Paving Ways: Arizona's Beaver Bird

Beaver Bird paved the way for Wickenburg to become the Team Roping Capitol of the World.

When Leo “Beaver” Bird (1940–2017) got sick of the brutal Montana winters and moved as a wrangler to the then dude ranching capital of the world—Wickenburg, Arizona—recreational team roping was in its infancy. Dynamite Arena had been up and running for a few decades already, but the few Northern snowbirds, many working as dude wranglers in Wickenburg, didn’t have anywhere else to rope.

That was 1992, and that year Beaver convinced his boss at the Wickenburg Inn, Merv Griffith Jr. (of The Merv Griffith Show fame), to let him build an arena and host ropings with fellow wrangler Terry Ellenberger. Open ropers showed up from time to time, but mostly local retired ranchers came to play in those early days.

“When we started putting on ropings, it was $15 a man,” son-in-law Brad Smith remembered. “And when he ended it, it was only $30 a man. Beaver’s biggest roping was that Over 40 #10 drawpot on Tuesdays, when he’d get 500 or 600 teams. He’d have a $100-a-man, 80-percent payback roping before it, and he’d have to limit it to 50 teams and take entries over the phone. They joked that he was the only person taking call-ins for a #12.”

Courtesy The Bird Family

When the Wickenburg Inn closed as the dude ranch fad faded, Beaver helped build Horse World, also in Wickenburg, and eventually put on ropings at the Rodeo Grounds in town before he retired in 2012, at the same time he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. For years, many ropers wouldn’t miss any of Beaver’s Tuesday Over 40 jackpots, and Beaver started awarding jackets to ropers who didn’t miss one all season. Having one of those jackets was a point of pride in Arizona team roping circles.

“My dad was the opposite of one of today’s producers,” DeeDee Smith said. “He was very laid back. He was really good about giving people re-runs, and he always set up a good score and was very roper friendly. If a guy came up to him wanting to argue about his flagging, he’d tell them a story and they’d all be laughing by the end of it.”

Beaver, a father of five kids, was married to his wife Judy for 50 years. He had two employees—Colleen Watson, who announced for him for years, and Manuel Urquijo, who started working the stripping chute for Beaver at his earliest ropings at the Wickenburg Inn and stayed with him throughout his production career.

Courtesy The Bird Family

“Other producers in town stayed off Tuesdays, even as everything got so big here,” DeeDee said. “That was Beaver’s day, and everyone respected it.”

Beaver, who had qualified for the Indian National Finals Rodeo himself, was the uncle of NFR header Dustin Bird, who wintered at Beaver’s Wickenburg home.

“We ate dinner at Beaver’s house every night,” Dustin said. “Someone would be giving him hell at the roping, but never once did he say a bad thing about anybody. He never did get flustered. He really was a neat guy.”

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