark and an 11-year-old bay gelding named Rebel handled the oversized clover leaf pattern in 50.02 seconds. "My horse likes the pasture better than he likes the arena," she said. "For me, this is a thrill that nothing else can match." On the Home Field... About the time the barrel racing began, history was hammered into the record books. Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals put a thrill in the hearts and a memory into the lives of the home crowd at Busch Stadium as he tied Roger Maris for the single season home run record with 61. McSpadden, who was taking a sandwich break, asked for the microphone back and shared the news. What could be better than shining at home? That's in effect is what the Labor Day Pasture Roping has meant for McSpadden. In 1885, his grandparents, Tom and Sally McSpadden, settled a little more than mile away from the site of the roping. It was in a house at that site that he was born Nov. 9, 1925. When he was 2 years old, they moved to the Rogers Ranch. Clem's grandmother had a famed brother named Will Rogers. Herbert McSpadden, Clem's father, managed the ranch. Clem's father never saw a single go-round of the Labor Day Pasture Roping. But it's easy for him to imagine his father's response. "I'm proud of my family for staying with the land for more than a hundred years," Clem said. "It's not a good way of making a living, it's a great way of life. "My dad would have enjoyed this roping. Because it's just the old time way of doing things."