Bobby Harris is an 18-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo heeler who in 1991 won the world championship with Tee Woolman, based on equal earnings back before header and heeler world champs were named. Bobby won the NFR average three times—Tee and Bobby split it with Jake Milton and Walt Woodard in 1987; Tee and Bobby struck again in 1990; and J.D. Yates and Bobby won it in 2002. These days, Bobby, who’s 57 now, and his wife, Colleen, split their time between the Harris family ranch 45 miles north of Gillette, Wyoming, and Highmore, South Dakota, which is 380 miles from the ranch. Bobby, who won the 1990 Timed Event Championship at the Lazy E Arena, also qualified for the National Finals Steer Roping eight times.
Q: You were the first-ever world champion team roper from Wyoming. As a guy who lives on a ranch that was homesteaded by his great grandfather in the Cowboy State, I’m guessing that will always mean a lot to you and your family.
A: That was very special to me, and still is. During my era and before, there weren’t many cowboys from the North country who made the Finals, much less won the world. To have done that is very near and dear to my heart. Team roping’s roots were predominantly in California, Arizona and New Mexico, before it got really big in Texas. I was raised a ranch kid in Northeastern Wyoming.
[SHOP: Wyoming’s Cowboy Lore]
Pony Trails in Wyoming: Hoofprints of a Cowboy and a U. S. Ranger by John K Rollinson
AB-SA-RA-KA: Home of the Crows (an Officer’s Wife on the Plains) by Margaret Irving Carrington
William F. Cody’s Wyoming Empire: The Buffalo Bill Nobody Knows by Robert E. Bonner
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Q: Tell us about your Native American roots.
A: I’m an enrolled member of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe. My granddad Bob Harris served as Eastern Shoshone council chairman for decades. People tend to forget about me on the list of Native American team ropers, but I’m very proud of my heritage.
Q: Tell us about your ranching operation, and also the weather you contend with on a year-round basis.
A: The ranch is in really strong grass country, and we graze yearlings from May to October. We definitely get the four seasons. We have tough winters; windy, wet springs; hot summers; and beautiful falls. Fall is the best time up here.
Q: You team roped at 18 NFRs, the first one when you were 18 years old, right?
A: Yes, I heeled for Scott Laramore at my first Finals in 1981, when I was 18, and we won the first round. I roped with Britt Williams at my last NFR in 2010.
Q: Is there one run in your career that stands out above all the rest?
A: People will think this is crazy, but the one run I keep playing over and over in my head is the steer I missed for Tee in the 10 Round at the Finals in 1986 that cost him the world championship. He had a really good chance to win the world if we won that last round, he spun the steer to win the round and I missed him. I sure would like to run him again. I was just a little bit out of whack. Tee had more money won than me, so I didn’t have a chance to win it. But he did. On the other end of the spectrum of memorable runs was catching the last one when we won the world in 1991. The way all the scenarios played out in our favor in front of us, we actually had the world won before we ran our last steer. I remember Bobby King from King Ropes, which is what I was using, running down the aisle to the arena wall, where we were waiting on our horses in the moat, and he reached over the fence and high-fived me.
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King of the Western Saddle: The Sheridan Saddle and the Art of Don King by Timothy H. Evans
Sheridan Style Carving by Bill Gardner and Clinton Fay
Q: Who were your cowboy heroes when you were a kid?
A: My dad (Nick) was a (four-time NFSR) steer roper, and we were steer ropers. So my heroes were guys like Dad, Don McLaughlin, Olin Young and Sonny Davis. I also had rodeo heroes like Phil Lyne, Joe Alexander and Larry Mahan.
Q: Which header and heeler is the best there’s ever been, in your eyes?
A: Speedy (Williams) could reach or run up there close, and really handled steers good. He revolutionized heading as much as anybody. Clay (Cooper) is the best heeler there’s ever been, in my book, for his consistency, concentration and dedication.
Q: What’s the one best piece of team roping advice you ever received?
A: Don’t miss. I’m not even sure anyone ever told me that, but it stuck with me.
Q: What’s your best advice to aspiring young team ropers today?
A: Do what you do better than anybody else, and don’t try to be anybody but yourself.
Q: Who do you consider the best all-around partner of your career?
A: Tee changed my whole professional career. When I roped with him, I went from being a top-10 heeler to a top-three heeler. I learned the most about being a professional roper and how to close the deal and win from him—when to step on the throttle and when to just catch.
Q: What have you considered your greatest strength as a team roper?
A: My consistency and my determination to catch a lot of steers.
Q: Which header and heeler catch your eye today?
A: Clay Smith is the total package. He scores great, can rope fast and aggressive, and handles his rope fabulously. He has that “it” factor that guys like Speedy, Jake (Barnes) and Tee had. On the heeling side, I’m a Travis Graves fan. He does what I always tried to do—you rarely see him out of position and he catches a lot.
[SHOP: Clay Smith’s Team Roping Essentials]
Q: How much do you get to rope these days?
A: I stay pretty busy checking water and salt and fences, but I still rope every day with neighbors and whoever comes by. And I teach six to 10 private roping schools a year. Roping is still what I do, but it’s not who I am. A ranch kid from Wyoming is who I am. I ride and sell a lot of horses, and go to a few jackpots and rodeos. But I don’t like to go very far from the house anymore.
Q: If you had your career to do over again, what would you do differently?
A: I’d have tried to rope more calves, and would have worked more on my steer roping earlier in my career. I did those things when I was young, then focused on my team roping. I could have been a better steer roper if I’d worked harder at it. I had a great career, and the greatest treasure is the lifelong friends you make rodeoing. When I was 18, I couldn’t wait to get off the ranch. When I was 40, I couldn’t wait to come back to it. So I’m content. I have a great life.