It took 200 rodeos to win an International Professional Rodeo Association world title in 1976, but at the time, Montana’s Bill Parker didn’t mind one bit.
“I was just a straight gypsy,” Parker, who had won the College National Finals Rodeo in 1975 and went on to qualify for three Wrangler National Finals Rodeos, two in team roping and one in tie-down roping, said. “You never had money—it all went for gas and entry fees. Back then, you had five or six guys in a truck, and you had a cigar box on the dash of the truck. If you were going from Bangor, Maine, to Kansas City, everyone put $20 in. And if you ran out, you put $20 more in. Entry fees and fuel—that’s all we cared about. We weren’t thinking we’d ever get rich. It was a lot different 40 years ago.”
Parker found out he led the IRA world standings after winning both go-rounds and the average at the big rodeo in Billings, Mont., that August, so he left Montana and went to Oklahoma with friends and IRA world champs Tom Walker, Dexter Bailey and Dan Dailey, and borrowed horses from friends and fellow cowboys Glenn Hough, Wayne Walker and Larry Winkler.
“We had a two-horse Circle J trailer and Ford truck with a small camper on it,” Parker remembered. “That was before flying came in vogue. I didn’t start flying around until I got into the PRCA. Sometimes you tell somebody you went to 200 rodeos a year they can’t fathom it. That’s what we did… You’ve got four guys, they drive 100 miles an hour for four hours, another guy does it, by the time they all got their shifts done, you’ve covered a lot of country.”
The IRA was (and still is) enter twice in the team roping, so Parker bounced around between partners that year but stuck with Phil Luman, who he’d won the CNFR with a year earlier, in Tulsa for the world finals.
After winning the world in the IRA, Parker waited until 1979 to dive into PRCA competition and won the Rookie of the Year title that year en route to his first WNFR birth.
“I just rodeoed until I came home in the spring of 1986 after the buildings and I met my wife, Jann, at the Billings Livestock Commission—what eventually became our business—the Billings Livestock Horse Sale. That was 30 years ago this year.”
Editor's note: This article appears in our July 2016 issue, and we learned of Bill's tragic passing just a few weeks after sending this issue to press. We send our deepest condolences to Bill's family, whom he loved dearly.