The first time I met Jeremy Buhler was in the cowboy parking lot at RodeoHouston a few years back. After doing a triple take, the first thing I said to the shy Canadian was that he was the spitting image of C.R. Wilken, a team roper from my part of the country on the Central Coast of California. At the time, Jeremy smiled while looking at me like I’d lost my mind.
A few months later—about a week before Buhler and Levi Simpson stormed Rodeo’s Super Bowl and won the world in 2016—Jeremy met C.R. and my comment made a lot more sense.
“It was one night during the first couple rounds at the Finals there in Vegas, and I was at the Mirage playing cards with Russell (Cardoza),” Wilken remembers. “Jeremy walked up, tapped me on the shoulder, and told me I was a good looking son of a gun. After Russell introduced us, he also said he was tired of being called C.R. We laughed, then we played a few hands.”
I’m guessing the dealer felt like he’d hit a ZZ Top reunion. Wilken and Buhler both had beards back then. Before recently whacking his five-year-old five o’clock shadow, Jeremy’s trademark facial hair dated back to a 2014 bet with then-partner Rhen Richard. C.R.’s beard is actually a decade old now, and has such significant signature status that it sports its own name.
"I don’t know if Jeremy named his beard, but mine’s name is Boomer,” said Wilken, 32, who lives with his Hawaii-native wife, Ashley, in Paso Robles, California. “It’s part of me. It deserves a name. I’ve had this beard a lot longer than Buhler, but he does have a prettier buckle than me.”
C.R., who shoes and rides outside horses, has been circuit and amateur rodeoing with Cord Forzano this year. C.R. and Ashley just got married last year, and are headed to Scotland and Ireland for their official honeymoon next week.
“I’ve been seasoning head horses, so we’ve been keeping it pretty local,” said C.R., whose beard was not based on a bet, like Buhler’s, but was part of a natural progression from long hair then a goatee.
C.R. has a rather royal roping pedigree. His grandfather, Lefty Wilken, was inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in 1999 for lifetime achievement in the sport. Lefty was an original Cowboys’ Turtle Association member, who competed in team roping and calf roping, and served as a pickup man at the National Finals Rodeo 10 times—including at the first NFR ever held—in 1959, ’60, ’61, ’62, ’63, ’64, ’65, ’67, ’74, and ’76. To tell you how far back Lefty Wilken went with the Turtles’ successor Rodeo Cowboys Association, his card number was 74.
Lefty and Barbara Wilken had four kids—twins, Don and Donna; Carl, who’s CR’s dad; and John. The four Wilken kids had a trick roping act they performed at rodeos where Lefty picked up, and two of the three boys followed in their dad’s footsteps and roped at the NFR. Donna, whose married name is Donna McArthur, went on to become a renowned racehorse trainer on Quarter Horse tracks.
Carl and brother John partnered up for the 1969 NFR. Half the rounds were team tying and half dally team roping, and Brothers Wilken switched ends. Wolfy was renowned for fast hands when tying the knot, so he headed when they team tied and heeled when they dallied. The NFR was nine rounds in 1969, and before finishing third in that year’s average the Wilkens turned in the 6.4-second fast time of the Finals in Round 9.
Lefty and son Carl—who’s best known in the cowboy community as Wolfy—team roped together at the 1970 NFR. They won the first and fourth rounds before placing in another and finishing fourth in that year’s NFR average.
Carl was set to rope at a third NFR in 1971, but was called to serve his country in Vietnam so could not make the trip to Oklahoma City.
Back to beard-dom, the tables have turned since Buhler strapped on that gold buckle.
“Before he was a world champion, people would tell me they thought they saw me, but it was him,” C.R. said. “Since he won the world, it’s the other way around. They now know Jeremy Buhler. He’s famous. They’ve seen his Fear the Beard T-shirts. But the general public still doesn’t quite know what to think or who’s who. He really threw everybody off when he shaved.
“I saw Jeremy the other day at Red Bluff, and asked him if his face was cold chasing those big fresh ones down through there. He just laughed. At the time, he was regretting his decision to shave it off. His beard’ll be back, but it’ll take awhile. You’ve got to be patient with a beard, like young horses and young women.”